environment By KENNEDY NYAVAYA
Over a year ago, local businessman Tinashe Mutarisi imported a Tesla Model X, touted as the first electric car in the country, and the news caused a stir with people jostling to get a rare picture with the machine as it navigated the streets of Harare for the very first time.
Apart from the jaw-dropping price, the fact that with this electric vehicle (EV), Mutarisi had escaped the fuel woes that are causing long-winding queues at service stations lingered at
the back of the minds of car owners.
As the nation grapples with crippling fuel crises that have seen motorists lose hours of productive time waiting for their turn at the pump, EVs appear to be an attractive way out.
This is so not only because they can work on alternative power like grid electricity, but also because they do not emit carbon like combustion engine-powered cars.
In one of his many suggestions on how to ameliorate one of the country’s many energy problems, Energy and Power Development minister Fortune Chasi took to Twitter this past week
announcing government’s new plan to introduce electric cars.
“Government supports the introduction of electric cars. As such, the necessary incentives will be announced soon and the infrastructure installed at service stations and along the
highways,” he posted in one of his many Energy Updates.
A brilliant idea, especially now that the whole world is in grave search of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the mobility sector, a leading emitter of toxic
smoke that destroys the ozone layer causing global warming.
However, for Zimbabwe the dream of seeing more electric-powered cars in the streets is far from materialising and no amount of rhetoric hinting at it without action will solve this.
This is what most of the comments responding to Chasi’s post tried to probe.
“So, [government is] looking at issues around duty so that they [EVs] can be brought cheaply and purchasing cost that they are affordable, it is government responsibility to ensure that
it creates the environment to enable those who want to bring in those cars without much difficulty,” insisted Chasi.
At a time when the country is virtually powered by generators as a result of power cuts that last up to 18 hours a day, it is unclear how Chasi’s master plan can be fully implemented.
In fact, it sounds like a convenient scapegoat to cover up for the failure to import sufficient volumes of fossil fuels the country needs for the transport sector.
If there is any sincerity in government’s plan through the Energy ministry, then there are a lot of things to consider in making the electric cars dream a reality.
Invest in infrastructure
Some developed countries like Germany are said to be struggling with a complete shift towards EVs because of lack in appropriate infrastructure.
“We definitely need better infrastructure and that’s the same thing in every country, you need a basic for good established electrical mobility idea is infrastructure, people need to be
able to charge their cars,” BMW group spokesperson for sustainability Kai Zöbelein told this reporter at their Munich plant in June.
According to him, the lack of enough charging stations within cities and highways is an integral part that the European country, virtually leading the fight against climate change,
should look at in its clean mobility strategy.
“The challenge is that we do not have good infrastructure here in Germany, for example, to drive an electric vehicle there are other countries better, for example, Norway (big market
for BMW e-cars) every public parking space has a changing place you can see that there most of their cars are electrified,” he said.
With this in mind, the Zimbabwean government needs to approach the introduction of EVs with a sober strategy that first seeks investment in making charging ports as readily available as
traditional fuel stations.
The price will determine
Most EVs are comparatively expensive to the majority of motorists in the country who drive cheap second hand imported vehicles mostly from Japan and some parts of Europe.
While advantageous in the long term because they do not have many parts hence need less service than a traditional engine, the price of EVs is largely out of reach for the average
citizen because of the price tag. Researchers say this is largely because of the heavy batteries which contain lithium and cobalt among other scarce and expensive resources.
This has seen the cost of EVs pegged at relatively higher prices, with one of the fairly priced ones, the Nissan Leaf, costing around US$29 990 while most imported second-hand vehicles
costs less than US$10 000.
Incentivising EVs or encouraging their local production could be a sustainable plan, but it could also entail blocking and heavily taxing the import of cheaper second-hand vehicles.
Need for practical timelines
One of the qualities of successful plans is a clear and attainable timeline and this is where Chasi’s suggestion falls short, attracting ridicule instead of a nod.
“From 2020, there is no petrol and diesel cars to talk about. I am going to drive the issue of electric vehicles. We actually do not have a voice, if you read the literature around the
transformation and disruption that is happening in the area of transportation,” he recently said.
“Right now, I am inundated with requests from fellow citizens in the diaspora who want to bring electric vehicles.”
The minister’s claims are hard to believe given that we are less than four months before the end of the year and there has not been one charging port set up or second electric car
moving on the country’s roads. He should give the nation a clearly timed and traceable strategy to be implemented even if, by any chance, he is reshuffled to another ministry or fired
Give EVs to government officials
In one of the responses to Chasi’s earlier mentioned tweets, one follower suggested that Chasi should start the EV crusade by advocating for government officials to be given the models.
“Why no for sure (sic),” the minister responded.
The government is known for parcelling out cars that consume high volumes of diesel or petrol to its officials. This is where sustainability efforts should begin if ever Chasi’s
ministry is genuine about introducing EVs.
First keep the homes lit
Ever since Chasi mooted the idea of EVs a few months ago, he has, even by his own admission, become a laughing stock to many who view his idea as a pipe dream.
This is because the country is in a dire power deficit. How can someone battling with “Stage 2” of load-shedding — that means less than six hours of power every day — think of buying a
car that needs charging?
Chasi and his colleagues need to fix the nation’s energy crisis first to attract buy-in from the public, failure of which EVs will continue to be viewed as a preserve for the
financially stable like Mutarisi who are able to keep diesel/petrol-powered generators up during power cuts.