WATCH | The future of travel is electric, but can South Africa keep up?

2019-10-11 11:50 - Gabi Zietsman
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Players in the tourism industry are starting to embrace the electric car, but is South Africa ready for it?

One company seems to think so - and proved it with the country's first electric vehicle road trip (EVRT) from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Generation.e - a company dedicated to the progression and transformation of smarter mobility across the world - organised the event, launching electric charging stations along the way at various hotels. 

READ MORE: First electric road trip in SA surges ahead

"Education and awareness are key at the start of any technology expansion," says Ben Pullen, co-founder and CEO of Generation.e.

"But it will take a lot of effort and willpower from the government to make this future happen."

The road trip was used as a showcase for these electric cars' viability in South Africa, as well as to highlight and troubleshoot some of the challenges that need to be addressed. The hotels that participated include Travel Inn at Shell Ultra City in Kroonstad, De Stijl Gariep at Gariep Dam, Wolwefontein Hotel on the way to the Garden Route, and finally The Vineyard Hotel in Newlands, Cape Town.

The Vineyard Hotel has always marketed itself as a 'green' hotel, with 80 solar panels, using power from the Darling Wind Farm, harvesting greywater and recycling 98% of their waste. The introduction of the charging stations is an obvious step for their environmentally-conscious brand.

The charging stations were distributed and installed by ACDC Dynamics - who want to set up the largest charging network in South Africa - but the units don't come cheap. An AC unit with a slow charge - which takes about seven hours for a full charge - costs around R30 000 excluding installation costs, while a DC unit that can fully charge in just over an hour is priced at around half a million rand. The Vineyard is the only hotel with a DC unit.

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The feasibility of electric

Jaguar, BMW and Nissan offered up their cars for the trip - the full-electric BMW i3, Nissan LEAF and Jaguar I-Pace - but will electric cars ever make a foothold in a country where driving long distances is the norm? 

In March, then-transport minister Blade Nzimande said that there are a total of 867 electric vehicles registered in South Africa, the majority of which is based in Gauteng and Western Cape, but affordability remains a concern for more widespread use. 

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Around the world, the global electric car fleet exceeded 5.1 million in 2018, according to The Global EV Outlook 2019 report, with China in the lead followed by Europe and the US. 

Another avenue that electric cars could become more affordable in the market is through the car rental industry - the more electric cars in their fleet the more secondhand cars will enter the market. Petrol stations will also have to come on board with the shift to electric, which would involve major investments and a complete overhaul of their business model - if there's demand.

READ: #EcoTravels: Ivory Coast looks to go green, replacing bush taxis with cute solar cars

Government needs to step up

The Department of Transport was also a key partner for the EVRT event, with Minister Fikile Mbalula speaking at the launch of the charging stations at The Vineyard.

"As a country, we recognise the feats of technological advancement and the scale within which it impacts on transportation. Thus we pride ourselves among the pioneers of smarter mobility technology."

"The question is how quickly policymakers, regulators and users will adapt to the evolution of transport," says Mbalula.

He envisions transport of the future as connected and highly automated, but has some concerns about our readiness. Some of the challenges Mbalula highlighted include regulatory frameworks, current tax regimes and the affordability of these smarter, electric vehicles. 

"Are we as a country ready to talk about the transition of driver-operated to autonomous technology, such as driverless buses?"

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Cities will be the department's first focus, including how to introduce more efficient and cost-effective public transport options. They also want to reduce transport's contributions to greenhouse emissions, which currently stands at 10.8% of total greenhouse emissions, according to the minister. 

However, the EV Outlook report also highlighted that the extent of reduced emissions of electric and hybrid vehicles depends ultimately on the power source of a country - and in South Africa 77% of our electricity is powered by coal according to the Department of Energy

"It's always impossible until it's done," the minister quoted Nelson Mandela. 

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