Rubicon aims to more than double its charging network by the end of 2024

10th November 2023 By: Irma Venter - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Technology group Rubicon aims to expand its electric vehicle (EV) charging network from the current 90 chargers to more than 250 by the end of next year, says e-mobility director Greg Blandford.

Rubicon specialises in renewable energy, electric mobility, lighting, building automation and power solutions.

While the company is known for its industrial automation work and the supply of bank-backed solar energy systems to homes and businesses, it also holds the distinction of being the first to introduce a Tesla vehicle to South Africa, the Model X.

Additionally, Rubicon serves as an official partner for the Elon Musk empire’s battery systems, although it does not distribute Tesla vehicles.

Blandford says Rubicon’s existing network of 90 EV chargers is set to increase to 150 by the end of this year, through collaborations with vehicle manufacturers such as Volvo and Audi, as well as with the Automotive Industry Development Centre, in the Eastern Cape.

“We plan to add another 100 chargers by the end of next year.”

The company has also provided charging infrastructure for Mercedes-Benz and BMW, both for dealerships and customers, as well as in conjunction with several property developers.

The latter typically involves charge points at shopping malls and office parks.

Rubicon’s charger mix is expected to consist of 40% DC (fast charging) and 60% AC (slower charging) by the end of next year, with at least half of them connected to renewable-energy systems.

At present, all chargers are imported, as the local demand is not substantial enough to justify local manufacturing.

“But the market is growing rapidly; there are significant opportunities. We have a factory in Cape Town with the capacity to produce chargers,” says Blandford.

In the first seven months of this year, South Africans bought 581 fully electric vehicles, surpassing the previous year’s total EV sales.

The current EV fleet in South Africa stands at about 4 000 units, according to Blandford.

He anticipates this number to double in the near future and to then double again by the end of 2026.

Blandford says Rubicon has initiated a pilot project that involves chargers with built-in battery packs, enabling them to charge from off-peak power sources.

“We also aim to provide wheeled green energy across the grid, ensuring that green power is available for vehicle charging even in the absence of renewable-energy sources on site.”

Blandford envisions future technology that may include microgrid controllers that feed power to chargers in specific areas during selected times, with the goal to reduce the burden on the Eskom grid.

“This means that a municipality could potentially control power distribution to a city suburb, for example, allowing EV grid charging only at specific times and at incentivised rates.

“This is crucial as we could face a potential problem if [the residents of] an entire suburb plug in their EVs at night, and if power is restored after a period of loadshedding. The grid in the area could collapse if all the EVs start charging simultaneously.”

Blandford stresses the importance of homeowners installing EV chargers linked to renewable systems at their residences, especially given the current constraints on South Africa’s power grid.

He also notes that there are currently about 500 public EV chargers in South Africa, in addition to home-based chargers.

“For now, South Africa has an adequate number of public chargers, as each charger typically has two to three ports. Generally, we need about one public charger for every ten EVs.”