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Why Zim’s electric vehicle vision may flop

by FIDELITY MHLANGA A STRATEGIC plan twinning the development of electric vehicles (EVs) in Zimbabwe and commensurate investment into the power industry will be key to sustaining their presence on the country’s roads, according to experts. The aspiration to follow the footsteps of countries that have rolled out EVs his high, and the excitement is […]


A STRATEGIC plan twinning the development of electric vehicles (EVs) in Zimbabwe and commensurate investment into the power industry will be key to sustaining their presence on the country’s roads, according to experts.

The aspiration to follow the footsteps of countries that have rolled out EVs his high, and the excitement is so thick one could easily touch it.

This was clear last week when Energy and power development minister Zhemu Soda officially unveiled a demonstration EV, which was imported by the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority.

But there are endemic problems and weaknesses on the Zimbabwean market, which give many analysts pessimism that this very progressive innovation may be another wild goose chase.

Apart from an extremely bad road network that affects all types of vehicles, the country is in the middle of a power crisis that constantly grounds industries.

State-run power utility, Zesa Holdings is currently generating about half of the 2 200 megawatts (MW) required to power domestic consumers and industrial plants.

While this is being addressed through initiatives like the US$1,5 billion Hwange Thermal Power Station rehabilitation project, analysts feel even this added capacity may not be enough if new demand comes through from EVs.

During the launch last week, Soda highlighted that the EV and hybrid vehicle technologies should be promoted as part of introducing a range of options in the country as it moves to embrace the emerging wave of clean energy in the transport sector.

There are more hurdles as well.

Income levels are extremely low in Zimbabwe to support a motor vehicle sector that brings new products, which require much more than the huge fleet of old ex-Japanese cars that have flooded the market.

For as little as US$400, a consumer can gain possession of an old Japanese vehicle, which may be far less than what new EVs may cost.

Economist Victor Bhoroma told the Weekly Digest this week that Zimbabwe was not ready for EVs as it does not have sufficient power.

“Zimbabwe is not ready for EVs from an energy generation and distribution point of view,” Bhoroma said.

“EVs need charging points across the country and stable electricity supply. Currently Zimbabwe imports 500MW of electricity daily from South Africa and Mozambique, thus our infrastructure is not yet up there to sustain such technology.”

“Similarly the cost of EVs is still beyond the reach of many with the cheapest EVs going for US$18 000 in the United Kingdom. Maintenance costs may also be beyond the average consumer to warrant sustained demand for EVs.”

The national renewable energy policy set targets to meet the nationally determined contributions objectives to reduce green-house gas emissions in the energy sector.

Electric vehicles do not use fossil fuels, have no emissions, no noise and are environmentally friendly.

They are compatible with government’s aspirations to contain an explosion of toxic industrial emissions that have been blamed for abetting heat-inducing climate change worldwide and global warming.

It is a terrifying climatic development that has given governments sleepless nights, as they try to find a solution.

It is generally agreed that reducing emissions from cars marks an important step towards controlling emissions.

Apart from cars, the world has to deal with far bigger problems like the aviation sector and ships, many of which are fired by diesel.

Batanai Matsika, the head of research at Morgan & Co, said the innovation was a welcome development as it would tap into the country’s vast lithium resources used for EVs batteries.

Matsika may be on point.

There is scope to expand the country’s lithium extraction sector beyond just mining to manufacturing batteries should more such vehicles land in Zimbabwe.

Four lithium mines are at various stages of development in Zimbabwe currently, with a combined US$300 million required to get them running at full throttle.

That is enough raw stock to develop one of the region’s biggest battery production industries.

“It’s a welcome innovation that we should embrace,” Matsika said.

“In fact, the idea should be directed towards bringing in EV manufacturers into Zimbabwe on the back of the country’s huge lithium reserves. It could trigger more foreign direct investment into the space,” Matsika said.

In 2018, BMW group head of business and finance communications Renate Heim told the Weekly Digest that the best way to improve the uptake of electric vehicles in its African prime market, South Africa, was to stimulate the market by reducing prices.

She added that there was no government support to help develop the market, and import tariffs remained higher on EVs than for internal-combustion vehicles.

BMW was one of the first major carmakers to launch a fully-electric car, with the i3 hitting the market in 2013. JLR also has an electric car, the Jaguar i-Pace, and both companies have a range of plug-in hybrid models.

Former president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Sifelani Jabangwe said while the country was ill-prepared in terms of infrastructure, the development was welcome.

“We have to move into the future but these are just first steps of a long journey, infrastructure is inadequate but sometimes you have to push people into the future, Jabangwe said.

Economist Henry Masasire said the recent launch of EVs was a commendable move.

He said it was long overdue.

As a way forward, he added, government should consider incentives that encourage investment in alternative energy like solar, bio-energy production and infrastructure that is required to support sustainable development of the EVs sector.

According to Masasire such incentives will not only support the green revolution initiative but will ultimately serve as an import substitution strategy, which helps the country save foreign currency.

“Zimbabwe is a net fuel importer hence it spends nearly 40% of the scarce foreign currency inflows on fuel and electricity imports, which translates to a yearly average of circa $1,4 billion of the total export receipts. The huge import bill on energy has led to government seeking alternatives through import substitution,” Masasire said.

“The country has potential and the capacity to adopt the use of electric vehicles since it boasts an abundance of untapped reserves of lithium and solar power. Zimbabwe has the potential to supply 20% of the global demand for lithium. The country is a top 10 producer of lithium, an alkali metal used in batteries for EVs. There is an attempt to lower the fuel import bill by enforcing mandatory blending of fuel with ethanol.

However, the fuel import bill remains very high and has been growing over the past years. This has put into perspective the need to consider other alternative coping mechanisms with EVs as a sustainable way.”

 This article was reproduced from the Weekly Digest, an AMH publication