Electric Minibus Taxi Feasibility Study Underway in Stellenbosch, South Africa

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  • A project team of companies and research institutions today announced a research partnership to investigate and advance the feasibility of an electric minibus taxi in South African conditions by testing production vehicles in South Africa in 2023.

For the last five years GoMetro, a global mobility management technology company with its head office in Cape Town, has collected data on taxi operations across South Africa.  In order to advance e-mobility development locally, GoMetro has convened a project team of innovative companies and researchers to launch a demonstrator project to test the first minibus in South African conditions by January 2023.

The project team, consisting of GoMetro, MiX Telematics, HSW, ACDC Dynamics, and various entities within Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Engineering, will conduct rigorous and extensive testing in and around the town of Stellenbosch, as well as putting the electrification of the minibus taxi sector firmly on the national agenda by means of an educational roadshow in all nine provinces in the course of 2023.

A number of viable electric minibus taxi models from various markets have been identified, the first of which will be on South African shores by the end of the year. The acceptance and practicality of the model will be extensively tested with taxi owners and drivers, in order to identify the use-cases and conditions where an electric taxi would make the most sense.

“Taxi drivers and owners are very interested and intrigued by the idea of an electric minibus taxi, and are constantly asking us when the first electric minibus taxi will arrive on our shores”, says Justin Coetzee, GoMetro CEO. “We have built valuable relationships with a large number of taxi associations, and the ever-increasing fuel price is a massive concern among owners, drivers and riders alike, as there does not seem to be any relief in sight. The industry has long acknowledged that business as usual will not suffice – and that change is required, especially after the effects of COVID-19”.

The aim of testing different models over the coming months, is to establish which vehicle will be best suited to the South African public transport industry, and what spectrum of operations are conducive to the range capabilities of the vehicles. In addition to testing the vehicle itself, the project team wants to engage with the automotive sector and policy makers to encourage proactive discussions with the government around the reduction of duties and the promotion of the adoption of electric vehicles in the transport sector.

Critical to the study is charging infrastructure

South Africa is plagued with regular bouts of load-shedding. In a recent paper by Booysen, M. J., Abraham, C. J., Rix, A. J., & Giliomee, J. H. (2022). Electrification of minibus taxis in the shadow of load shedding and energy scarcity. South African Journal of Science, 118(7/8). https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2022/13389, the authors highlight the constricted electricity production and the need for future paratransit to be coupled with a transition to renewable energy. However, renewable sources are intermittent, and the output is not necessarily matched, in the time domain, to the load. It must therefore be matched by substantial investment in battery storage to decouple demand and supply temporally.

Where to put charging stations? 

The authors claim that minibus taxis is South Africa park spontaneously at tacitly known stops of the drivers’ choosing, for durations determined by passenger demand, the charging potential at these stops has hitherto been unknown.

This could take the form of stationary battery storage at charging stations or batteries used in swapping schemes. Stationary battery storage can be used to charge slowly from the grid or renewable sources when available – reducing the grid load – and can then be used to discharge faster into vehicles without burdening the grid. Batteries used for swapping can also charge slower from the grid or renewable sources when available – with a concomitant reduction on grid power load – and will probably be faster to swap than charging a vehicle with a fixed battery.

Professor Thinus Booysen, Research Chair in the Internet of Things at Stellenbosch University, will lead the team of testing experts. “The informal taxi sector must transform to EVs, but little is known about their energy requirements. This unknown is overshadowed by our energy scarcity and coal dependence on the electricity supply side. This collaborative project will ensure we are prepared for and carefully manage this exciting transition,” says Booysen. The electric minibus taxi will be showcased at the Stellenbosch University campus.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal


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