Amid electricity crisis, South Africa produces first-ever electric taxi

The team from the university and Rham Equipment collaborated to convert a minibus taxi into an electric-powered one
South African mini bus being retrofitted

South Africa may be grappling with a major load-shedding crisis, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping its transition to green energy.  A group from government-owned Stellenbosch University (SU) is testing what could become the country’s first-ever electric taxis. 

The taxis are expected to travel for up to 120 kilometres before needing a charge. They come with an electric motor power of 90 kWh alongside a battery capacity of 53.76 kWh. 

The team from SU and Rham Equipment collaborated to convert a minibus taxi into an electric-powered one. As of now, the vehicle is in the road testing phase with performance testing scheduled immediately after. 

Explaining the conversion process, one of the group members, Stephan Lacock revealed that they ejected the original internal combustion engine (ICE). Related equipment like the petrol tank, manual transmission, gas pipe, and radiator were also removed. 

Subsequently, he said the team with help from Rham Equipment built a “reproducible kit.” This kit comprises the main parts of the electric powertrain. They are: electric motor, inverter,  charger, electronic control unit, and a single-speed reduction gearbox. Interestingly,  the bus comes with regenerative braking, a feature that enables electric vehicles to improve their range during deceleration. 

South Africa electric taxi

Read also: BasiGo is looking to solve Rwanda’s public transport problems with supply of 200 electric buses

South Africa joining the clean mobility trend 

Considered a long-term solution to climate change, many countries have jumped on the trend of building and deploying electric vehicles. For South Africa, the goal is no different. Regarding electric taxis, Professor Thinus Booyesen of SU’s Industrial Engineering Department said that local manufacturers now have a chance to pursue electric vehicle production. This, he believes, would be done by opening more plants for this purpose. 

Booysen acknowledged that South Africa must not be lagging in terms of electric vehicle transition. Doing so could jeopardize thousands of jobs, he adds. He further states that both the automotive industry and government can’t “afford to sleep at the wheel.” 

Shedding more light on the group’s decision to work with the minibus, Booysen said:

More than 70% of the trips in South Africa are by minibus in the informal sector, which is why we are hoping to encourage the retrofitting of some of the 250 000 minibusses in the country with electric propulsion. These will be cheaper and much more environmentally friendly than new electric vehicles,

Through this initiative, the professor hoped to raise awareness about the kind of skills required for assembling electric vehicles locally. Making South Africans know about the environmental impact is also on his radar. 

Despite its rapid development over the years, South Africa’s energy crisis is a well-documented issue. It played a critical role in dampening MTN’s performance in the market for H1 of 2023

Not only are the frequent blackouts harming the effects of big and small and medium-scale businesses, but it also causes one to doubt the feasibility of electric taxis. Without stable electricity, how can South Africa deal with the daily culture of charging electric vehicles? This could definitely destroy an already weakened power grid. 

Although Booyen acknowledged the energy situation as a potential hurdle for any clean mobility effort, a group member Johan Giliomee said the taxis would be supplied through solar energy. By this, he meant solar panels and battery energy storage systems. He also hinted at hydrogen as a likely alternative. 

In Nigeria, another African country, there have been recent efforts to pilot a clean transport revolution. Last month, a government agency acquired some electric buses. A few weeks later, the government also revealed plans to buy 3,000 buses powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). 

While the immediate goal was to relieve the burden of increased transport fares, it also sought to decrease the country’s carbon emissions. These plans are noble, but as this think-piece states, they must be “executed smartly.” 

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