Alane Bibang Di Ndong explains the Constraints of Electric Car adoption in the African Market

The challenge of ecological transition has become a significant development axis for African countries. To achieve this, the transformation of production and consumption habits requires using electric vehicles, considered non-polluting. But the electric car also seems to pose some constraints for Africans in terms of infrastructure and acquisition costs. Does this make it an impossible dream for Africans? 

Here are some answers shared by Alane Bibang Di Ndong.

Alane Bibang Di Ndong is a popular African green energy researcher and promoter who actively explores the area of green energy, especially for the African market.

  1. A small car market

Not since the launch of Diem have climate change issues been a major concern in African countries. Indeed, although emitting little greenhouse gasses (only 3% of global production), the African continent remains one of the most affected by the consequences of climate change. Nevertheless, countries are forced to review their greenhouse gas production standards when we know that the main source of production on the continent comes from automobiles.

Although representing nearly 16% of the world’s population, the African car fleet represents only 2%. Indeed in 2014, there were about 44 cars per 1000 people in Africa compared to 661 per 1000 in North America and 569 per 1000 in the European Union.

  1. A market dominated by foreign production

Even if there are a few small African manufacturers such as Innonson Motors (Nigeria), Kantanka (Ghana), or Möbius Motors (Kenya) that produce 100% made-in-Africa vehicles, their productions are still embryonic in a market ultra dominated by American (Ford, General Motors), European (Mercedes, BMW, Renault, Peugeot, etc.) and Asian (Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai) manufacturers. Moreover, all these vehicles are imported. The lack of industrial fabric and infrastructure is the main reason manufacturers prefer to rely on their factories in Europe or Asia, which offer fewer logistical constraints and risks.

  1. Mostly old and second-hand cars

The African car fleet is aging, partly because new vehicle prices are still largely out of reach for African consumers. They are therefore forced to turn to second-hand vehicles. Every year, millions of used vehicles are imported into the continent. Unfortunately, these cars are essentially vehicles that no longer meet the environmental and safety standards in force in their countries of origin. They thus find a second life in Africa with all the environmental and safety risks they entail. Between 2015 and 2018, Africa imported nearly 14 million used vehicles due to weak regulations in this area.

But in their desire to limit the negative environmental effects of these second-hand cars, some countries have decided to adopt more restrictive standards for car imports. South Africa, Egypt, and Sudan have banned the import of used cars. Morocco, Chad, Ivory Coast, and Gabon only allow vehicles less than 5 years old, while Mauritius has set a 3-year limit. Unfortunately, in about thirty countries, there are still no regulations prohibiting the entry of old vehicles on their territories, so in Gambia, for example, the average age of the vehicle fleet is 19 years. Worse still, the absence of emission controls is widespread in these countries, except in Morocco, Rwanda, Ghana, and Nigeria, where importers are required to comply with EURO4 standards. One of the solutions to this pollution would therefore be an energy transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles, which are considered less polluting

  1. The ecological transition through the electric car

There are two types of electric cars, the 100% electric car and the hybrid car with dual thermal and electric motorization. The electric car has several advantages in terms of pollution, as it does not emit carbon dioxide or other polluting gasses, which makes it an asset for crowded and overpopulated African cities. It also does not produce fine particles, which are often the cause of pollution peaks. The electric car’s carbon footprint is also much lesser than that of the thermal car (gasoline or diesel), which represents a notable benefit for air quality. The other advantage of the electric car is that it is silent and does not contribute to the noise pollution already present in urban areas.

The same is true for maintenance, as an electric car has a more simplified engine design than a combustion engine. Indeed, there are ten times fewer parts and no gearbox or oil change to do. The consumption is also less important, with an average cost of 2130 to 4100 FCFA per 100 km against 13 and 25 kWh for the current electric vehicles. However, this means of transport is not without drawbacks.

  1. Obstacles to the deployment of the electric car

The first obstacle to the electric car’s spread is its high purchase price. Indeed, for the most popular models, prices are above 30,000 euros (or 19 million). Only models such as the Smart and the VW eUp are below this price. There is still the alternative of buying a used car, which requires changing the battery. The average price of a battery is around 8,100 euros (more than 5 million CFA francs).

  1. Enormous technical and infrastructure constraints

The other difficulty is that the autonomy is much less than its thermal counterparts. Despite the increasing quality of the batteries, journeys are limited to around 300 km or even 600 km for the most efficient models on a single charge. Not to mention the problems of waste from these vehicles, including the batteries, which are major sources of pollution.

In addition, access to electricity is not yet a reality on the entire continent. Africa is the continent with the lowest electricity consumption in the world. In 2018 the average per capita consumption was 567 kWh compared to 7,141 kWh in France, 7,098 kWh in the United States, or 4,906 kWh in China. Similarly, the amount consumed, which was 723 TWh, is barely higher than that of Germany. A large majority of the African population does not have access to electricity. In 2016, only 42% of Africans had access to it, with strong inequalities between urban and rural areas (71 versus 22%), according to the World Bank.

Finally, the lack of charging stations makes it impossible to use such a means of transport for inter-city travel that requires multiple recharges. The overall lack of transport infrastructure is the most important obstacle to the deployment of electric vehicles due to poor all-weather roads, and dilapidated or non-existent bridges, which limit their use to large urban areas. But the use of these green cars must be accompanied by equally non-polluting energy.

  1. A largely failing electricity sector

The production of non-polluting energy still has an insufficient share in electricity production. More than 60% of the electrical energy produced in African countries comes from thermal power plants that run on fuel oil, coal, or gas. Few countries use natural resources such as solar, wind, or hydro in their electricity production.

 Yet these natural resources are available in abundance throughout the continent. However, we can mention the hydroelectric dams of Inga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Renaissance in Ethiopia, and the Tchimbélé-Kinguélé dam in Gabon. Other projects are underway in Ghana, Cameroon, and Mozambique. There is also the Lake Turkana wind farm in northern Kenya, with 365 wind turbines providing 310 MW of electricity to more than 300,000 homes in the country. Despite all this infrastructure, 63% of Africans still do not have direct access to electricity. This situation is compounded by high electricity prices and unreliable national distribution networks.

A dream out of reach?

In view of all these factors, it is fair to say that the electric car is still reserved for very few countries, such as South Africa, Morocco, or Rwanda. The other countries, lacking infrastructure and industries, do not have the capacity to deploy such means of mobility on their territories. The mechanisms for financing the ecological transition, such as the Green Fund set up at the Paris climate conference in 2016 or the carbon tax, must help poor and underdeveloped African countries to acquire these essential infrastructures.

In the words of Alane Bibang Di Ndong, “the electric vehicle, the symbol par excellence of the ecological transition, remains a mere figment of the imagination for the vast majority of citizens living on the African continent.”

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