Despite facing a significant load-shedding crisis, South Africa continues progressing towards green energy solutions. A team from Stellenbosch University (SU), a government-owned institution, is examining the viability of introducing the nation’s inaugural electric taxis. These taxis can potentially cover distances of up to 120 kilometres before necessitating a recharge. They are equipped with an electric motor boasting a power of 90 kWh and a battery capacity of 53.76 kWh.
The SU team has successfully transformed a minibus taxi into an electric-powered vehicle in partnership with Rham Equipment. The converted taxi is currently undergoing road testing, with performance assessments planned to follow shortly.
Stephan Lacock, a team member, described the conversion process, which involved removing the original internal combustion engine (ICE) and associated components such as the petrol tank, manual transmission, gas pipe, and radiator.
Afterwards, with the assistance of Rham Equipment, the team developed a “reproducible kit” that includes essential components of the electric powertrain. These components include an electric motor, inverter, charger, electronic control unit, and a single-speed reduction gearbox. Notably, the minibus is equipped with regenerative braking, which enhances the vehicle’s range by recovering energy during deceleration.
South Africa joining the clean mobility trend.
Viewed as a lasting remedy to address climate change, numerous nations have embraced the trend of manufacturing and deploying electric vehicles. South Africa shares this objective, aiming to promote the same. In the context of electric taxis, Professor Thinus Booyesen from SU’s Industrial Engineering Department expressed the idea that domestic manufacturers can now explore opportunities in electric vehicle production. He envisions achieving this by establishing additional plants dedicated to this purpose.
Booysen recognized the imperative for South Africa to keep pace with the transition to electric vehicles, highlighting the potential risk to numerous jobs if the country falls behind. He emphasized that the automotive industry and government cannot afford to be complacent.
Elaborating on the team’s choice to collaborate on the minibus project, Booysen explained:
Through this endeavor, the professor aimed to increase awareness about the specific skill set needed for the domestic assembly of electric vehicles. Additionally, he aimed to inform South Africans about the environmental implications of such vehicles.
Navigating a famous energy crisis
While South Africa has undergone significant development, its ongoing energy crisis remains a widely recognized challenge. This issue notably impacted MTN’s market performance during the first half of 2023.
The regular power outages not only detrimentally affect businesses of varying sizes but also cast doubt on the viability of electric taxis. The lack of consistent electricity raises concerns about managing the routine charging needs of electric vehicles. Such a scenario could potentially worsen an already fragile power grid.
While Booyen acknowledged the energy challenge as a potential obstacle to clean mobility initiatives, group member Johan Giliomee stated that the taxis would be powered by solar energy. This approach involves utilizing solar panels and battery energy storage systems. Additionally, Giliomee hinted at the possibility of hydrogen as a potential alternative solution.
In Nigeria, a different African nation, recent initiatives have been undertaken to initiate a clean transportation revolution. Just last month, a government agency procured electric buses, and shortly after that, plans were unveiled to purchase 3,000 buses fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG).
Although the initial objective was to alleviate the impact of rising transportation costs, these efforts also aim to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions. While the intentions behind these plans are commendable, as highlighted in this think-piece, their execution must be approached thoughtfully.