Solar solution: The uYilo smart grid ecosystem for electric vehicles at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. Picture: SUPPLIED
Solar solution: The uYilo smart grid ecosystem for electric vehicles at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. Picture: SUPPLIED

South African technology is making it possible for electric vehicles to provide power to homes.

In the near future many South Africans could drive to work in an electric vehicle, travelling up to 195km on one charge. On arriving at work, the car will be plugged into a renewable energy charging unit — as simple as plugging an appliance into a socket.

When you return home, the electric vehicle’s charger will be plugged into the home unit to electrify the residence.

After a year of development, a smart grid pilot project for the energy-efficient charging of electric vehicles through battery storage of renewable energy, and energy management across a network of charging stations, has proved successful.

Innovated by the uYilo e-Mobility Technology Innovation Programme – a national programme hosted by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth – the project paves the way for a new era of green transport and smart cities.

"Charging electric vehicles with optimised management of renewable energy is a groundbreaking achievement for SA and globally. We are not aware of anyone else who has achieved this kind of outcome," says Hiten Parmar, project leader and deputy director of the uYilo programme.

The programme, situated in NMMU’s innovation hub eNtsa, spans several faculties and departments including engineering, information technology and chemistry.

In the near future, further advancements in the technology will include opportunities to transfer power from electric vehicles into the grid or to homes with a bi-directional charger. Instead of the energy utility having to increase infrastructure for electric vehicles, this system considerably reduces the load on the national grid.

"Petrol and diesel vehicles are the biggest carbon emitters in the transport sector and the major thrust globally is to use renewable energy as far as possible to ensure that electric vehicles are 100% green; powered by renewable energy sources and not fossil fuel generated, CO² emitting, sources of electricity," says Parmar.

"Within the next five years we are likely to see strict policies coming into effect around energy efficiency and green transport in SA. It’s already happening globally. Japan already has more electric vehicle charging stations than fuel stations."

According to a recent study by Japanese vehicle manufacturer Nissan, there are now more than 40,000 charging ports across Japan compared to fewer than 35,000 fuel stations.

"In the UK, charging stations will exceed gas stations by 2020, and the Netherlands is planning to ban the sale of petrol and diesel engines from 2025," says Parmar.

According to a recent study by uYilo, SA has 98 "public" charging stations, including 77 AC slow chargers, which take three to eight hours to charge a battery, and 18 DC fast chargers, which charge a battery in about 20 minutes.

Most charging stations are at Nissan and BMW dealerships, but can also be found at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

Many developers are including charging facilities in their new buildings.

Electric vehicle batteries have a life of eight to 10 years, when they drop to 50%—60% capacity. They can be recycled or repurposed for lower energy needs, such as lighting, and used for several more years. After that a recycling process extracts core materials from the batteries, which can be reused by manufacturers.

"We are confident that this is an attractive business opportunity for local or international commercial role players to partner with us in taking it to mass commercialisation,"
says Parmar.

"The added advantage is the equipment we have used to create this facility is 90% local South African technology.

"We are ready to join hands with suitable partners to exponentially expand and revolutionise the current e-Mobility landscape in SA and internationally," he says. 

A locally manufactured public AC charging system costs about R30,000 per charger installed, while DC charging systems are imported and cost about R400,000 per charger installed.

"Through our pilot project we’ve demonstrated that energy efficiency applied to solar-powered electric vehicle stations can be developed at scale because we have solved energy storage by reusing the lithium-ion battery pack from an electric vehicle for stationary storage," says Parmar.

"The energy management system prioritises each charging event, based on renewable and stored energy available, and incorporates a time-of-use feature to manage peak and off-peak charging. This way, electric vehicles can be sustainably charged 24/7."


The uYilo programme is accredited by the South African National Accreditation Society for lead-acid battery testing and will soon become the only facility in SA to provide certified lithium-ion battery testing.

Recharging an electric vehicle costs about R30–R40 for 130km–150km of driving. The two 100% electric vehicles on the South African market are the Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3.

Both can drive for 175km-195km (dependent on the conditions) on one charge.

Alan Boyd of the BMW Group in SA says that since the March launch of their fully electric vehicles, they sold 142 in SA and 60,000 worldwide.

Floyd Ramabulana of Nissan says that since the Nissan Leaf’s launch in 2013, they have sold about 243,000 globally and
90 locally.

Boyd and Ramabulana say they expect to sell more if the economy improves and when the number of charging stations increases at companies, business estates, shopping centres and housing complexes.

The uYilo programme is accredited by the South African National Accreditation Society for lead-acid battery testing and will soon become the only facility in SA to provide certified lithium-ion battery testing.

Recharging an electric vehicle costs about R30–R40 for 130km–150km of driving. The two 100% electric vehicles on the South African market are the Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3.

Both can drive for 175km-195km (dependent on the conditions) on one charge.

Alan Boyd of the BMW Group in SA says that since the March launch of their fully electric vehicles, they sold 142 in SA and 60,000 worldwide.

Floyd Ramabulana of Nissan says that since the Nissan Leaf’s launch in 2013, they have sold about 243,000 globally and
90 locally.

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