Why electric vehicles are a challenge in Nigeria

By Victor Uzoho

Transportation is an essential part of human activity, which supports socio-economic activities at the micro and macro levels in many ways.

Therefore, an efficient transportation system provides access to key economic inputs such as resources, knowledge, and technology. It also reduces the barriers to the free movement of goods and persons; and increases the market for goods and services.

However, Nigeria, the biggest economy in Africa is known to have very old vehicles still plying on its roads, despite not meeting national standards for roadworthiness.

Also, majority of the cars imported into Nigeria from the Western countries have exceeded their economic life, even as it has a regulation that establishes the age of importable vehicles as eight, 10 and 15years each for cars, buses and trucks, respectively.

A World Bank report in 2013, had described the vehicle fleet in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub, as “made up of ageing and highly polluting”.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), with the captive state of road transport, given the use of refined petroleum products as fuel, the sector remains one of the key end-use of modern energy and by extension, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally.

However, to attain sustainability in the sector, IEA said there was a need to ensure system efficiency, trip efficiency, and vehicle efficiency. “The maximisation of travel activity with minimal energy consumption through combinations of land-use planning, transport modal share, energy intensity, and fuel type.”

Also, a survey, titled: “Road transport energy consumption and vehicular emissions in Lagos, Nigeria: An application of the LEAP model,” showed that the biggest obstacle to achieving the country’s emission reduction target is the presence of very old vehicles on its roads.

The study advised that to achieve sustainable transportation, low carbon vehicle technologies should be mainstreamed, including highly efficient engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

Eco-friendly vehicles

To this end, on June 27, the University of Lagos ( UNILAG) launched and test-run, a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV), UNILAG ZEV, which it initiated in 2018, to attain a sustainable transportation sector.

The institution’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (Academics and Research), Prof. Oluwole Familoni, said the development was an invaluable addition to the efforts toward preventing the release of toxic emissions to the environment, and to encourage indigenous engineering innovation.

Familoni said UNILAG ZEV is a 63 per cent-hardware and 100 per cent software home-made mechatronics automobile device, noting that in line with the universal drive to minimise global warming, the vehicle was designed to eliminate carbon emissions associated with internal combustion engines, as well as minimise acoustic noise when in operation.

Earlier on June 16, Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had also test-run an electric vehicle assembled in Nigeria, adding that the making of the innovative car, Kona, was a showcase of what Nigeria could do.

Stakeholders concerns

Although the invention is a welcome development, stakeholders in the country’s transport sector have raised concerns that Nigeria’s multiple power challenges associated with very low supply and high cost of electricity would be a hurdle in sustaining the initiative.

Also, the high cost of some of the facilities needed to run ZEV efficiently like batteries and charging stations, and the bad maintenance culture are limiting factors.

Commenting on the innovation, the General Manager, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Coscharis Group, Abiona Babarinde, identified dearth of infrastructure as a major problem.

He told Sustainable Economy: “The major issue is that the infrastructures are not yet in place. Yes, I know the VP has done something recently but in reality, is it sustainable for now? You don’t just delve into something because it’s a buzz or because it’s trending globally.

“You also need to look at the reality of the market. The market is also a determinant of these things, just like you don’t bring all the models of vehicles into the country. For instance, you know in this part of the world everybody goes for SUVs not because of anything but because of the terrain. On a good day, you’d want to enjoy a Sedan but then you don’t have the roads. So, that is why for us the reality check is, what is our stokeholds, our market? These (EVs) are futuristic things,” he said.

Babarinde argued that until there is an assurance of adequate supply of electricity for domestic and commercial uses, EVs are not viable. “We are talking about electric cars, and we need to charge them. Are we talking about electric cars when we are struggling to even have enough power to feed the whole nation and for domestic use?

“First, let there be enough electricity because this is like having charging points on each street. You don’t want to be driving and you are in the traffic and your charging point is like 200 kilometres from where you are. In the advanced countries where they are driving ZEVs, at any point in time you can always have a charging point somewhere.

“When the government delivers on power then you can talk of ZEVs, and not when even the government parastatals are budgeting for generators, and the Presidential Villa that budgeted for generators and you are talking of electric cars.” Babarinde added.

Similarly, Olawale Jimoh, Marketing Manager, Kia Motors Nigeria, the first manufacturer to bring in electric vehicles, (Kia Soul) into the country in 2015, noted that for ZEVs to become popular in the transport system as seen in some global economies there would have to be a policy framework to drive it.

His words: “One of this is providing charging systems across some strategic locations for the owners of these electric vehicles to just park in and charge and get on with their journey.

“So having electric vehicles in the country is actually just a drop in the ocean. The major thing is to make that electric vehicle work, be accessible and easy to own by Nigerians. There should be a policy framework that guarantees usability and affordability, because electric vehicles are quite expensive. But along the line, cost will become much cheaper than using petrol-powered vehicles.

“In some global economies, what they have done is to have a subsidy so that rather than spending so much money in trying to clean the air, they subsidise electric vehicles to make them accessible to everyone.

“Also, before electric vehicles can actually thrive in the country, one of the issues to tackle is having charging spots and a guaranteed power supply to the charging stations, where anyone can park and charge.

“I was made to understand from the regulatory body that there is a discussion concerning some partnerships to get that into play, while some are in collaboration with the government to provide some charging spots. I think that’s the kind of competitive reinforcement as a way of encouraging people.”

Also, some commuters and commercial drivers expressed concerns over the sustainability of the innovation, citing the perceived belief of the Nigerian state.

There should be a policy framework that guarantees usability and affordability, because electric vehicles are quite expensive. But along the line, cost will become much cheaper than using petrol-powered vehicles.

A commercial driver, Okechukwu Onyekwere, who spoke to Sustainable Economy said: “Inventing electric cars to reduce carbon emission is good; however, the problem is how to sustain it. In Nigeria, we are good at introducing new things but keeping them running is a major challenge.”

Another commercial driver, Oluwatobi Alabi, expressed fears regarding its maintenance, saying: “As a commercial driver that plies inter-state, if the charging facility is in Lagos, how do I charge the vehicle in Osun if I engage in inter-state travel between the two states? Another thing is; how many drivers can afford such vehicles? And even if some drivers are sponsored, how many of the drivers are literate enough to handle such technology?”

Government’s commitment to ZEVs

On his part, the Director-General of the Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC), Jelani Aliyu, had in an interview with Sustainable Economy, had insisted that despite inadequate supply, electric vehicles are cheaper in the long term.

He said: “They have no pistons, no rings, no crankshafts, filters, oil change, plugs, none of that. For Nigeria where we have a low maintenance culture, these vehicles would allow you to keep on using them and there would be no need for all that maintenance, no servicing and no oil change; so it’s better for us in Africa.”

Although Aliyu agreed that Nigeria has a power problem, he maintained that the country can explore the potentials in renewable energy – solar, and wind.

“Although it seems like a technology that we can’t handle, if you have enough electricity to power a television, then you have enough power to charge your electric vehicle. The embedded charger that comes with every electric vehicle plugs into the normal outlet of any home or office.”

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