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Published on June 12th, 2020 | by Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai

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Pretoria-Based BLUEPLUG Charges Up South Africa’s EV Market (Interview)

June 12th, 2020 by  


It has been exactly 10 years since the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Funny how time flies! I was fortunate to get to watch 7 matches at various arenas, including the match involving one of my favorite national teams, Spain. I remember that Spain vs Chile match like it was yesterday. A lot has changed in that time. One of the things I get excited about the most whenever go around Pretoria and Gauteng Province is how there are now a lot of charging stations at malls, car dealerships, and airports. The South African EV scene is shaping up quite nicely. We recently looked at the State of Electric Vehicles in South Africa. We are excited that the huge potential this market has will soon be realized due to several factors which include:

  1.  A wider variety of EV models will soon be available in South Africa for consumers to choose from
  2.  A growing public charging network

An i8 and an i3 charging at a BMW dealership in Paarlberg. Image courtesy of BLUEPLUG Electrical 

The charging infrastructure space in South Africa is growing quite nicely, which will definitely address most people’s range anxiety issues. We covered evCrowdRoute, a startup that is rolling out charging stations across South Africa, as well as GridCars. We were excited to have an opportunity to have a discussion with BLUEPLUG Electrical, one of South Africa’s largest EV charging infrastructure installation companies. We caught up with Peter Ras (PR), owner of BLUEPLUG.

CT: You are the preferred partner for BMW and Nissan. Tell us a bit more about those partnerships and how you won those, and how it is going.

PR: My journey in the EV space started with Nissan back in 2013 when they wanted to launch the Leaf. I was busy with a project in one of Nissan’s buildings at that time. I was asked to a meeting to discuss other work, EV chargers, which has led to this ever changing business for me. I went to Europe several times for training on various charger brands. BMW was the next big OEM that had contacted me with regards to installing chargers for them. Since then, 2014, I have assisted them from a technical perspective, supply of chargers and then the installation of these chargers publicly and private. We will have to adapt and accept that fossil fuel vehicles will not be available in the market for too long as oil is starting to dry up and with the whole global warming situation we will have to adapt to other transport measures. We supply and install chargers for BMW and Nissan. I have done site evaluations for Audi, but I have not installed any chargers as of yet for them. Hopefully we will do something with them when E-Tron is launched in South Africa.

CT: Do you own, operate, and maintain those chargers under an SLA, or do dealerships own and manage them?

PR: The chargers belong to the dealership. My focus is actually only to install and maintain the charger at the relevant sites. I rather focus on 1 aspect than 2 or 3. We need to allow other businesses to grow in this industry and we need to work together to ensure that the EV space is successful. It is important for me to leave a site where we installed a charger and be proud of the way we have completed the installation. It is like preparing food. Anybody can cook. It is all about the taste and how the food is presented to you. We are busy negotiating a service agreement with all the charger owners. The problem is that there is not a lot of vehicles on the road and thus leads to chargers not being used regularly. The owners then do not want to spend money on these chargers after the installation took place.

A 22 kW charger installed by BLUEPLUG at Morningside Mall, Johannesburg, South Africa. Image courtesy of BLUEPLUG Electrical 

CT: Besides these car dealers, who are some of your other customers and where do people generally install chargers?

We have installed chargers at shopping malls, office parks, and estates. We have also installed at a wine farm in the Western Cape. We have installed chargers on a temporary basis for BMW at some of the big sporting events around the country as well. We have installed at Suncity for The Million Dollar Golf, we have installed chargers at The SA Open and the Johannesburg Open. The players and VIPs were escorted in electric vehicles at these sporting events. We have also installed temporary chargers at various functions held by BMW across the country especially when they launch a new model I3 or I8.

CT: How many charging stations have you installed for those brands at their dealerships, and also at homes of people who bought EVs?

PR: I have installed all the public infrastructure for BMW and Nissan. In 2018 I took over the house installations for BMW. I have installed nearly 200 chargers if not more in the public space and we have installed about 80 to 100 chargers at various customer houses around the country. BMW installed the most chargers up to date with a number of 40 dealerships across The Republic. They have also partnered with various other 3rd parties for installations. Nissan installed at 9 or 10 dealerships across Gauteng.  Most of these installations happened in Gauteng and the Western Cape. I would say that these two provinces in South Africa are the leaders in adapting to the EV market the best.

A BMW i3 charging at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Image courtesy of BLUEPLUG Electrical

CT: Do EV buyers buy the 7 kW chargers or do they just charge from the normal 3-pin socket? Overseas, about 80% of charging takes place at home overnight, etc., so is this the same trend you are seeing in SA?

PR: I see the same pattern here in South Africa in the way people charge. We partook in the first ever drive from Johannesburg to Durban and back to Johannesburg in 2017 with a charger mounted on to a generator at the back of my truck. The idea was to obtain information on how many chargers would be required for the trip should an EV owner want to travel Durban and back. The occasional charger (3-pin plug-in charger) is mostly used as people will have to purchase a home charger (7kW charger) additional. Public chargers will play a big role in the future when those public charger owners advertise the chargers to their advantage.

11 kW BMW i Wallbox Home Charger installed by BLUEPLUG at a customer’s home in Sandton, Johannesburg South Africa. Image courtesy of BLUEPLUG Electrical 

CT: Do most homes require any upgrades to the electrical supply in order to add a 7 kW “Load” or 11 kW?

PR: Normally they do not require any upgrades. I install a data recorder/logger at the sites where the spare capacity is unknown. We leave the recorder in for a week to obtain the required information and then either proceed with the installation or apply for an upgrade to the site. This is normally more prone to happen with public installations than house installations. People normally charge their vehicles at home when the grid is not under strain at night. You can also set your vehicle to charge at specific times.

CT: Which EV do the guys at BLUEPLUG drive, and how is the experience on EV driving in SA?

PR: The BMW i3. We have driven the BMW i3 several times around the country with either a launch or when we had to test a charger after it was installed. It is absolutely amazing to drive around with a vehicle that is environmentally friendly yet comfortable. It is a must-have for the modern household.

CT: Will you also add DC fast chargers on the major highways?

PR: We have not yet installed any charger on any of the highways. We are in negotiations with known role-players to start with installations on the highways. These installation will take place in strategically locations across the country. Nissan and BMW had an agreement for long where they installed chargers in the public domain. BMW has installed the most chargers to date across The Republic. BMW has also partnered with various other 3rd parties for installations across the country.  I have also received many inquiries from companies investigating into having chargers installed at their premises or office blocks. Most of the installations that were completed by BLUEPLUG took place at either a dealership or at a customer’s house. If had to give a breakdown of the installations completed by BLUEPLUG, it would be 40% dealerships, 30% for home and public installations.

From this we can see that the South African EV charging infrastructure space is getting quite exciting. Several other big firms, like Shell, are looking to install charging stations on their existing retail network, as discussed here.

Related Stories:

The State of Electric Vehicles in South Africa

5-Day Trips From Pretoria To Cape Town Inspire BMW i3 Owner To Start evCrowdRoute Charging Network

GridCars Network Is Charging Up South Africa’s EV Revolution

Images courtesy of BLUEPLUG Electrical. 
 
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About the Author

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.



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