South African electric company facing tough decision over electric cars

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South Africa’s biggest electric utility company is in the process of determining the future of electric cars in Africa, or if there will be any future at all. The challenges are tremendous; even though it is Africa’s largest producer of electricity, Eskom has been struggling with the demand on its resources and capabilities.

According to Barry MacColl, Eskom’s general manager of research, testing and development, the company has done years of research to try and determine the impact that electrical vehicles (EVs) will have on the already overstressed power grid in South Africa. Now the company will be partnering with Nissan South Africa in a three-year research project involving Nissan’s Leaf and whether the EV can become a viable option in the very near future.

In a ‘vehicle handover ceremony’ last week, Nissan put ten Leafs at Eskom’s disposal to use in the research. Johan Kleynhans, Nissan’s director of sales, marketing and after-sales, stated that the outcome of the research project would have “. . . long-term implications for the development of the entire industry.”

The world’s first mass-marketed EV, the Leaf has already been introduced in Japan, Europe and the U.S.; whether it will take off in South Africa depends upon the presence of an infrastructure that currently does not exist. Eskom will need to figure out how a charging network can be rolled out, but first they will need to determine how much power will be needed and when, based on anticipated user patterns of recharging.

The EV can be recharged slowly over eight hours or quickly in 30 minutes, with the slower option normally taking place at home, overnight. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, and of course implications for the provider of electricity. Nissan says that with the majority of EV owners relying on overnight recharging, the overall power usage would even out with daytime demands on the power grid.