Feature: Surviving 20-hour daily power cuts with an electric car in Zimbabwe

Electric Car

Frank Sinatra, in his iconic song New York, New York, said “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere, it’s up to you, New York, New York.” In October 2009, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys released their smash hit “Empire State of mind” where Jay-Z says he feels like the new Sinatra because “Since I made it here (New York), I can make it anywhere.”

I have been feeling the same way when it comes to EV ownership in Zimbabwe.

There is a popular joke in Zimbabwe that living in Zimbabwe is such an extreme sport that it is a skill in a league of its own that one’s CV should just read “Lived in Zimbabwe” on the experience section.

That’s because Zimbabwe has been famous for some unbelievable stuff over the past couple of decades, such as world record inflation at times leading to the infamous one hundred trillion dollar Zimbabwe dollar note around late 2008/early 2009. Yes, they did actually print a one hundred trillion dollar note this century.

There are no more trillion dollar notes in Zimbabwe, but inflation is still very high — triple digit high.

These regular cycles of runaway inflation and foreign currency shortages lead to periodic petrol and diesel shortages.

They also lead to periods of insane electricity rationing. That’s because when there is a drought (like now), the country’s largest generation station, the 1 050 MW Kariba hydropower plant, has to throttle generation.

Recently, Kariba has had to throttle generation to a maximum of 300 MW due to low water levels.

Then there is the aging coal power plants that break down quite often, leaving a large deficit, hence the utility company has to implement load-shedding. There is the Southern African Power Pool, where Zimbabwe gets some imports from its neighbors, but that also presents some problems.

Some of the member states in the region such as South Africa are also having their own issues and are implementing heavy load-shedding cycles. Zimbabwe’s foreign currency drama and Zimbabwe dollar currency chaos mean that they can’t always import enough from neighbours to help cover some of the deficit.

This meant 18-hour daily load-shedding cycles were implemented in 2019, and in 2022, Zimbabweans were experiencing 20-hour daily load-shedding cycles. Most Zimbabweans are only getting electricity from midnight to 4 am. I am one of them and I drive my electric car every day.

Our family driving pattern has not changed much since before the load-shedding started. We still do the school runs, and the ballet and swimming runs. We live in a rented apartment so we can’t really install solar where we stay.

So, we just wait for the electricity to come back after 11pm and then the car will charge while we sleep. Sometimes the utility company switches off the power around 4 am, sometimes 5 am, sometime 6 am.

Even when the power goes at 4 am, that four hours or so is enough to get our 24 kWh Nissan Leaf to more than 80% or to 100%. Around the world, most people when asked if they want to go full EV will be quick to ask about range and charging infrastructure issues. If I can drive an electric car in Zimbabwe, you can drive one anywhere.



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