Electric cars: Zim’s sustainable solution

Zimbabwe suffers under the weight of a fuel import bill of about $2bn a year. It’s an amount that represents half our projected trade deficit this year. Fuel is our top imported product and virtually all of it is used for propelling vehicles.

Imagine what a Zimbabwean economy without fuel imports would be like. Think what we could do with the $2bn we saved.

And we can have that kind of economy by embracing electric vehicles, without thinking twice. These are vehicles that are propelled by rechargeable batteries.

Even America, although it has huge oil reserves, is envisaging an increase in the use of electric cars. In his 2011 State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama expressed an ambitious goal of putting one million plug-in electric vehicles on the roads in the US by 2015.

As a country with no fuel reserves, except for the ‘miracle diesel’ found in Chinhoyi, we should seriously consider embarking on a gradual journey towards embracing electric vehicles as a sustainable means to economic growth and competitiveness.

Since 2008, advances in power battery and power management technologies are said to have triggered a renaissance in electric cars. By August this year,

Nissan Lead had sold 75,000 electric cars and Mitsubishi i-MiEV had sold 30,000 units by June 2013. Our local car manufacturers and assemblers should not be left out of this race.

The benefits of electric cars are enormous, apart from significantly reducing our import bill and trade deficit. Zimbabwe is currently vulnerable to volatile oil prices, which presents challenges such as inflation, reduced production and unemployment. Oil prices have increased by 150 per cent over the past decade, from $40 per barrel in 2003 to more than $100 per barrel at present.

Threat of no oil

This is a windfall to oil-producing countries, but a catastrophic threat to Zimbabwe, which does not have oil reserves. A 50 per cent increase in the price of oil, due to a supply shock, is said to lead to a 1.5 per cent decrease in national output.

The 150 per cent rise in oil prices over the last decade has, therefore, significantly reduced our national output, amongst many other economic negatives.

Here in Zimbabwe, we can’t remain on the receiving end each time OPEC decides to reduce the number of oil barrels produced per day, resulting in price rises. We can’t just take it on the chin each time there is a war in an oil-producing country, resulting in supply problems.

Electric cars would bring much-needed competitiveness to our economy. A Tesla Roadster, for instance, can go up to 400km on a single charge – making it possible to drive from Harare to Chiredzi. With a traditional car, one would need more than $35 worth of fuel for that distance.

Electric cars are also cheaper to run and maintain as you don’t need the oil and other accessories you find on a fuel-powered car. A study conducted in the US established that if you drive 800km a week in an electric car, charging it would cost only $600 per year. Compare that to the $4,300 a year needed to buy fuel for a regular car in Zimbabwe.

Charging costs for an electric car can actually be reduced further by charging the battery during off-peak hours when electricity tariffs are lower. And there’s no cost at all if you use solar chargers.

Protecting the climate

Electric cars also play a vital role in protecting the environment. They don’t pollute the air. We don’t only end up breathing clean air, but greenhouse emissions are also reduced substantially.

Fuel-powered cars are known to be inefficient at converting on-board fuel to propulsion, as most of the energy is wasted as heat. However, electric cars are more efficient in converting stored energy into driving a vehicle and they do not consume energy while at rest or coasting.

Embracing electric cars will therefore not only bring efficiency to our transport sector, but will transform the way we look at cost competitiveness. We can save a lot of money, which can, in turn, be used to finance other critical development goals.

If electric cars are such a terrific innovation, why then are they not the natural choice the world over? I believe there’s still some inertia in changing to these vehicles. People are just so used to fuel-powered vehicles, despite their having an unsustainable total cost of ownership and being incompatible with our climate change agenda. This inertia should go away.

Although the price of an electric car is currently relatively higher than that of a fuel-powered car, I believe this is largely due to there being no economy of scale because production runs are low. If demand for electric cars increases, the price will come down substantially.

Zimbabwe should start the electric cars revolution – for our passenger transport sector, goods transport sector and for private cars. We should not think twice or wait a day longer.

Post published in: News
  1. Bob Potter
  2. mashluis

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