NIFTY: Electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf are head-turners in the traffic and are so good to drive that they will sell, but they won’t serve the purposes of the regulations that spawned them. Picture: QUICKPIC
Nissan Leaf. Picture: QUICKPIC

THE effect of an uptake in the use of electric vehicles on the power grid could be significant, Eskom told Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy on Tuesday.

The electricity utility told MPs that it would conduct a three-year study to ensure that it is prepared for the future, even though it was not certain that electric vehicles would be a definite solution for the traffic and energy problems of today and in the future.

In March, Eskom received 10 electric power Nissan Leaf vehicles for its testing programme. The Leaf is currently the world’s most popular mass market electric vehicle and has already been rolled out in Japan, the US and Europe.

Eskom’s GM for research, testing and development, Barry McColl, said the test was necessary to determine what kind of effect a surge in the use of electric vehicles could have on the national power grid.

Eskom currently operates with very narrow reserve margins — should any of its power stations experience a failure, a rolling blackout across South Africa could ensue.

The study is also important for Eskom and the country as South Africa looks to reduce its carbon emissions to about one ton per person by 2050.

According to the 2009 data at the US department of energy’s Carbon Information Analysis Centre, South Africa ranks at number 42 in the world, with 8.5 tons of carbon emitted per person. The top three carbon emitters per person were Qatar at 44 tons, Trinidad and Tobago at 35.8 tons and the Netherlands Antilles at 31 tons.

In 2011, Eskom generated 230-million tons of carbon dioxide, making it one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses in the world. However, it has embarked on a programme to reduce this and its new power stations, Kusile and Medupi, are designed to emit 15% less carbon than other coal-powered stations.

Electric cars have seen renewed interest following the 2008-09 global financial crisis that saw a spike in oil prices. However, sales of electric cars had been slow, about 100,000 worldwide, Mr McColl said.