How we can make electric vehicles work in South Africa despite carbon emissions and loadshedding
Last year, electric cars made up 2.6% of global car sales, with over 2.1 million sold globally, a 40% year-on-year increase. Call it green, but it is also where exponential growth lies. While South Africa trails when it comes to full electric vehicle production, we are pleased to have Mercedes-Benz manufacturing hybrid vehicles in East London, and Toyota has announced it will invest R2.5 billion in a hybrid plant in Durban.
Electric two- or three-wheelers form the greatest share of the electric vehicle fleet globally and exploding home deliveries in a Covid-19 world create an expanding market. A South African good news story is MellowVans, the very kind of SMME which the recovery plan seeks to foster. It started as a MellowCabs prototype in 2015 and has grown to employ about 30 people and counting to keep up with demand from Africa and Europe. Battery and electric powertrain manufacturing are opportunities if we would get ahead of the low-carbon curve.
To talk of energy security, vehicle-to-grid solutions could be implemented. Hybrid and electric vehicles and their batteries present an opportunity for mining of metals and minerals found in South Africa such as gold and platinum for wiring and circuitry, and for batteries manganese and deposits of rare earth oxides in the Northern Cape Zandkopsdrift area.
While the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition is alive to some of this, none of this gets an explicit look-in in the government’s recovery plan, but the potential is there.
When it comes to addressing the priorities in the plan, we would hope that the ambition to build a new economy, based on “fairness, justice and equality” will also encompass the need to put a low-carbon future at its centre. Without this we will be destroying any developmental gains made and to be had.
In the closing words of his speech on 15 October 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of the “green shoots” beginning to emerge in the aftermath of the economic firestorm we have experienced in this country, saying “the ashes enrich the soil, and new life takes root to replace what was lost”.
One would hope that in this context, the green shoots were more than just a figure of speech.
*Louise Naudé is the Low-Carbon Frameworks Programme Manager with WWF South Africa.
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