Goodbye Eskom — South Africa getting 120 off-grid electric charging stations

South African electric vehicle (EV) charging station contractor Zero Carbon Charge will install the first of about 120 fully off-grid chargers in South Africa next week.

Zero Carbon Charge co-founder and director Joubert Roux shared the news in an update to MyBroadband explaining the company’s rollout plans.

Roux said that Zero Carbon Charge aimed to build South Africa’s largest national network of 100% renewable energy-powered EV charging stations.

“On Monday [20 November 2023] next week, we will begin construction of our first charging station in Wolmaransstad in the North West,” Roux said.

“This will be followed by the rollout of around 120 charging stations at 150 km intervals nationwide, with the entire network due for completion in September 2025.”

The stations will have 720 DC “ultra-fast” charging points and 240 AC chargers for plug-in hybrids between them.

“Each Zero Carbon Charge charging station can charge an EV in about 20 minutes,” Roux said.

While he did not mention specific speeds, the company’s website regards 100kW as ultra-fast charging.

The map below shows where Zero Carbon Charge plans to roll out these stations across South Africa.

Zero Carbon Charge has partnered with over 100 partners — including land and farm stall owners — to secure sites and funding for its rollout.

It lists Stellenbosh University, MetSolar, and MPower among several associated entities and industry partners.

There are already roughly 400 public and private EV charging stations in South Africa, and another 300 coming online between major operators over the next few years.

However, the vast majority of these are powered by Eskom’s grid.

Roux said using the utility’s “dirty” power — primarily from coal-based generation — won’t help South Africa decarbonise.

“Around three-quarters of our energy supply is from coal-fired power stations,” Roux said.

The utility also generates electricity using diesel-powered open-cycle gas turbines, particularly during peak demand.

“Just how green are electric vehicles when they are powered primarily by coal and diesel?” Roux asked.

“If we truly believe that EVs are a vital cog in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, then we need to interrogate the source of the electricity being used in our EVs.”

Joubert Roux, Zero Carbon Charge co-founder and director

The current chargers are also often taken offline by load-shedding. Only a handful have battery backups.

That means EV drivers travelling long distances must plan their trips around load-shedding schedules to ensure they can top up their battery when they arrive at a charger — or else they will have to wait.

Furthermore, Roux pointed out that even without factoring in load-shedding, the global switch from petrol and diesel cars to EVs will require substantially more grid capacity.

“Even European electricity grids often struggle to supply power to EVs,” Roux said.

To address these issues, Zero Carbon Charge is powering its charging stations without electricity from Eskom.

Each station will generate electricity on-site using PV solar panels and store energy in lithium-iron phosphate batteries.

For backup, the stations will boast generators that consume hydrotreated vegetable oil. This fuel emits 90% fewer carbon emissions than diesel, the company said.

“This grid independence means that Zero Carbon Charge’s stations are completely unaffected by load-shedding and thus totally reliable,” Roux said.

Zero Carbon Charge station concept

Demand for public chargers is set to increase over the next few years.

Sales of fully electric cars in South Africa doubled between 2021 and 2022.

In the first half of 2023, nearly the same number of EVs were sold than during the entire 2022.

The entry of more affordable EVs priced lower than R800,000 — including the BYD Atto 3, GWM Ora Cat, and Volvo EX30 — will likely bolster adoption further.

Roux said it was evident that the EV revolution was coming to South Africa, whether the country was ready or not.

“But using dirty coal and diesel to power electric vehicles is not the disruptive moment our country needs – the real revolution will come when all our electric cars are powered using clean, renewable energy sources.”

Now read: Ford launching first electric car in South Africa

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Goodbye Eskom — South Africa getting 120 off-grid electric charging stations