Compared with the rest of Africa, South Africa has the most electric vehicles (EVs) on the road and the most extensive charging infrastructure, with new additions being made by a range of stakeholders and interest groups.
This is according to the information available on EVs in Africa, says United Nations Industrial Development Organisation’s (UNIDO’s) South African regional office energy and climate coordinator, Conrad Kassier, noting the difficulty in securing accurate data on the subject from other African markets, owing to varying data gathering, documentation and storage methods.
He believes Kenya is a country to watch because of its tech-friendly policies. The country has three-million vehicles legally registered and plans are under way for vehicle manufacturers Audi and Jaguar to become active role-players in the EV market development space in Nairobi.
In terms of smaller EVs, such as electric bikes and trikes, there is active interest in countries such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Mali, but in Southern Africa it is especially larger vehicles and fleets which enjoy a higher market share in heavily congested urban areas.
In Egypt, with Chinese vehicle manufacturer Foton’s EV technology, Cairo hopes to build an average of 200 electric buses over four years. The country also plans to procure electric buses.
“The electrification of public transport is equally important for the reduction of emissions in cities. A broad population of South Africans travel using public transport and stand to benefit from future reduced costs of operating electric vehicle fleet using local energy. “The largest cost component of operating any internal combustion engine is the fuel, electrification has a high capital cost but a significantly lower energy cost compared with imported oil. “There is also a large manufacturing opportunity for buses and batteries in South Africa since the Department of Trade and Industry requires between 70% to 80% local content for public procurement,” says UNIDO’s low carbon transport technical project coordinator Ashanti Mogosetsi.
Buses are said to be in the pipeline for Johannesburg and, in theory, electric taxis present a greater market.
In South Africa, potential for electric taxis exists in principle, but will be incredibly difficult to implement, says UNIDO project assistant for energy efficiency Nikola Niebuhr.
“Reasons include the challenges around the regulation of the taxi industry and bringing on board all the right decision-makers. “In most cases, there are multiple layers of leadership within and between taxi associations.”
Because the taxi industry has been managing most of its own affairs outside of organised national structures, transport planners, policymakers and experts would need to engage with the industry by showcasing the benefits from a cost perspective and without seeming to impose technology for which taxi owners have not asked.
Subsequently, Kassier states that the socioeconomics of the taxi industry are highly complex and require an innovative model for the electrification of minibus taxis.
“Recapitalisation programmes could be considered, but government would need to spend significant amounts of money to scrap fossil fuel taxis and replace them through an electric vehicle swapping method. “Infrastructure would also need to be installed and standardised at all existing taxi ranks,” he says.
Nonetheless, engaging the taxi industry on EVs and cleaner fuels is an absolute must and should be encouraged, if other urban sustainability targets, smart city developments and low-carbon transport technologies are to be successfully mainstreamed, Kassier advances.
“Awareness creation for cleaner transport is of critical importance and must be done in a way that resonates with the taxi industry and its customers. If, for any reason, the taxi industry should refuse to operate EVs in future, it would be a major setback for achieving an affordable, energy efficient transport transition,” Niebuhr concludes.