When electric cars are discussed on various local forums, as well as on social media, most of the comments will be quite negative and mostly FUD around the now too common electricity rationing program (load-shedding) introduced by South Africa’s state-owned utility company Eskom. “How can electric cars work here when we get so many power cuts?” many people ask.
Eskom’s load shedding program is structured in “Stages” where Eskom sheds a certain quantum of load from the grid to stabilize the grid. So, depending on the severity of the crisis, load-shedding is implemented in stages from Stage 1 to Stage 8, where Stage 1 sheds 1,000 MW of load from the grid and in a Stage 8 scenario, Eskom takes out 8,000 MW of load from the grid. Load-shedding is implemented over 2-hour or 4-hour blocks on a rotational basis depending on the severity of the crises. Stage 8, however means most consumers will experience a blackout for about 12 hours.
To show that one can comfortably live with a modern electric vehicle in South Africa as well as go on some of the most popular road trips, two members of the South African motoring media, Justus Visagie and Ernest Page, set a record for the fastest ever all-electric car drive between Cape Town and Johannesburg, despite interruptions to the national electricity supply. Driving a BMW iX xDrive 50, the pair left BMW Cape Town City at 19:00 on 28 June 2022 and reached BMW Joburg City at 15:18 the next day (29 June). This means the team took 20 hours and 18 minutes to travel the 1,400 km distance, including time spent charging the car. This trip last week was actually in the middle of quite a crisis for the power utility Eskom, which was forced to implement Stage 4 (4,000 MW) and Stage 6 (6,000 MW) of load-shedding due to several factors, including industrial action by staff over disagreements on wage increases.
Justus Visagie and Ernest Page managed to complete the 1,400 km quite comfortably. Of all the charge points along the route, only one was affected by Eskom’s Stage 4 load-shedding. South Africa has quite a good charging network of DC fast chargers along the major highways. Visagie says they wanted to experience a long-distance, all-electric drive, even if most owners of luxury electric vehicles (EVs) would fly rather than drive such a vast distance. “We wanted to gain insight into the charging infrastructure and long-distance capability of an electric vehicle,” Visagie says.
To gain the maximum amount of information from the drive and to make the departure and arrival times official, Page and Visagie enlisted the help of vehicle tracking company Netstar to monitor the car’s position, time stopped, time moving, average speed and energy consumption. “We will study the data and include it in forthcoming articles and videos. It will also help us in future attempts to complete the journey in a shorter time,” he adds. To charge the iX at various intervals, the team used public EV chargers installed by GridCars.
Initially, Page and Visagie were hoping to complete the journey in less than 17 hours. This would have been a record for the quickest winter drive between the two cities, using a battery-electric vehicle (BEV). “At times, we were too conscious of conserving energy, so we drove at 90 km/h instead of at 120 km/h,” Visagie says. “We were concerned that the low winter temperatures, dipping to minus 3 degrees Celsius at times, would reduce the iX’s range, but it had no noticeable effect,” he adds. 17 hours would have been very impressive indeed including charging stops. Commenting on Twitter, Nhlanhla Sophaza, says “For me a car drive to Cape Town is 16 hours (using an internal combustion engine vehicle), with all the stops/rest breaks. This 20 hour trip wasn’t bad for an EV drive.”
On the availability of EVs to South African motorists, Visagie says there is a dire need for the efficient energy use these vehicles bring. “The energy cost per kilometre of the fully electric MINI Cooper SE can be as low as Rand 35 cents per kilometre; even less. These days, a fuel-efficient petrol or diesel car burns R1.30 to R2.00 per kilometre. Sadly, EVs are either expensive, in short supply, or both,” he says.
“Lawmakers must scrap the additional 7 percent levied on imported electric vehicles, a penalty that does not apply to cars driven by internal combustion, whether diesel, petrol or hybrid cars. The government should help South Africans to acquire affordable electric vehicles, because these can slash the high cost of personal and public transport,” Visagie says.
Images courtesy of Justus Visagie, BMW
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