Big electric charging station upgrades for South Africa

South Africa’s public electric vehicle (EV) charging network is set for a major upgrade, with just one big operator adding 150 new charging stations over the next year and three months.

MyBroadband recently spoke to Rubicon Energy’s head of e-mobility, Greg Blandford, about the company’s plans for EV chargers for the rest of 2023 and 2024.

In addition to being the official distributor of the Tesla Powerwall and Tesla Wall Connector products in South Africa, Rubicon offers a wide range of alternative energy products like inverters, batteries, and solar panels.

It was also the first to import a Tesla Model X and Model Y into South Africa.

Rubicon only rolled out its first public EV chargers in South Africa about a year ago. At the time of our interview with Blandford, this had grown to 94 sites.

Keen-eyed South Africans might have spotted some of these chargers in a mall’s parking lot or at petrol stations.

Among Rubicon’s first partners for its rollout was Audi, for which it installed the country’s first 200kW charging station at the Mall of Africa.

One of the Rubicon DC fast chargers installed for Audi.

Rubicon plans to expand its charging network to around 150 sites by the end of the year. Another 100 are set to come online in 2024, putting its total at 250.

The major projects will include the following:

  • 20–30 new 50kW DC chargers with AC adapters at Volvo dealerships that will sell the EX30 compact SUV. Also open for other EVs, including XC40 Recharge Twin and plug-in hybrids.
  • 21+ upgraded Autel chargers at BMW dealerships
  • 13 public 150kW DC fast chargers spread across the Eastern Cape
  • Various public fast DC charging stations across the country, focused on inter-city routes
  • Fast public AC charging stations within cities

Blandford said the ratio of its new fast DC and AC charging stations should be about 40:60.

That means roughly 60 new chargers should be DC, and 90 will support AC charging.

DC chargers are preferred for long-distance trips because they can provide quick top-ups for when you don’t want to stop for too long.

However, the per-kWh price can be significantly more expensive for this convenience than when charging at home.

AC charging is best suited for scenarios where drivers can spend lots of time with their cars parked — like at an office or shopping mall.

This 25kW Delta DC fast charger at Castle Gate Shopping Centre in Pretoria added about 40% capacity to our Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin’s battery pack in about an hour and a half.

Rubicon’s rollout will add about 156 new stations to South Africa’s EV charging network, which currently consists of roughly 400 sites across all operators.

GridCars CEO Winstone Jordaan recently also told MyBroadband that around 100 new charging stations would be added by the end of 2023.

GridCars and Rubicon have partnered to allow GridCars customers to use the latter’s network.

A process is currently underway that will also open the GridCars network to Rubicon’s customers.

Assuming Jordaan included Rubicon’s additional 56 or so chargers set for installation in 2023 in his tally, the total number of confirmed chargers to be installed will be 200.

That would result in a whopping 50% increase in EV chargers in South Africa to about 600 — one for roughly every 7 of the 4,000 EVs Blandford estimated were in the country.

This Delta DC 100kW charger at an Engen fuel station on the R21 southbound was installed by Rubicon for Audi. It added about 60% capacity to a Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin’s battery in roughly 50 minutes.

The additional stations will play a critical part in ensuring the rapidly growing number of early EV adopters in South Africa have more chargers available.

In the first half of 2023, 501 passenger EVs were sold in South Africa, just one short of the total tally in 2022, which already had a doubling in EV sales from the year before.

Volvo has already secured 500 of its much-anticipated sub-R800,000 EX30 compact SUVs for local rollout from the first quarter of 2024.

Volvo Car South Africa managing director Greg Maruszewski previously told MyBroadband the company had amassed 150 EX30 pre-orders two months after the model’s global reveal.

In a recent update, he said the sales were growing by 10 to 20 units per month.

Chinese EV giant BYD is also launching its first dealerships in Gauteng in the coming months, which should see it bring more of its Atto 3 cars into the country.

Blandford told MyBroadband that the Umhlanga branch had already sold out all its models. Its sub-R800,000 price also makes it one of the most affordable EVs in South Africa.

BYD Atto 3 at its South African launch

Blandford said Rubicon had observed increased charging activity at its stations over the past few months.

In MyBroadband’s experience driving a BMW iX3 and Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin in the past few months, we often found multiple other EVs at public charging stations.

In one instance, a Woolies electric delivery van was charging on a 50kW DC charger in Irene Mall while we were driving to the nearby car wash.

When we returned to the station around an hour later for our own top-up, we first had to use the additional slow AC charger because a BMW iX was already plugged into the DC charger.

Three times that we visited a 22kW AC charger at Woodlands Boulevard Mall, there were other EVs — including an Audi e-Tron, BMW iX1, and a Volvo XC40 Recharge — already charging or waiting to charge after our turn.

A MyBroadband reader also encountered a VW ID.4 trying to charge at an AC charging station at Parkview Shopping Centre, but found the only dedicated parking space occupied by the car of a shop owner.

The 13 chargers Rubicon will build in the Eastern Cape are particularly noteworthy because they are the first in South Africa to be paid for by the government.

Blandford said government buy-in on EVs would be critical to ensuring appropriate infrastructure is built to accommodate the technology.

With several major manufacturers operating local vehicle factories in the province, the Eastern Cape is often regarded as the country’s automotive hub.

The shift towards electric driving trains will require substantial investment in assembly plants across the country, particularly because the main export market of Europe has aggressive deadlines for ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars.

Blandford added that Rubicon’s board would decide on further charging station rollouts beyond 2024 based on demand.

In addition to its public charging stations, Rubicon has seen increased demand for EV chargers from commercial customers like Shoprite Group.

The company put its first fully electric truck on the road in November 2022, featuring Checkers Hyper branding that glows in the dark.

While the first truck is only part of a pilot, the fact that Shoprite is interested in additional chargers suggests it wants to expand its electric fleet.

Shoprite’s Checkers Hyper electric Scania truck

Now read: Most fuel-efficient cars under R300,000

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Big electric charging station upgrades for South Africa