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Electric vehicles (EVs) and the future of e-mobility in Africa

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Electric vehicles (EVs) and the future of e-mobility in Africa

Electric vehicles, EVs for short, are vehicles that are either partially or fully powered by electricity. Their main attraction is because they are very environmentally friendly because they use little or no fossil fuels (petrol or diesel). Even more, electric vehicles are cheaper to run.

As talks of climate change continue to dominate conversations globally, continents of the world have begun adopting electric vehicles. Though not unknown in Africa, electric-powered vehicles remains a rarity in many African countries.

According to UNEP, South Africa, Seychelles, Rwanda, Mauritius, and North African countries are front leaders in the EV market, with cleantech startups taking the forefront and pushing e-mobility. However, despite the perceived growth of electric vehicles in Africa, the uptake has not been phenomenal.

In fact, you’re a lot more likely to count one million vehicles before you find one EV. That’s how rare they are in Africa. To put this into context, a country like South Africa only has about 1,000 electric vehicles out of an estimated 12 million vehicles that ply its roads. This is very poor considering South Africa takes the spot as the largest EV market on the continent.

How then can Africa promote EV adoption? Is there any hope for e-mobility in Africa now and in the future? No doubt, e-mobility has great potentials in Africa but its growth and adoption are being hindered by a number of factors.

These factors, if tackled, will increase the continent’s chances of mitigating climate change, providing cheap transportation, and reducing pollution.

High purchasing cost

This is one of the major factors that hinder the adoption of EVs because of low purchasing power and the absence of vehicle financing options.

Not many people in Africa can afford an upfront payment for electric vehicles and even if there were loan options, it would take the average African the whole of their life to pay back due to the high cost of owning one.

Second-hand vehicles

Africa has become a dump yard for used vehicles. Worse still, these used vehicles have internal combustion engines.

This has made the adoption of electric vehicles almost impossible because the second-hand market is huge. As a matter of fact, about 40% of the global exports of used vehicles go to Africa — with Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia leading the pack (approx. 80–90% imports).

No supportive policies

When it comes to the adoption of electric vehicles, the government should be a key driver. This is because policies and economic stimuli are required to ensure a rapid and seamless transition to electric vehicles.

Formulating and implementing policies that encourage the manufacturing of EVs by subsidization, reducing taxation on them, and ensuring adherence to their adoption will definitely yield tangible results and force e-mobility markets to embrace electric vehicles. Currently, only Cape Verde has made efforts to slowly get rid of internal combustion vehicles.

Insufficient energy supply and charging infrastructure

African countries have overburdened electricity systems, with some of them experiencing constant blackouts. An example is Nigeria with chronic power shortages and insufficient charging infrastructure. These hinder the use of electric vehicles because, after purchase, there’s no place to charge.

However, things are not all that gloomy for a country like South Africa as it had a high global ranking — 5th as a matter of fact — in the ratio of public electric vehicle (EV) chargers it had compared to available electric vehicles in 2020.

Way forward

There is a silver lining for Africa in the quest for driving EV adoption. This is evident in the roles that companies and startups are playing — building electric vehicles and driving their adoption within the continent.

Considering the erratic power supply in Africa, smart grids that are fed on renewable energy will facilitate the transition to EVs, mitigate emissions and enable countries to meet their climate targets.

It is now left for African countries to initiate climate programs, local production of EV vehicles, and emission reduction targets that will speed up the phase-out of internal combustion vehicles and lead to increased use in electric vehicles.

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