Justin Coetzee, CEO of fleet technology company GoMetro, suggests South African businesses’ large solar installations to overcome load shedding could fuel their road fleets in future.
“South Africa’s installed solar PV capacity increased 349% between March 2022 and June 2023, 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. Which means that in two to four years, we may just have a glut of commercial solar energy with nowhere to go,” Coetzee said.
What can businesses do with the extra power their factory rooftop solar installation could provide? Feeding it back into the grid is an unlikely option, as South Africa’s electricity grid simply doesn’t have capacity to carry those loads or offer attractive tariffs. The answer, Coetzee suggests, is pouring that sunshine into commercial electric vehicles.
The electrification of South Africa’s fleets will start, he believes, with smaller two to four tonne electric vehicles (EVs) moving loads around locally. The first routes will likely 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 while they’re being reloaded with cargo back at the depot and complete a second loop in the afternoon. Overnight, the vehicles could fully recharge using solar power stored in the depot’s onsite batteries.
Alternatively, vehicles can spend the day charging off the depot’s batteries, and do delivery runs at night, causing less disruption to traffic. Either way, today’s investment in solar 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 explained. “Granted, it’s not quite the right time to invest in the actual vehicles yet – that will come in a few years when EV trucks are more advanced and prices are lower – but we are almost there.”
For now, Coetzee suggests business owners consider over-supplying their businesses with solar panels. This way they can 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 applies to inverters and power storage batteries as well, if they form an integral part of the renewable energy system.
He 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 would be for businesses to investigate their internal or external logistics to identify popular routes, preferably in a 120km loop. This step is the data-gathering phase, Coetzee explained – and GoMetro has developed a Bridge telematics aggregator that can use existing telematics data to plot electric routes out.
“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’s solar investment and various other factors. 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,” Coetzee said.
In two to three years’ time businesses can then take the next step: invest in one or two electric vehicles in the one to four tonne range. Import tariffs and duties for electric vehicles are anticipated to be adjusted and changed in the next budget announcement – however no-one is sure what those adjustments will be.
At the moment, the commercial electric vehicle options in South Africa are limited. However, EV manufacturers are launching new models regularly and a large influx from Asia is anticipated from 2026 onwards, Coetzee says. As a result, the quality of eight, ten and 24-ton 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. 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,” Coetzee concludes.Click below to share this article