Time is ripe for electric vehicles in Africa?

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BY ANTONY MUTUNGA

Africa is now among the fastest in the world in urbanisation. According to the World Bank, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa experienced an annual urban population growth rate of 4.1% as compared to the global rate of 2% in 2017.

Businesses and governments have, consequently, started to recognize the role of technology, integrating it more into the economy with the emergence of different companies into the region such as Uber and Airbnb that rely on technology.

The continent has however lagged in these fronts for many years. For example, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the regions whereby a majority of vehicles that are no longer able to meet standards are exported to despite other regions such as the European bloc, United States and China putting up stricter emission regulations, acceleration air pullution. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, seven million people die as a result of exposure to polluted air.

In fact, according to Gerphas Opondo, executive director of the Nairobi-based Environmental Compliance Institute, the transport sector is becoming a major source of air pollution in the African cities.

“Cities in Africa have high particulate matter, hydrogen oxide, hydrocarbon, and carbon monoxide concentrations, recorded along busy roads and intersections,” he said.

The risk of polluted air in addition to climate change have seen the region start looking at ways to reduce effects that come with these old vehicles that rely on fuel. One of the solutions has been electric vehicles (EVs), which Europe and the rest of the developed countries have been shifting to so as a means to do away with fuel powered cars. Africa, even though just at the starting line, has also embarked on adopting the use of electric cars so as to do away with the negative effects that come with cars running on fuel.

Electric cars first hit the Kenyan market in 2016 with a company known as Knights and Apps limited introducing the first electric car into the country. The vehicle, which relied on an electric motor, had zero emissions to the environment thus making it a viable option in transport geared towards environmental conservation.

In addition, apart from being environmentally friendly, the car was also friendly to the user’s pocket. This is evident in the fact that compared to car running on fuel, the electric car possesses an inbuilt lithium-ion battery, which uses 24 units of power which was equivalent to Sh500 to travel a distance of 130km compared to Sh1, 200 that would have been the average cost used to fuel a conventional car travelling the same distance.

According to Mercy Naimutie, an environmental consultant at Knights and Apps limited, it is time for to embrace practices at an individual level that are friendlier to the environment. Ever since then, electric cars have grown in number within the country. Finnish company Noparide introduced a shareable electric car cab service in Nairobi in August that aims to reduce air pollution and increase a driver’s income by cutting fuel costs. The service will compete with the likes of Uber and Taxify.

A lot of people in Africa also believe that electric cars are very expensive, which is one of the reasons why people are not willing to invest in them. However, this is far from the truth as for electric vehicles only the initial buying cost of the vehicle is high but this can be covered through saving costs that would have been used in terms of fuel.

Electric vehicles usually require low maintenance so one usually is able to save up more when owning an electric vehicle than a fuel-running vehicle. This can be accredited to the fact that electric vehicles run on electric powered engines thus there is no need to lubricate the car’s engine. EVs also do away with the engine work that a normal fuel powered car requires which means that trips to the service stations will be reduced.

The use of electric cars will also reduce one of the problems that Nairobi faces – noise pollution, which is usually a distraction especially to those that work alongside the roads. With the use of electric cars, this might change as they put a curb on noise pollution. Compared to fuel powered cars, EVs are much quieter as the electric motors that they use are capable of providing a smooth drive with higher acceleration over longer distances with as minimal noise as required.

However, despite the many advantages that electric cars bring to the region they also bring along with them some problems. For instance, even though electric cars would really be helpful to Kenyans in fighting pollution, they require charging stations, which are not available in numbers throughout the country. The fact that some of the cars have batteries that will take a short time to run dry and a long time to charge requires one to have easy access to charging stations.

This would especially be problematic to those that are travelling long distances. If not careful, they would find themselves stranded with no way to charge their EVs. Additionally, another issue that is brought about by electric vehicles is the charges that one might incur in terms of electricity. With some electric vehicles requiring more charges than others, one might end up using a lot on electricity in order for it to function properly.

Electric vehicles are indeed the future in the transport sector, however at the time a lot is required before they are adopted in the large scale. The Kenyan government as well as other African governments are working on regulations for EVs, which will see them become more available in the region. More and more people are being attracted to the idea of owning an EV. It is therefore time for more charging stations throughout the country so that even when travelling long distance one is able to charge their battery with ease.

For Erik Solheim, executive director of the UN Environment, it is time for Africa to adopt electric vehicles in order to reduce pollutioN (that most African countries are facing). Whether electric vehicles will be adopted in large numbers in the short run or long run, one thing is for sure; Africa has to be ready
for the change.