Factory roof-powered delivery vehicles!

Factory roof-powered delivery vehicles!

In the future, South African businesses could use their large solar installations to overcome loadshedding and fuel their road fleets, says Justin Coetzee, CEO of fleet technology company GoMetro.

According to Coetzee, South Africa’s installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity increased 349% between March 2022 and June 2023. This was largely driven by businesses installing panels at their premises. “Given the interim tax incentives on solar installations, this figure is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years. [This] means that in two to four years, we may just have a glut of commercial solar energy with nowhere to go,” he elaborates. 

What can businesses do with all the extra power their factory rooftop solar installations can provide? Feeding it back into the electricity grid is an unlikely option, as South Africa’s grid simply doesn’t have capacity to carry those loads or offer attractive tariffs. The answer, Coetzee says, is to pour that sunshine into commercial electric vehicles (EVs). 

The electrification of South Africa’s fleets will start, he believes, with smaller two- to four-tonne EVs moving local loads. The first routes are likely to be 120-odd kilometre loops from distribution centres for retailers and e-commerce operations. Trucks will complete a delivery loop in the morning, recharge briefly whilst being reloaded with cargo back at the depot, then complete a second loop in the afternoon. Overnight, the vehicles will be able to fully recharge at the depot using solar power stored in onsite batteries. 

Alternatively, vehicles can spend the day charging off the depot’s batteries, running deliveries at night to avoid traffic. Either way, today’s investment in solar power pays for tomorrow’s “fuel”.

“This would be a huge cost-saver for companies, as it addresses rising diesel and petrol costs and reduces time spent on fuel management,” Coetzee explains. “Granted, it’s not quite the right time to invest in the actual vehicles yet – that will come in a few years when electric trucks are more advanced and prices are lower – but we are almost there.”

For now, he suggests business owners consider over-supplying their businesses with solar panels in order to take advantage of the Income Tax Act’s Section 12BA tax benefit, which lets companies claim an upfront 125% of renewable energy asset costs until 28 February 2025. This rebate also applies to inverters and power storage batteries if they form an integral part of the renewable energy system.

Coetzee dismisses fears of solar technology ageing badly: “The solar quality of 10 years ago is nothing like the solar quality of today. The innovation curve of solar panels, inverters, and storage has flattened and the time to invest is now.”

The next step is for businesses to investigate their internal and/or external logistics to identify popular routes, preferably in a 120-km loop. This is the data-gathering phase, Coetzee says, and GoMetro has developed a bridge telematics aggregator that can use existing telematics data to plot electric routes.

“Your vehicle electrification plan will need data points about your current routes, vehicle load capacity, usual cargo, available drivers, grid quality near your business premises, the size of the business’ solar investment, and various other factors,” he emphasises. “This data can take quite some time to gather, and will guide decisions about replacing internal combustion engine vehicles with electric vehicles during your normal fleet replacement cycle.”

In two to three years’ time, businesses can then progress to investing in one or two EVs in the one- to four-tonne range. It is anticipated that import tariffs and duties for EVs will be adjusted in the next Budget announcement, although no-one is sure what those changes will be.

At the moment, the commercial EV options in South Africa are limited. However, Coetzee points out that EV manufacturers are launching new models regularly, while a large influx from Asia is anticipated from 2026 onwards. As a result, the quality of eight-, 10-, and 24-tonne trucks is now almost on par with their internal combustion engine counterparts – and EV vehicle prices are dropping. 

“The reality of running a full EV delivery fleet is still a few years away, but you can start planning and preparing for this future by investing in as much solar as you can handle,” Coetzee reiterates. “Your solar investment will pay off in the long run, when highway electrification becomes more feasible for toll companies and you can invest in larger trucks.”

Published by

Jaco de Klerk

In his capacity as editor of SHEQ MANAGEMENT, Jaco de Klerk is regarded as one of the country’s leading journalists when it comes to the issue of sustainability. He is also assistant editor of FOCUS on Transport & Logistics.
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