Despite policy support and some green energy initiatives, there is still much work to be done by South African authorities to successfully support the country’s transition to green energy technologies and sustainable mobility.

This is one of the key messages from a research paper presented at the Southern African Transport conference, currently being held in Pretoria. The paper, presented by PA Pienaar, M Zuidgeest and A Robinson, also made several suggestions on how road authorities can encourage the green energy transition.

The authors suggest that road authorities should increase their participation in policy formulation, planning, development, and implementation of initiatives like the Green Transport Strategy and the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan.

Pienaar, Zuidgeest and Robinson say that, as part of their service to the travelling public, road authorities have a role to play in promoting the establishment of a charging station network across the country’s entire road network – even where not commercially feasible.

Another factor that needed to be addressed by authorities was that a reduction in the use of fossil fuels would reduce the contribution of the fuel levy to the state coffers. This may indirectly influence fund allocation towards the upkeep of the road network.

“Road authorities need to continue to be involved in road user charging arrangements and contribute towards finding solutions which will ensure sufficient funding, while also considering the interest of road users,” the report notes.

According to the Department of Transport, the transport sector in South Africa is responsible for 10,8% of the country’s total Greenhouse Gas emissions, with road transport contributing 91,2% to total transport emissions.

Several entities and initiatives in South Africa are actively working with government in introducing and implementing alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) technology including the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), motor manufacturers, and many other organisations.

The researchers quote findings in the Bloomberg Electric Vehicle Outlook Report, which projects that the dominant alternative-fuel vehicle technology going into the future would be the electric vehicle.

This means that the provision and operation of battery-charging infrastructure will become key.

From the side of the vehicle industry, there is overwhelming support to promote New-Energy vehicles (NEVs) in South Africa, and the industry provided input into the development of the Auto Green Paper on the advancement of new energy vehicles.

The South African government is committed to its Just Energy Transition and decarbonisation initiatives, and the governments of France, Germany, the UK, the US, and the European Union have pledged financial support of $8,5-billion to assist South Africa with energy transition projects in terms of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP).

Road authorities in South Africa have a vital role, in that they are responsible for providing, upgrading, maintaining, and operating the infrastructure to be used by the NEVs which differ considerably from internal combustion-engine vehicles.

The report notes that the characteristics of electric vehicles (EVs) differ from those of ICE vehicles in that they tend to be between 10% and 20% heavier – and have more torque and acceleration ability.

Being heavier may affect collision impacts as well as the payload that can be allowed by law. Road authorities in South Africa need to monitor the change in vehicle characteristics as the percentage of new technology vehicles increases – and they need to adjust design and operational standards as necessary.

Standards for the design and operation of hydrogen refuelling and electricity charging stations also need to be adopted and adjusted for South African conditions. Road authorities may need to get involved to balance supply and demand, especially in the early days where facilities are not yet economically viable. Adequate charging station coverage is still necessary across South Africa’s relatively long travel distances.

In terms of EV accidents and incident management such as firefighting, EV-related fires have a higher temperature and longer duration, and require more water and other resources to control than ICE vehicle fires. High-voltage lithium-ion batteries pose a risk of an electric shock to emergency responders.

Road authorities and emergency services need to develop appropriate practice guides for the handling of such emergencies.

Another issue the authors highlight is that as petrol and diesel vehicles fall from favour, a new funding formula needs to be found to replace fuel levies which have, until now, been used to fund road maintenance.

In 2000 the fuel levy formed approximately 70% of total road user contributions collected, the report notes, stating that “other sources of road user funding will have to be identified to fill the shortfall being created.”

Other challenges facing South Africa in the transition to new-generation vehicles include load shedding and the country’s general electricity shortage.
The report notes that the Integrated Resource Plan from the Department of Energy appears not to make provision for additional electricity demand from the introduction of EVs.

Approaches to address the shortfall in electricity production may include using off-peak electricity supply or renewable energy – for example, by means of solar technology at charging stations.

“Further work needs to be done in order to assess the electricity needs of EVs and how the necessary supply can be secured,” the report notes.

Regulation must also be developed if EVs are to be made more affordable in South Africa. The report notes that, at present – unlike in many other countries – there are no tax incentives or subsidies in South Africa to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles.

“The South African government, through the Department of Transport, committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to embrace green mobility; and to introduce new vehicle technologies,” the report concludes. “Road authorities need to prepare themselves for the anticipated change and ensure that, in terms of their role, they are ready to embrace the new technologies.”