IS SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA READY FOR THE ELECTRIC VEHICLE REVOLUTION?
We are living in a technological age, and development is moving fast in every sector, from education, health, environment, and transport. Transport is a significant docket in any economy—the reason why any country that wants to remain competitive needs to be up to speed.
In the last quarter of 2019, Daimler, a benchmark auto industry in a statement, announced plans to pull the plug on internal combustion engines and focus all its efforts on developing electric-powered vehicles. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes Benz, wasn’t the first auto corporation to switch to the EV (Electric Vehicle), it’s Bavarian competitor Volkswagen had made a similar stand the previous year.
Going fully electric has been received with mixed feelings, especially in car circles. Enthusiasts are distraught that the combustion engine will be taking its last breath. Oil companies and investors, on the other hand, are preparing for a significant downfall of profits they have enjoyed since the beginning of industrialization.
Where Does Sub-Saharan Africa Stand When in Comes to Electric Vehicle?
There is no doubt that Africa is urbanizing fast. Recent statistics reveal, the continent is urbanizing faster than any other continent globally at 4 percent each year. However, it’s rapidly growing urban population is crippling its existing transport and energy infrastructure.
For starters, Sub Saharan African transport sector is almost entirely reliable on fuel-based energy. In Nairobi, for instance, it is estimated that residents spend between 14 to 30 percent of their income on transportation. To protect its consumer, SSA governments make an effort to subsidize the fuel at an average cost of 1.4 percent GDP — which does very little to cushion the consumers.
Sub Saharan Africa is yet to stand up to the occasion when it comes to Electric Vehicles, and to be brutally honest; the region is not ready. Francis Romano will probably go down in history as the first Kenyan to venture in EVs – He has an interesting story behind his struggles. When he imported his first EV, a Nissan Leaf, into Kenya, back in 2016, it was held up at the port because customs officials did not know what to make of it.
Fast forward, 2020 Romano’s EV Taxi business is picking up, with the fully electric Nissan Leaf as the pioneer vehicle. The Nissan Leaf is also available for sale at leading automobile showrooms in the City. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, while Mr. Romano and a few automobile dealerships are slowly investing in EV’s, it doesn’t mean that Kenya as a country is ready to embrace it. Electric vehicles rely on batteries for mileage, the infrastructure to set-up charging port stations is still in its infancy stage of proposals and boardroom meetings.
What Is the Way Forward?
Sub Saharan African Governments urgently need to follow suit and embrace electric vehicles as a step to stave off the growing burden of fuel dependency. They also need to establish an electronic storage solution to leverage the abundant renewable energy resources. Fully electric powered automobiles running on battery storage offer a potential solution for SSA’s fuel dependency.
With zero regulatory agencies inspecting for harmful emissions from combustion vehicles in the region, limping infrastructure, and urban population on the rise, Sub Saharan Africa could be staring at an environmental crisis. Electric cars offer a solution since they have no direct emissions (they don’t even come with an exhaust pipe), they can drastically work to reduce the carbon footprint of Africa’s congested cities.
Uganda and Rwanda seem to be racing ahead of East African leaders, Kenya and Tanzania when it comes to the global switch to electric motoring, even with significant limitations in infrastructure. Both Kampala and Kigali have developed EV assembly plants, as Kenya and Tanzania make baby steps.
Uganda’s state-owned Kiira Motors Corporation has developed an electric bus Kayoola Electrical Series in partnership with Chinese Equipment Manufacturer, Motor Co. The buses cover an impressive mileage of 300 km on a single charge. Rwanda, on the other hand, in partnership with German Automobile manufacturer Volkswagen started assembling electric vehicles in Kigali in 2019.
All hope is not lost for Kenya, KenGen, a parastatal company, and the largest electricity producer in Kenya has stated plans to invest in electric public service vehicles, possibly. Ken Gen plans to generate revenue from vehicle owners relying on charging facilities.
The global market is aggressively embracing the EV market, with more than 3 million units sold globally. Auto manufacturers are slowly shifting into electric vehicles, selling hybrids, and setting plans to develop fully electric units for commercial production in the foreseeable future. According to statistics, about 54 percent of new global car sales and 33 percent of the world’s car fleet will be electric by 2040.
A 2019 report by Global EV Outlook stated that SSA’s uptake on an electric vehicle is still discouraging compared to the global leaders. Based on a report by International Energy Agency, there are several hindrances, including lack of investment in charging docks infrastructure, absence of fiscal incentives such as rebates or subsidies on vehicle importation taxes, and high parking or toll fees.