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Charging Ahead: Africa's Bright Future in Electric Mobility

This interview explores the impact of electric mobility in Africa. As the vehicle fleet expands, Ariadne Baskin from TUMI highlights challenges such as charging infrastructure, electricity accessibility, and vehicle costs. Yet, Africa presents significant opportunities for the growth of electric mobility, boosting employment and local production.

The transport sector in Africa accounts for approximately 10% of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions

Africa's vehicle fleet is expanding rapidly from about 25 million to 56 million by 2040 and this is largely because of growing urbanization as well as larger household incomes. This puts a strain on both the environment and public health. To tackle these challenges, the adoption of electric mobility has emerged as a potential solution. Electric vehicles (EVs) produce zero emissions enhancing air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Moreover, they offer greater efficiency and potential fuel cost savings compared to gasoline-powered vehicles.

However, the widespread adoption of EVs in Africa faces several challenges. As Ariadne Baskin, a mobility expert at the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI), elaborates.

"The lack of charging infrastructure, the need to scale electricity coverage,

affordability and the lack of regulatory measures and favorable incentives are major challenges facing E-Mobility in Africa,” she says.

Africa could become a dumping ground for used and damaged internal combustion engines from around the world

“It's very pivotal that we start now so that we are able to leapfrog and join the global trend moving towards EVs and not become the world's dumping ground.”

The lack of access to electricity is a major obstacle, with only 43% of Africans currently having access to reliable power, according to the World Bank. This limitation makes it challenging to charge EVs in many parts of the continent. Additionally, the high cost of EVs, averaging around $20,000, places them beyond the financial reach of many individuals.

Furthermore, the scarcity of charging infrastructure in various African cities impedes EV ownership and operation. “In lots of Sub-Saharan African countries, access to electricity is a major obstacle. Huge populations do not have access to electricity, to carry out daily tasks and so forth so that is an obvious barrier to implementing large-scale charging infrastructure.” Ariadne adds.

African cities present significant opportunities for the growth of electric mobility

Nonetheless, governments and organizations such as TUMI have recognized this issue and are actively working on expanding the charging network to facilitate the growth of electric mobility. “In Kenya, 90% of its electricity is from renewable sources, such as geothermal or hydropower, and has huge surplus grid capacity,” says Ariadne.

"Data plays a role in understanding the status quo and projecting what needs to be done to deploy the most sustainable solution. TUMI has collected large-scale data on usage and charging capacity needs," she adds. 

Despite these challenges, Africa presents significant opportunities for the growth of electric mobility. The African Development Bank estimates that the electric vehicle market in Africa could reach a value of $100 billion by 2030, creating substantial job opportunities within the manufacturing and service sectors. 

Moreover, several African startups are actively developing and manufacturing electric vehicles, playing a vital role in making EVs more affordable and accessible to the African population.

“Local production and supply chains are key to accelerating the market of electric vehicles on the continent. We already see a large number of private sector players in Africa especially in East Africa looking at Kenya, Roam, and BasiGo. In Uganda you have Kiira Motors producing buses and they're really looking at designing tailored electric vehicles for local needs and conditions,” adds Ariadne. 

Charging an electric motorbike in Kigali, Rwanda, by IMF Photo/Kim Haughton, January 2023

Electric buses present an opportunity to scale up bus rapid transit systems in African cities

TUMI is working with cities in Africa to support this initiative as told by Ariadne, “We're working to deploy with the EU, electric buses on Kenya’s upcoming BRT system. We are working very closely with Roam and BasiGo as well as supporting the city to develop roadmaps on implementation. In Kampala and Durban, we’ve worked with the Kampala City Authority to understand the procurement and operating requirements for E-Buses.”

By fostering local manufacturing, Africa can not only meet its mobility needs but also stimulate economic growth and create employment opportunities. She also suggests a focused transition to electric vehicles: "I think Africa should focus on transitioning straight to electric vehicles and putting out the charging infrastructure networks that are conducive to that." By strategically developing charging infrastructure alongside EV adoption, Africa can avoid the intermediate step of hybrid vehicles and leapfrog directly to electric mobility.

"In the meantime, there are more hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles in the used vehicle global marketplace. Governments could create subsidized or tax incentives to bring in those vehicles such as in Egypt and Rwanda" Ariadne adds, highlighting the need for regulatory and fiscal measures to accelerate the adoption of electric mobility.

Electric two-wheelers, represent a significant opportunity for electrifying the continent

According to Ariadne, "Electric two-wheelers are known to be the low-hanging fruit to electric mobility. The easiest way to electrify the continent, and the market has great potential in Africa maybe mimic the upward trend in Asia ." She notes that there are already over 6,000 electric two-wheelers on Africa's roads, and their small batteries allow for off-grid and battery-swapping systems.

"The battery swap model is being thought of in many countries, and basically what that is is when, say, an electric two-wheeler depletes its battery, one can replace it with a fully charged battery at a swap station," Ariadne explains, shedding light on an innovative approach to address charging challenges. She also adds that the batteries can be charged by off-grids like solar panels in addition to battery swapping which also creates green jobs.

Ariadne further highlights the economic benefits of electric two-wheelers: "Even with the higher upfront cost of an electric two-wheeler, the overall cost is cheaper because of the low cost of fuel and maintenance. So the total cost of ownership is very favorable."

Several African countries have already put in place regulatory measures for electric vehicle adoption, such as reduced electricity costs and tax exemptions like Rwanda, Kenya, and Togo.

Rwanda, for example, has set an ambitious goal of having 100,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2024. Such policies are instrumental in creating a favorable environment for the widespread adoption of EVs in Africa.

"With the right policies and investments, Africa could become a major player in the global electric vehicle market," Ariadne concludes, highlighting the transformative potential of electric mobility in Africa. Her insights and expertise emphasize the importance of seizing the opportunities at hand to build a greener, more sustainable, and prosperous future for the continent.

SAFI E Motorcycle Company, Inside the SAFI E-motorbike company which manufactures electric motorbikes and runs an e- rideshare and delivery company in Kigali, Rwanda, by IMF Photo/Kim Haughton, January 2023

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