Uganda must get ready for electric vehicles

As Uganda is struggling with its internal challenges, the world is moving on.

The world is moving away from the internal combustion engine (ICE) to electric-powered vehicles. Mass production of the same has started and they are becoming a common sight in developed cities.

The three barriers to mass adoption of electric vehicles have previously been range, cost and infrastructure. The range and cost are functions of technology and this has exponentially gone down with time.

The issue of infrastructure is open to the market adoption rate and countries are moving swiftly to close out this issue.

Some have already set deadlines by which internal combustion engines must have been phased out of their markets or outlawed.

Whether Uganda is ready for this revolution or not is a question that directly affects you and me. Before the adoption of the internal combustion engine, coal was a very important raw material for factories and economies.

This has since changed to oil. Now the trend is fast changing and, unless we prepare, we will be left behind.

Major manufacturers like Nissan, Volvo and Tesla are currently producing electric vehicles for normal use. It is estimated that by 2040, internal combustion engine vehicles will be nearly museum pieces.

Uganda has banked heavily on the oil and gas industry in its drive to move to the middle-income status. However, we need to move our focus to an era where oil is only used for special equipment and vehicles and prepare for electric vehicles.

The main driver for the electric vehicle is the availability of electricity and a charging port. Electricity is the fuel of the car and without electricity, it is impossible to use the vehicle. Fortunately, effort has been made to avail electricity consistently.

With the power stations coming up, soon the supply of electricity may be higher than the local demand. This is good for the electric vehicle. However, there is need for readily available charging ports.

Although the cars come with charging ports that can connect to the common three-pin wall plug, there is need for fast-charging 15-pin plugs made specifically for electric cars.

The existing petrol stations need to adopt these charging ports to suit the changing need. There will be plenty of work installing electric vehicle charging stations – in homes, offices, car parks, retail locations and on-street parking too.

For long-distance travel, providing electric vehicle charging to travellers may be a new business opportunity for restaurants and retail locations where people can pass the time as they charge.

The existing mechanics and technicians will definitely lose jobs unless they adapt very quickly. It has been common for mechanics to shun electrical systems, but with the electric vehicle, there is no need for engine oil change, or any engine repairs for that matter.

The service requirement will be minimal. However, the revolution will create new and unique jobs for those keen on exploring. There will be need for battery replacements and battery management.

The government charges and collects big amounts of revenue from fuel and an environment tax based on engine size.

Whether our government has prepared for the impending deduction in revenue or not is a discussion for another day.

The maintenance and running costs of the electric vehicle are much lower than those of the fossil fuel guzzlers. This has a direct positive impact on the consumers although it has a negative impact on government tax revenue and businesses that are heavily reliant on the expenditures accruing from vehicle usage.

The initial investment in electric cars is something that has always been discussed. The first Tesla electric vehicle cost around $250,000 (Shs 875 million).

The cost has exponentially come down and it is estimated that the cost of the electric vehicle will be the same as that of conventional vehicles. Currently, a 2011 used fully electric vehicle Nissan Leaf costs around $10,000 (Shs 35 million) in Japan.

As a country, we must move with the times and adapt very fast; otherwise, we will forever be the dumping ground for the world’s surplus second-hand internal combustion engine vehicles.

The author is a mechanical engineer.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd