Of all the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most significant, albeit mostly overlooked phenomena was the reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that followed the unfortunate lockdowns governments, the world over, had to introduce to curb the spread of the virus. Whilst this includes emissions from industries, locally, it was mostly observed from the transportation sector.
With the images of another time when face masks were a staple – the 2008 Olympics – still etched in our minds, if there is one positive from the worst socio-economic and public health crisis in over a century, it is that across the globe, it has given a rare insight into what the quality of air would be like with lower carbon emissions.
According to the leading health monitoring institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO) approximately 3million people die annually from ailments caused by air pollution.
Another feature of the pandemic has been the accelerated rate of adoption of existing technological solutions. This has been witnessed in areas such as the payments systems for goods and services, as well as enhancement to remote work. But closely following has been the proliferation and steady adoption of electric-powered vehicles.
The Electric Vehicles revolution
Electric vehicles (EVs), as the name implies, are propelled by an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine (ICE) and have a battery instead of a (fossil) fuel tank. Whilst not new, they represent the biggest revolution in automobiles since Henry Ford’s first production line started turning back in 1913.
Following the earliest technological hurdles, which included inefficient battery capacities and design, sky-high cost per unit and consumer ambivalence, the tide appears to have changed, in no small part due to significant advancements in battery technology powering EVs. This has led to a downward trend on battery prices, and consequently, the prices of EVs.
For context, according to US-based clean energy research group, RMI, a little over a decade ago, it cost US$1,000 per kilowatt-hour of battery power, now it has tumbled to US$100.
With energy density – how much power can be packed into each battery – continuing to rise, we are approaching the point where EVs are becoming cheaper to produce than equivalent internal combustion vehicles, an effect which will trickle down to the prices consumers pay. This has seen the average price of EVs fall by almost 20 percent, from US$42,189 in 2016 to US$33,901 currently, with the best-known brand – Tesla – set to introduce models at the US$25,000 mark.
As such, some of the world’s largest legacy automobile manufacturers have set the end of the current decade as the tentative timeline for the transition to mostly, if not, entirely EV production.
Energy Ministry takes the initiative
In light of the above, and with the EV revolution fully upon us, it would be borderline irresponsible for any government to sit aloof, more so, for one which is evidently bent on driving national development through digitalization.
The Ministry of Energy, under the leadership of Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh has taken a number of proactive steps to ensure that Ghana is at the forefront of the EV revolution on the continent, especially as it relates to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This was demonstrated when the country’s first locally assembled electric car, Hyundai Kona, was presented at the Ministry. Acutely aware that speaking about the EV revolution without a clear plan of action would be nothing short of wishful thinking and a missed opportunity, Dr. Opoku Prempeh has since, tasked relevant agencies under his outfit – the Energy Commission and the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission- to come up with a comprehensive draft policy to guide the mass adoption of EVs.
This document, which will include an impact study, will have as its focus areas such as implications for the national grid, the expected billing regime, possible government subsidies and other interventions, the provision and standardization of ancillary systems, and very importantly, public sensitization.
Speaking about the developments, the minister said: “We have our agencies looking into the technical regulations before the adoption and I have asked them to let us have a draft policy by the end of the year so that we can re-examine it and present it before cabinet for approval.”
He notes that despite Ghana, and by extension Africa, being the least contributor to environmental pollution per capita, the adverse effects of climate change are not discriminatory and will affect everyone accordingly. He adds that this is especially salient when the constraints – technical, infrastructural, and otherwise that the nation’s healthcare delivery systems face are taken into consideration, saying that all preventive measures, including those that limit the emission of greenhouse gases are explored.
All these are consistent with the President’s commitment to seeing the national energy mix consist of no less than 10 percent of renewable energy by 2030, as well as consolidate gains made in advancing the local automobile industry. Whilst it is some time before EVs become commonplace in the country, the future is quickly approaching and the need for supporting infrastructure has to accelerate at an even faster pace than EV adoption, and the Ministry of Energy is committed in this regard.
Barriers to adoption
The elephant in the room – the biggest barrier to the mass adoption of electric vehicles – is undoubtedly, electricity. With the nation’s historic electricity challenges well documented, the questions on the minds of many would inevitably be, “How many electric vehicles will be connecting to the grid?” and, “what will be the consequent impact of charging load?”
With the development of alternate sources of electricity still in their nascent stages, most of the off-grid supply typically comes from diesel and petrol. Burning these fuels for long hours, coupled with the attendant noise pollution to power ‘clean’ electric vehicles would evidently be counterproductive.
Although some innovators are experimenting with innovative solutions such as the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power EV charging stations, many sources of charging will still rely on existing electric grid infrastructures.
There is also the provision and standardization of ancillary systems such as Electric Vehicle Charging Stations. Other challenges border on misconceptions surrounding EVs. These include, but are not limited to the perceived cost of acquiring the vehicle as well as the cost of parts and servicing, a shorter driving range than traditional internal combustion engine -powered vehicles, as well as long charging times.
The most obvious benefits that would accrue from the mass adoption of EVs are the environmental and health benefits. Once again, data from the WHO suggests that more than 80 percent of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed safe limits. The situation is worse in low-income countries, where 98 percent of cities fail to meet WHO air quality standards.
There is also a tangible benefit in terms of cost that exists. When the cost of fuel and servicing – EVs need much less of that – are taken into consideration, the running cost of petrol or diesel-powered vehicles far outpace that of many EVs. An understated benefit is how dramatically, the shift to EVs would transform the nation’s public transportation services, whilst at the same time, serving as a conduit for the transfer of technology from more advanced jurisdictions.