Speaking at the launch, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the multistakeholder partnership project would pilot, test and demonstrate the viability of electric vehicles under South African conditions.
The pilot programme would also serve to determine end-user, infrastructure and running costs associated with local electric vehicle use, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters added.
Nissan South Africa – the primary private sector partner for the programme – would provide the DEA with four Nissan Leaf electric vehicles for the initial phase of the project, which would run for three years.
The vehicles would be charged using department-based charging stations with dual-grid connections.
“This project is not only about the electric cars themselves, but also about what kind of supporting infrastructure, such as battery charge stations, need to be in place to enable a significant uptake and use of electric cars in the country,” Molewa added.
The DEA’s fundamental motivation for embarking on the programme was an urgent need for South Africa to transition to a job-creating, sustainable, low-carbon and green economy, as outlined in the National Development Plan.
In addition, the initiative was a practical implementation of the outcomes of the seventeenth Congress of the Parties (COP 17), held in South Africa in 2010, and was aligned with the National Climate Change Response Strategy.
DEA facilities manager Dr Edwin Maseda added that the DEA wanted to tangibly indicate its commitment to environmental integrity through its infrastructure and development projects.
“We did not want COP 17 to be perceived as another ‘talk shop’ with no real outcome. We have to 'walk the talk',” he commented.
The programme would further seek to provide an environment that encouraged the domestic automotive industry to prepare for the transition to alternative propulsions systems.
“This initial public fleet should drive the adoption of electric vehicles by other government departments, as well as civil society,” he noted.
The Leaf would be commercially launched in South Africa by the end of this year, making Nissan the first manufacturer to introduce a fully electric vehicle in the country.
The South African launch of the Nissan Leaf would follow similar pilot programmes implemented in the US, Europe and Japan in 2010.
The vehicle featured an 80 kW motor, powered by a 24 kW/h lithium-ion battery that could be charged at residential buildings.
In addition, the pilot would investigate the viability of developing public charging station infrastructure over the longer term.
A seven-hour charge would power the vehicle for some 660 km in ‘city’ mode, while a 30-minute charge at the public station would enable a 50 km travel distance.
Nissan SA CEO Mike Whitfield emphasised that, while the Leaf was an electric vehicle, it was more responsive than a conventional compact family car and could reach speeds in excess of 140 km/h.
“This not a novelty. This is a real car,” he said.
Nissan would reveal the Leaf price point at its launch in September.