The future of vehicles is definitely electric in every way. Yet as the world moves fast into the future of electric cars, Africa is driving behind at a rather subdued pace.
The continent is yet to properly set the stage for this next pace of revolution, and the road remains long and slippery.
Kenya, for instance, has less than 200 electric vehicles, 30 of which are owned by Nopea Ride, an electric car taxi company. The first electric car, a Nissan Leaf, was launched in in the country 2016, but since then, nothing much has happened to accelerate adoption of electric cars.
Kenya’s situation is a microcosm of what is unfolding across the continent.
Why is this the case?
Former ICT Permanent Secretary Prof Bitange Ndemo says Kenya and Africa in general are in this situation because they are yet to put in place the requisite infrastructure such as car charging booths, critical for the operations of the modern vehicles.
Kenyans, Prof Ndemo opines, cannot buy these types of vehicles without such critical infrastructure.
As African countries dilly dally to put in place the necessary facilities for EVs, the rest of the world has engaged a higher gear in the use of the modern vehicles.
Major cities in Europe have electric car charging stations installed everywhere where car-owners plug in their cars for a recharge. Petrol stations are now gradually giving way to charging booths, a trend expected to gather steam going forward.
China has the highest uptake of electric cars and boasts of the largest stock of highway plug-in passenger light commercial vehicles and electric bus development. Beijing had 3.4 million units of legal plug-in passenger cars towards the end of 2019.
In 2019, China ruled the plug-in light commercial vehicle and electric bus deployment, with its stock reaching more than 500,000 buses, 98 percent of the global stock, and 247,500 electric light commercial vehicles, 65percent of the global fleet.
China is followed by the United States which had about 1.45 million plug-in cars, 20percent of the global stock. About the same time, Europe had 1.7 million plug-in passenger cars, accounting for 25 percent of the global stock. Europe also has the second largest electric light commercial vehicle stock, with over 115,000 units, 31percent of the global stock in 2019.
Looking at these rapid developments in the West, it is apparent that Africa has a long way to travel in adoption of EVs. EkoRent Africa, a Finnish company operating Nopea Ride, has only installed eight chargers in five charging locations in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.
“A number of Kenyans can afford electric cars, but where will they recharge them when while driving around or out of the city?” says Prof Ndemo.
EkoRent Africa CEO Juha Suojanen says the key setback for Africa is the cost of the EVs and absence of proper regulations.
Africa is the biggest market for fossil fuel second-hand cars because of their affordability. However, there aren’t many second-hand EVs which would come cheap.
“New electric cars are too expensive hence unaffordable by many people in developing countries,” Mr Suojanen says.
Nopea Ride uses second-hand EVs, he reveals noting that “if we were to import new EVs they would be so expensive that the Nopea taxi prices would be ten times what it is today”.
Aside from infrastructure, tough rules on carbon emissions are pushing European countries to adopt electric cars.
Few years ago, the European Union (EU) passed a regulation which came into force in 2020, limiting every car manufacturer to a certain amount of carbon emission per kilometre.
Electric Vehicle Outlook report released in 2020 by BloombergNEF noted that electric vehicles (EVs) will hit 10percent of global passenger vehicle sales by 2025, before rising to 28percent in 2030 and 58percent in 2040.
The EVs currently make up 3percent of global car sales, the study added.
Because of their dependence on clean renewable energy, scientists believe these vehicles remain instrumental in the fight against pollution and climate change; two monsters driven by heavy carbon emissions.
The survey shows electric car sales have been on an upward trend in Europe and Asia following strict emission regulation compelling car manufacturers to minimise their carbon footprints or face penalties.
The UK for instance, plans to ban sales of new cars that solely run on diesel or petrol in the next nine years.
Mr Suojanen says adoption of EVs in European countries was just as subdued as it is in Africa until the tough laws came in.
“Car manufacturers in Europe are currently turning to electric cars while slowing down their production of diesel and petrol engine cars to avoid penalties,” Mr Suojanen notes.
The experts say that lowering the taxes and duties on low carbon emission vehicles such as EVs and Hybrid cars can bolster the uptake of the vehicles locally.
While the transport industry accounts for more than 20percent of the global carbon emission, cars accounts for 12percent of the total EU carbon emission studies show.
But whereas the uptake of electric vehicles seams slow in the country, experts say Kenya is better positioned than many countries because it has already embraced solar technology besides enjoying substantial sunlight throughout the years.
“Instead of using billions of dollars in oil export, the government should tap into the solar energy and build infrastructures that utilize solar energy such EV charging stations,” Mr Suojanen said.