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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Technology agency to develop electric vehicle infrastructure in SA


Joule

Early next year the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) will launch an electric vehicle programme. This was revealed on Wednesday by TIA CEO Simphiwe Duma during a media briefing in Pretoria.

This programme follows on from the failed Joule electric car project. Although a technical success, the Joule was a commercial failure. “It failed spectacularly in terms of its market penetration,” he asserted.

The problem was that the car had been developed in isolation and fundamental issues had been ignored. Perhaps most importantly, there was no recharging infrastructure in South Africa to support the car and consequently no one was interested in buying it. All business plans, Duma admitted, indicated that the Joule would fail. (It should be noted that the Joule project predated the creation of the TIA and that the agency inherited the project when it was set up.)

“We’ve learnt our lesson,” he assured. The new programme will be focused on developing a national support infrastructure for electric vehicles, including the provision of recharging points. To this end, the TIA had signed, or is negotiating, appropriate agreements with national electricity utility Eskom and various universities.

The TIA was legally established at the end of 2008, its first and current board was announced in June 2009 and, thereafter, the new agency had focused on assimilating seven pre-existing entities which had separately and independently sought to stimulate innovation in different sectors. The TIA had to accept all the assets and liabilities of its predecessor bodies.

“TIA was established by an Act of Parliament,” pointed out Duma. “This means that it gets some allocation from the national fiscus. Also, it can only be shut down by Parliament, not by an official and not by a Minister.”

Moving new technologies and innovations from laboratories to industrial production is difficult everywhere, and the gap between the laboratory and the factory is often called the innovation chasm. “Our job is definitely to bridge that innovation chasm,” he explained. “To move peoples’ ideas from labs to industries. That is how you remain globally competitive.”

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