State Of My Study

18 Mar 2020 - Chris Abraham

I would like to develop an electric taxi system that has feasibility for the African context. A project like this entails a lot of research, and careful planning. I started off by analyzing the current body of research to find out how things are done currently in other countries which have developed such infrastructures.

I kicked off my research with the following question. If a country were to adopt a large-scale EV roll-out, how would they plan to charge all those EVs? Would that charging have a negative effect on the grid?

As it turned out, many countries are starting to adopt “smart-grids”, and “Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G)” systems. These systems are used to make use of vehicle batteries as distributed energy resources. In other words, the utility uses these systems to buy electricity from the EV owners during peak-load times at high rates (thereby drawing from their EV batteries), and sell electricity back during off peak times at low rates (charging the EV). This could actually be useful for SA’s load-shedding crisis while providing an extra passive income for taxi owners, but it will require substantial infrastructure investment.

I have also read on PV systems/micro-grids. Solar energy is becoming increasingly cheaper (e.g. thin-film technologies). At the same time it can stat to off-set the inefficient coal stations of South Africa. Unfortunately, solar energy is temporal, but if a sufficient number of taxis were deployed, batteries can be used to store that energy & resell it to the grid in the evening (peak electric load hours).

Two problems are posed by this, however. Firstly, who will buy all these taxis and scrap the old ones? Should it be phased in slowly, as old taxis are progressively take out of the market? Similar to the way Quantums have out-phased the old Hi-Aces? Sounds possible. Are “taxi-conversion kits” an option, or would that be too unreliable? Also that would leave too many waste engines. So far, I lean towards the former, more long-term, idea.

The reality is that within the next 20 years, these Quantums will become old and out of market. Trends indicate that manufacturers are phasing out petrol cars for electric. How will South Africa adapt to this, given its failing electric utility? Do we keep using petrol cars? One cannot predict the future with certainty, but the aforementioned envisioned future is certainly a viable possibility. As such, my research will evaluate this reality, by modelling the various actors & systems in place.

This is what I have done in that modelling process so far. I have identified a number of tools that simulate distributed energy resources (batteries & solar panels in this case), traffic simulation, and system block-diagram modelling/documentation. I further plan to find simulation tools for modelling the electric vehicle, pedestrian demand, micro-grid, and EV charger. I am looking at open-source tools so that my research outputs can be widely and easily accessible for the scientific community.

Although my goal is not to “culturally engineer” society to think in my proposed paradigm, I do feel that it is relevant to engage with the general public to obtain their feedback on this idea, so that my concept can be: 1. seeded in their minds, 2. adaptable to their needs, 3. not forced upon them in an inefficient way filled with misinformation & resulting in retaliation. As such, I will hopefully get feedback from the taxi industry as well as passengers. I hope to stick flyers in taxis which link to website where people can cast their vote or opinions on the matter.

This qualitative data may be useful in identifying the roadblocks and opportunities that define the path to this conceptual future reality. However, quantitative data is also essential to this study. How do current driving patterns of taxi drivers, passenger demand patterns, electricity demand patterns (on the grid), solar resource availability patterns (annually and daily) , and other quantitative patterns affect the performance of this future system? Of course, certain assumptions may have to be made when using this data. Can it be used “as-is” or will it have to be “transformed” based on trends to match future predictions of these patterns? In any case, I plan to input this qualitative data into a software which ties together all the aforementioned modelling toolkits to simulate the performance (economically, environmentally) of this hypothetical reality. This software will be a research output that can be used by any African city (many of which are using minibus taxis) to evaluate the performance in their region. My research paper will narrow the scope to Cape Town or South Africa.

This entry has summarized my thoughts on the topic. A lot lies ahead on this roadmap. Reading, analyzing existing software, scripting of interfaces and tweaking source code. At the same time, i want to create a presence in the general public & scientific communities. I want to obtain qualitative data in the form of public opinion, as well as quantitative data in the various forms discussed. I’m looking forward to this project.