Green Technology

Zero Carbon Charge Starts Construction On First National Network Of 100% Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations in South Africa

Sales of electric vehicles in South Africa are starting pick up now, thanks to a wider selection of EVs on the market as well as the introduction of more affordable vehicles. Although starting from a low base, sales are on track to double in 2023 to over 1,000 units, from 502 battery-electric vehicles sold last year. EV sales are most likely to grow significantly next year following the entry of more EVs, such as the expanded Volvo range — including the highly anticipated Volvo EX30 — the BYD ATTO 3, and the Ora 03 (Good Cat).

All this needs to be supported by a strong charging infrastructure. There is already a growing charging network in South Africa, however, Zero Carbon Charge now wants to help grow this network even further, by including more of the national and regional roads that are currently not covered.

In a major step on its roadmap, Zero Carbon Charge broke ground on its first 100% renewable energy charging station in what will become South Africa’s first national network of 120 solar-powered charging facilities spaced out at 150km intervals. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on site in Wolmaransstad, in the Northwest province.

This is a significant milestone in South Africa’s transition to electric vehicles. Unlike other charging stations that connect to Eskom’s grid (and thus use coal as their primary energy source), Zero Carbon Charge’s charging stations are powered by South Africa’s abundant and renewable supply of sunshine.

“We are thrilled to begin construction of the first 100% renewable energy charging facility in Wolmaransstad today. It is great news for the environment, and it is great news for motorists who will not have to worry about loadshedding preventing them from charging their vehicles,” said Joubert Roux, Co-Director and Founder of Zero Carbon Charge.

“Each Zero Carbon Charge charging station generates electricity on-site using solar PV and stores energy in lithium iron phosphate batteries, with generators fueled by hydrotreated vegetable oil as a backup power source. Hydrotreated vegetable oil is used as it offers a reduction of carbon emissions of up to 90% compared to diesel.”

According to Zero Carbon Charge’s other co-founder and Director, Andries Malherbe, South Africa needs to prepare for the global transition to EVs: “Zero Carbon Charge is forging ahead in preparation for the EV revolution that is coming to these shores. Within five years, we expect electric vehicles to account for 25% of all new car sales in South Africa. Our network of 100% renewable charging stations will offer consumers a clean and fast way of charging their vehicles.”

The network will use DC ultra-fast charge points for EVs, plus also offer AC charge points for plug-in hybrids that have smaller batteries and lack DC charging capacity. Each Zero Carbon DC Charge charging station can charge an EV to 80% in about 20 minutes. It is envisaged that, pending various planning and land use approvals, Zero Carbon Charge will have its full network of solar-powered charging facilities operational by September of 2025.

Presiding over the ceremony, the Mayor of Maquassi Hills Local Municipality, Mzwandile Feliti, said, “We are excited that our municipality is leading the way with the green transport transition, with the first approval for a facility like this in the country.”

Jan Holiday, the owner of the land upon which the site is being built, added, “This is a great opportunity for rural landowners to become part of the energy value chain for EVs, to benefit from surplus energy generated and derive an additional income stream.”

Each Zero Carbon Charge station will include a “farm stall” so that motorists charging their vehicles can enjoy a quick snack and a cup of coffee in the 20 minutes it will take for their car to be fully charged again. Zero Carbon Charge’s total investment, worth R1.8bn, will boost South Africa’s rural economies by providing local jobs and an additional revenue stream for farmers. Landowners will earn 5% of the revenue generated from vehicle charging on their land, while a percentage of revenue will also be reinvested in local socio-economic development initiatives. This Zero Carbon Charge facility at Wolmaransstad is due for completion in June of 2024.

Zero Carbon Charge says the EV ecosystem is an energy play. EVs will require 10-15% additional grid capacity, and even European electricity grids are sometimes struggling to supply power to EVs. The company is following a modular approach by rolling out the minimum viable product size on a national basis. The charging stations will incorporate solar PV and battery storage in a move to add capacity to the energy mix to support uptake of renewables, as well as reduce potential burdens on the grid. In the process, they will have a significant, sustained economic impact in rural areas.

On a national level, the acceleration of the adoption of electric mobility supported by an extensive charging network will have a substantial, permanent import replacement effect given the fact that the annual spend on crude oil is around R300 billion (US$16 billion) and localization of manufacture of around R44 billion (US$2 billion) spent on PV panels, batteries, inverters, and chargers over the next 10 years, which all could potentially be sourced in South Africa in the long run.

Images courtesy of Zero Carbon Charge