Plug-in electric vehicles are heading for another global market, South Africa, but it may take a while. Eskom, a South African electricity public utility company, told the legislature it will conduct a three-year study to see if the local power grid can handle a bunch of plug-in cars.
Testing started in March when Eskom received 10 Nissan Leafs for its program. Barry McColl, Eskom's GM for research, testing and development, told Parliament the testing is being done to determine what effect a surge in the use of EVs might have on the national power grid. Eskom is already vulnerable to rolling black outs as the utility operates with very narrow reserve margins.
The potential for reducing carbon emissions will also be examined, since the country has an ambitious goal to cut these emissions to about one ton per person by 2050. Since there are 50 million people in South Africa, this could be a problem for the utility. In 2011, Eskom generated 230 million tons of carbon dioxide, making it one of the largest emitters in the world. Eskom has already launched a program to reduce emissions through redesigning its power stations in Kusile and Medupi so they emit 15 percent less carbon than other coal-powered stations. It's a start.
South Africa wants to cut emissions to one ton per person by 2050. In a country of 50 million, this is a problem for a utility that generated 230 million tons in 2011.
McColl told Parliament's portfolio committee on energy that the effect of EVs on the power grid could be significant. The three-year study is being done to ensure that the utility is prepared for the future. McColl said that the sale of EVs has been slow – about 100,000 worldwide. Taking time to do a three-year study will only slow things down more, and the introduction of EVs to South Africa already been dragged out. EV sales are much slower than expected in North America and Europe, where concerns over grid capacity in these regions don't get raised much anymore.