The Business of Mobility: Zero Carbon Charge, South Africa’s solar solution for mobility

Andries Malherbe of Zero Carbon Charge outlines their plan to create South Africa’s first off-grid, solar-powered EV charging network, promoting renewable energy and reducing coal reliance.

The Business of Mobility is a series of articles featuring business leaders in sustainable mobility.  

Q&A with Andries Malherbe (Co-Founder & Director at Zero Carbon Charge) and Ross Douglas (founder at Autonomy) . 

Zero Carbon Charge is South Africa’s first off-grid national charging network for EVs – powered by renewable energy.

Ross: South Africa is experiencing problems generating enough electricity for home and industry, how are they going to power electric cars?  

Andries: That’s why we started Zero Carbon Charge. We live in a big, spacious sunny country, with a decent network of intercity roads. Once motorists adopt EVs, it’ll add another 10 of 15% to electricity demand, which we simply can’t supply. The solution is to build charging stations powered by solar. 

Ross: That’s good news because South Africa’s electricity utility – Eskom – is being heavily criticized for being overly reliant on coal. 

Andries: Around 90% of their mix is coal power. This means an EV powered by Eskom emits 5.6 tons of carbon a year, versus only 4.8 tons for a petrol vehicle. That’s shocking.  There’s also the issue that our grid isn’t designed for all these vehicles to draw so much power, especially if they want a fast charge. So we need to create off-grid solutions for the EV uptake. 

Ross: Solar parks in cities? 

Andries: No, we’re focusing on travel outside urban areas, where range is more of an issue, and you can’t plug your vehicle in at home, or in the office. If South Africans are going to adopt EVs, then they need to know they can travel throughout the country free of range anxiety. So, we’re working towards 120 solar-powered charging stations at 150km intervals by September 2025. (See Google maps for the Zero Carbon Charge network under development.)

Ross: All powered by solar PV?

Andries: Yes, all our sites have available land to install a solar park, which we can expand, as demand grows. Currently, there are only a couple thousand EVs in South Africa. But BYD and other Chinese models are entering the South African market; we foresee massive uptake. 

Ross: How are you going to back up your solar system?

Andries: With batteries, and with a biodiesel generator for when the sun’s not shining. We’ve done the weather models and reliance on the generator will be minimal. For the lowest radiation areas in the country we’ll only need it 150 hours a year. When you consider that 50% of all petrol consumption in South Africa happens outside of urban areas; in theory we’d be able to power half of the country’s mobility, almost exclusively on sun energy. 

Ross: What about trucking?

Andries: Battery electric trucks are a growing story for South Africa. Our main trucking route is the 600 km stretch between the port of Durban and Johannesburg, our biggest city. There is certainly an opportunity to ‘electrify’ this route and offer logistics companies an electromobility solution. 

Ross: What we also need to consider about combustion, is that the fuel needs to be mined, refined, and shipped around the world and in-country. All of this comes at a political, environmental, and economic cost. 

Andries: That’s an important story for many African countries, like ours, that don’t produce their own oil. We spend R240 billion annually (about $13 billion) importing oil and petroleum products, much of that from unsavoury regimes. With solar parks powering mobility we could radically reduce that reliance and localize that spend, which is an important consideration for a developing country. 

Ross: Finally, what about the business model, the pitch to the average South African motorist?

Andries: Cars are changing, with the investment and R&D now going into EVs, which can outperform ICE vehicles in every measure (speed, torque, fuel efficiency, maintenance, etc.) The world’s industrial automaking capacity – in Europe, China, and the US – is shifting to EVs, giving the consumer fantastic options. With our ultra-fast chargers, you can charge up to 80% in 20 minutes, and the fuel is 100% renewable and local. It’ll cost you approximately 20% less than petrol/diesel. Best of all, you can travel throughout the country in a vehicle that boasts cutting-edge technology, powered not by foreign fuel, but by the African sun. 

Share the Post:

Related Posts