JSE-listed information and communication technology (ICT) group, Alviva Holdings, has, through its subsidiary Solareff, acquired 75% of GridCars, a Pretoria-based startup that focuses on the manufacture of electric vehicle (EV) charge points and back office charge point management systems.
Real-time interactive eMobility software, for example, allows users to find available charge points and to manage the rates and billing for energy consumed. EV users can also monitor charging sessions, possible costs and charge history.
“These all form part of the back-office services we provide,” notes Jordaan.
“We understand the core technologies and platforms necessary to make an EV network operate efficiently.
“Our aim is to give GridCars the critical mass to scale up quickly,” notes Botha.
GridCars will, under the wing of Solareff, look at rolling out EV charging infrastructure across South Africa – at a pace relative to the introduction of EVs to the local market – with the option of solar power as the energy source whenever possible and desirable, he says.
Jordaan says the investment will, for example, allow GridCars to carry greater stock, ensuring availability of charge points on a short turnaround time.
“We will also be seeking incentives from government as we roll out the network.”
There are currently around 100 EV charging points in South Africa, largely at dealerships, the homes of EV owners and selected retail developments. (See evcharging.co.za) Almost all of these are managed by GridCars.
“There are currently around 2 500 plug-in vehicles in South Africa, of which 600 are EVs,” says Jordaan.
GridCars has locally developed AC charging systemsavailable. The current DC system on offer is imported, but Jordaan is pursuing a partnership agreement that could secure 50% local content on the system.
“Our system also adheres to all the necessary ISO-standards.”
SSE trials ‘demand-side response’ where vehicles start charging a few hours after being plugged in, when demand is lower
Electric cars are putting increasing pressure on the UK’s power grids, making it vital they are recharged at the right time of day, a minister has said.
John Hayes, transport minister, said it was important that such battery-powered cars were topped up in smart ways to avoid unduly stressing the energy system.
He said he hoped the accelerating uptake of electric cars, which registration figures show are growing faster than conventional new cars, could catalyse a wider debate on how best to manage the UK’s energy demand.
“We know the demand for electric vehicles places the national grid under pressure. It’s critically important – we are working on this. It’s particularly important that we charge smart, so we flex demand and take advantage of spare capacity,” Hayes told an audience in London.
The minister joked that a competition to design a better-looking electric car charger could see the winning entry nicknamed the “Hayes hook-up”.
Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, which runs local power grids in Scotland and southern England, said its electric car programmes found most owners charged their batteries immediately after returning home from work. That coincides with when energy demand is already at its highest point in the day, which has led the company to trial time-shifting the charging to miss the peak.
The utility said such “demand-side response”, where a car may not start charging until a few hours after a driver has plugged it in, when demand is lower, could alleviate much of the cost of power network upgrades required to cope with electric vehicles. However, most of the UK’s existing 10,000-plus charging points do not have such technology.
Stewart Reid, head of asset management and innovation at SSEN, said realistically some network upgrades, which would ultimately be passed on to energy bills, would be required if electric cars took off in a big way.
“If this goes ballistic, if it’s like iPads went, then we’re going to have a very big investment programme: you’re going to have to invest in the network. But at least we’re going in with our eyes open,” he said.
A spokesman for the Energy Networks Association, whose members run local power grids, agreed that investment in the network would be needed. But he said: “Electricity network operators are developing a number of innovative solutions to enable people to charge their vehicles while minimising the impact on the power network.”
Electric cars, LED lighting, reusable bags; many a green innovation has gone mainstream in recent years – and now energy storage is joining the list.
With new tech start-ups entering the scene this year to produce storage batteries, costs for storing energy are set to fall, making 2016 the year of battery storage around the world.
Why the focus on storage? More companies are turning to wind and solar energy but weather patterns are far from consistent. By storing the energy produced in batteries, it can be released for use when it is needed, and not only throughout the day, but from season to season as well.
Energy storage has already taken off in some markets around the world, driven by renewable energy generation, but has largely been overlooked so far in Britain, mainly because of the high cost of implementing storage technologies.
In some markets, such as the US, Germany, and Japan, energy storage is being used commercially. In the US, about 13 per cent of electricity comes from renewable sources and in Germany it equates to around 30 per cent of electricity consumed. And the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) pumped $700 million into energy storage for Japan in 2015.
Investing now to build energy storage systems that take advantage of local, renewable resources could ultimately save companies money by paving the way to energy independence. “It’s a huge advantage to keep energy locally and bring it back locally when you need it, without having to transport it across the country,” says Franz Jenowein, Sustainability Consulting Director at JLL.
The cost of energy storage needs to come down for the commercial real estate industry to embrace it. “Although there’s excitement around the numbers, it might take up to 10 years for companies to get their return on investment,” says Jenowein.
Knowledge of a new technology is one thing; actually using it is quite another. The photovoltaic (PV) effect, responsible for converting light into energy, for example, isn’t new: a 19-year-old French physicist discovered it in 1839.
“Solar PV panels were first used by space satellites in the late 1950s. And battery storage technology has come a long way, but it’s only really come onto the radar with Tesla,” says Jenowein who noted that the premium, electric vehicle automaker used a “very clever communications strategy to make something as geeky as a battery attractive.”
Introducing super batteries
Batteries, pumped-storage systems, ice storage, and heat thermal storage make up some of the more common energy storage technologies for use during peak demand to bring grid usage down and to compensate for peak electricity tariffs. But super batteries, the same types that power electric vehicles, are the current focus of tech companies ever since Tesla introduced the Powerwall energy storage system for homes in May 2015.
Energy stored in batteries provides a promising way to store renewable energy for buildings, too. They can power lights, computers, heating and cooling equipment during peak times, can take over during power outages, and they provide an alternative to fossil fuel powered back-up generators.
Storage battery systems have two functions. “The beauty is that you not only generate energy, but you also have an energy holding technology. Batteries can be connected to the power grid, potentially playing a key role in the emerging smart grids,” says Jenowein. Once you put energy storage systems in buildings and connect to the grid, they become part of this new energy ecosystem.
Getting into the act
More UK tech start-ups are getting into the act by developing their own storage batteries, which they can sell to commercial building owners, in a sort of “storage war” competition, with companies such as Powervault, Moixa Technology, and redT.
Powervault, for example, plans to “take on Tesla” by providing home energy storage systems for British homeowners. Moixa’s system is for residential and commercial uses, and redT’s is for industrial and utility-scale usage.
Although this technology is still prohibitively expensive for widespread use, as production increases and more companies get into the game, prices will go down. “Costs are expected to fall 40 percent over the next five years,” according to JLL’s 2016 Sustainability Trends report.
Jenowein paints a picture of the environment in the UK today: a recognition by building managers of higher electricity rates during day peak times and a willingness to do something about it, and the technology solutions of the batteries. He says that lots of components need to come together for energy storage to become more prevalent, such as regulatory elements, subsidies and incentives, and software to integrate the technologies.
“The challenge is to make it all work together,” says Jenowein. His prediction: energy storage for use in commercial office buildings will be more commonplace, but probably not before 2025 or 2030.
The lacklustre economy, consumers’ desperate financial position and affordability of vehicles are three key areas that will stunt the growth of the South African automotive industry this year, says audit, advisory and tax services firm KPMG. According to KPMG auto- motive sector partner Gavin Maile, the local automotive industry will continue to decline, as the country currently has “extremely sluggish” gross domestic product (GDP) growth of about 0.7%.
“South Africa would need to maintain a GDP of 4% before any decent growth in vehicle sales can take place. Also, we foresee that a hike in interest rates, inflation and the low GDP will not help ease the pressure on the consumer in 2016,” he warns. Further, KPMG senior industry analyst Ashleigh Raine-Botha says local motor manufacturers will also feel the pinch of the exchange rate weakness on both imported components and vehicles and, subsequently, will need to increase their prices.
“Overall, the picture does not look good – consumers are in the weakest position that they have been in for a long time and are facing increases in every direction, as electricity and water prices will most likely rise, along with rates for vehicle services and spare parts,” she points out. Maile and Raine-Botha agree that the devaluation of the rand against most currencies at the end of December has rubbed salt in the wounds of motor companies that import vehicles or components.
“Companies that produce vehicles locally are also impacted on by the foreign exchange rate which has taken its toll on the cost of importing components used to manufacture vehicles. The low oil price has shielded South African motorists from a massive increase in the fuel price, but, consider the implications when the Brent crude oil price increases. This will affect our fuel price drastically, making fuel costs for any consumer or logistics operation extremely expensive,” Maile explains.
He adds that the weakened economy has made the market less conducive for buying and even operating vehicles, as highly indebted consumers face increases in insurance, fuel and other services, which significantly influence being able to afford and maintain a vehicle. New Mobility Despite the difficulties that the automotive industry faces, a new movement in mobility is being followed to mitigate issues such as rising fuel costs and expensive services. “The global movement to becoming more environment- friendly has driven the notion that smaller combustion engines and electric engines are often more powerful and cheaper to operate. KPMG surveys on this matter have noted that more people are turning to alternative power sources for their vehicles. Consumers will soon realise this is the future,” Maile highlights. While there is a global shift towards using alternatively powered vehicles, such as electric cars, Raine-Botha explains that infrastructure to accommodate electrical cars in South Africa is not yet on par with the advanced economies. “The hindering factor for such vehicles is the lack of an adequate infrastructure for charging purposes. Until that is well established, the market will not take off.
The onus is on both government and the private sector to ensure that this is taken care of before we are likely to see good growth in sales of electric vehicles.” She concludes by indicating that Nissan and BMW announced a partnership to investigate the possibility of creating infrastructure for electric vehicles, adding that “this shows initiatives are in place by the private sector”.
You could be forgiven for thinking that electric cars are a magic bullet for transforming the streets of the UK. London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has claimed they will soon make buses in the capital redundant, and the city has launched a £100m project to encourage more people to use electric cars. There is, presumably, a clear case for saying London would be transformed for the better by electric vehicles.
Alas, we struggled to find this case written down anywhere. So we sat down with a blank spreadsheet and tried to work it out from first principles. We began by listing the problems that motor vehicles currently bring to cities. Then, we asked what electricity could do to address each of these.
Is electric better?
Perhaps the most obvious reason people get excited about electric vehicles is pollution. Conventional vehicles spew some very noxious stuff into our streets,killing many thousands each year (pdf), including several thousand in London alone. Electric vehicles offer a real advantage in reducing the dangerous nitrogen oxide and particulate matter in urban areas.
But as well as being cleaner, are electric vehicles also greener? That’s a different question – one to which the answer is entirely dependent on how the nation generates its electricity. In 2014, 19.1% of the UK’s electricity (pdf) was generated from renewables compared with 30% for gas and 30% for coal.
This heavy use of fossil fuels means the electric car is not as eco-friendly as it might initially appear. Electric vehicles basically move the fossil-fuel combustion from inside the car to another part of the country (safely outside the purview of any elected mayors). They don’t do much about how we’ll stop our nation emitting greenhouse gases.
The problems of today’s vehicles, however, go far beyond emissions. The hypermobility (pdf) they provide permits suburban sprawl (and thus extra greenhouse gas emissions) as it becomes possible for people to live, work and shop at places distant from one another. And there is another big space problem: a car used for 50 minutes a day is unused 96.5% of the time. Frequently cars are stored on roads and pavements, to the detriment of traffic flow, aesthetics, councils’ finances and the needs of vulnerable road users.
Simply swapping one engine for another does nothing to solve a raft of other problems. The UK has a billion-pound health crisis (pdf) arising from physical inactivity. Shifting shorter journeys – for example, those under two miles – from cars to active travel modes such as walking or cycling is one of the best things(pdf) any developed nation can do to tackle its health problems. Electric vehicles, at best, leave this problem untouched.
Perhaps what electric vehicle champions are really thinking of – especially when they suggest they will replace buses – is self-driving electric cars. Taking the driver out of the picture overcomes some issues, most obviously the problem of collisions – there is a high global and UK death toll from people crashing their vehicles.
A switch to driverless vehicles gives us an opportunity to rethink our relationship with cars. We could move away from the old idea that everybody should own their own car and have a much smaller number of automated cars, each in frequent use and summoned when people need them.
Self-driving cars might overcome some genuine problems, such as the number of cars on the road and where we store all the unused cars. But this future requires car makers to sell few cars rather than many. This makes it unlikely any real change will happen – especially given the cosy relationship car manufacturers have enjoyed with governments. There is a lack of ambition and vision from the motoring industry which, for all its innovation, avoids addressing underlying issues.
And even if we did shift to fewer shared vehicles, we are still left with the issues of urban sprawl, and questions about health and wellbeing. Even driverless cars do not address these fundamental problems. We need to stop building towns and cities on the self-fulfilling assumption people will travel by car. There is no future in which humans can sit down all day without paying an enormous health price. If driverless cars appear in streets anything like today’s, we risk falling into the most pathetic of robot uprisings, where they transport us helpfully from place to place while we remain inactive, growing fat and increasing our risk of cancer and diabetes.
Electric vehicles should not be considered a panacea for sustainable transport but rather a possible part of the puzzle. We need to rethink the journeys we make. Many of our urban journeys are short and we should plan cities with that in mind. Perhaps in the future we will continue to drive to the city, but we won’t drive through the city. Let’s turn cities back into a place for human beings to make their short journeys in a physically active way.