GridCars Network is Charging Up South Africa’s EV Revolution

Credit to Author: Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai| Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:50:01 +0000

Published on May 25th, 2020 | by Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai

May 25th, 2020 by  

The South African EV market is shaping up quite nicely. We recently looked at the State of Electric Vehicles in South Africa here, and we are excited that the huge potential this market has will soon be realized due to several factors, which include:

A Red Jaguar I Pace charging at the Sasol Kroonstad charging station – Image courtesy of GridCars.

We also covered evCrowdRoute, a startup that is rolling out charging stations across South Africa. One of the main players in the South African EV space is GridCars. Established in 2009, GridCars has grown to become South Africa’s largest Electric Vehicle Charging Service Equipment (EVSE), Charging Station Infrastructure and Management Systems firm. GridCars was also a founding member of the Electric Vehicle Industry Association (EVIA). GridCars is part of Alviva Holdings, which also owns one of South Africa’s largest Solar PV EPC firms, Solareff. CleanTechnica recently spoke with Winstone Jordaan, Managing Director and Founder of GridCars.

The GridCars Charging Network Map. Image courtesy of GridCars.

CleanTechnica (CT): In the early years, you were developing  your own range of EVs, so tell us a bit about that project and what happened to it.

Winstone Jordaan (WJ): When GridCars was established in 2009, the idea was to have a 3-pronged approach the industry: build electric vehicles; build charge stations; and build management systems for both EVs and charge stations. Over time we realized that the developing of vehicles from scratch and obtaining all the necessary certifications was a far more cash-hungry part of the business and none of the local funding agencies were prepared to take the risk of investing in automotive startups. After the closure of the Joule (Optimal Energy), finding money within this space was really impossible. Therefore, in 2017 GridCars decided to focus on developing a national charging network and the management systems required to support a world class charging network. The main vehicle projects were all handed over to other companies (5 in total), each of them committed to integrating the work we had done into their own business models, with the objective of someday launching South African electric vehicles in the market.  So, we may yet still see vehicles that were born in the GridCars workshops reaching the markets.

 One of Solareff’s BMW i3s charging at a BP Station, Buffeljags River, near Swellendam. Image courtesy of GridCars.

CT: What inspired you to focus on establishing an EV charging network?

WJ: Changing the focus of the company came gradually over a few years, starting in 2015, when GridCars was able to secure a contract with BMW to operate the BMW ChargeNow network in South Africa. This meant that we were suddenly in a position to really focus on the services side and having a strong software background allowed us to excel in this space. Our efforts culminated in late 2017, when we  secured the Jaguar Land Rover Charge Point Service contract. Also, in 2017, when a majority stake in GridCars was purchased by Solareff — a Group company of Alviva holdings — we were able to leverage years of market knowledge and business development experience provided by the new directors and the Group. This allowed for a far more clear and focused approach to the industry where we could play to our strengths, this included supporting the major OEM in their EV strategies and helping to remove their hurdles. This primarily meant installing and managing charging infrastructure.

CT: How many charging stations/chargers do you have now?

WJ: GridCars’s strategy was the deployment of a strategic DC (Fast Charging) network on all the major highways in South Africa. This included the main parts of the N1, N2, N3, and N4, as well as some smaller routes such as the N9 and R75 (we aimed to have a charger at least every 200km). Our objective was to connect the major cities with a “electric highway,” which include Cape Town, George, Port Elizabeth, East London, Colesberg, Bloemfontein, Harrismith, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Polokwane, Gaborone, and Nelspruit. Further, GridCars also wanted to ensure that all the major shopping centers within the major cities also have charging stations. The network currently consists of 52 x 60-80kW DC Fast Chargers. Along with our partners and customers, we have installed more than 150 charging points at approximately 85 sites. Beyond this, BMW, Nissan, and Jaguar have all installed charge stations – typically AC systems – at their dealerships, these account for a further 100 sites. Finally, other companies are also joining the drive to electrify South Africa, the most notable of these being evCrowdRoute – a crowdfunding startup that has already deployed approximately 6 AC stations, with plans to continue deploying AC units on scenic routes.

CT: Who are your main customers that are installing chargers?

WJ: Currently the main companies installing charge stations in South Africa are the OEMs, followed by malls and office parks, hotels, bed & breakfasts, and even portfolio investors such as filling stations, property management/asset groups, and even some new focused charge point investor groups.

The Massive 4.755 MWp Mall Of Africa PV Plant, Waterfall, Gauteng. The PV Plant was installed by Solareff who own a majority stake in GridCars. Image courtesy of GridCars

CT: Please tell us more about your partnership with Solareff and how you see potential synergies in bundling charging stations with both residential and commercial & industrial solar

WJ: The partnership with Solareff certainly does see more renewable energy entering the EV charging space. This has allowed GridCars to leverage some of the Solareff relationships with landlords when expanding the charging network. Typically, when customers install a Solar PV solution, they are also then very sensitized to greening their sites in general, which often leads to discussions on charging stations.  While Solareff is a shareholder, GridCars also works extensively with other solar installers as a general value-add to their services. It is our desire to see more and more sites committing to a hybrid (grid-integrated) energy supply. Often sites may not have sufficient capacity to fully supply the power demands for a DC fast charger. In that instance, supplementing the charger energy with a solar strategy is really advantageous to these sites – not only giving them an income from the charge station but also saving money from the solar installation.

The 1 MWp PV Plant at the Woolworths Distribution Centre, Midrand, Gauteng. The PV Plant was installed by Solareff who own a majority stake in GridCars. Image courtesy of GridCars.

CT: Which EV do you drive? How long is your daily round trip commute and do you charge mostly at home or at work? How often do you do road trips — say Pretoria to Durban, etc. — and how is the charging experience now for EV drivers as compared to stopping at a petrol station and filling up?

One of Solareff’s BMW i3s charging, Image courtesy of GridCars.

WJ: Personally, I drive a BMW i3. It is one of the older vehicles and it has a range of just over 100km – my daily commute is about 70km each way; therefore, I charge both at the office and at home. At the office I pay public rates (approximately R60 to recharge the 70km), while at home I have a solar PV solution, but if you were to assume Municipal rates, it would cost me about R25 to recharge the 70km. This gives me a cost per day of R85. To give a comparison, I did a test with petrol sedan where I drove to work and back for a week, refilling the tank every morning (essentially replacing the fuel for the 140km round trip) and the average cost was R245/day, thus driving an EV gives me a saving of R160/day! While at this time my car is not suitable for longer distance driving, we can explore a typical IPACE or i3 94hA/120Ah for a JHB/Durban Trip. Most drivers would stop in Villiers Engen for a quick top-up of maybe 15min (~R120). Then on with their journey to Harrismith stopping at Bergview Engen, this time for a longer charge, of 30-60min (R~250) — this as your lunch stop — and after lunch another short stop at Mooi River Engen 15min (~R120). Finishing the trip at Gateway Mall or Balito Junction in Durban and then filling the battery (~R180) will mean you never really drop below 40% of your capacity and also considering that all the charging is not at public charging rates, a total one-way cost of R670, is about a 50% saving on fuel. It is worth noting that most of the stops are still at filling stations.

CT: What are the tariffs like in kWh for the DC fast charging stations and how much does it cost to drive some EVs in South Africa compared with similar ICE vehicles?

WJ: The normal public charging rate at a GridCars station is less than R5/kWh, this amount will vary depending on the particular charging package (eMobility Service membership) you have with GridCars. Other operators range in pricing from free at some dealers’ sites to R5 and sometimes slightly more. If we look at the cost per km, a petrol car would be starting at around R1.50/km, driving with electricity on public charging rates you can expect to pay R1.00/km, using your municipal rates at home charging could be as little as R0.40/km, and using solar power as low as R0.20/km. Normally EV drivers would work on a blended rate, which could be a mix of public rates and home charging (possibly with solar), and this typically averages at between R0.30 and R0.60/km.

Images: courtesy of GridCars.




 

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.

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