Utilisation of e-mobility is gaining popularity even in Africa. Kenya’s Citizen newspaper reports that the installation of charging points is gaining momentum in Africa, in readiness for electric vehicles. A number of investors are already doing this in Africa, with countries like South Africa, Morocco, Kenya and even Uganda taking the lead.
Malawi too needs to start preparing for the changeover from fossil fuel propelled vehicles to electric vehicles. This will become reality soon and we need to be ready for it. Vehicle manufacturers will stop producing vehicles propelled by fossil fuels. Since we do not make our own vehicles here, we just have to play ball with those who do.
The environmental benefits of using electric vehicles have been articulated on this column numerous times. It is hereby stated for umpteenth time that unlike vehicles that run on fossil fuel, electric ones pose no threat to the environment as they do not produce greenhouse gases. They use clean energy instead.
There is another benefit, which I would like to dwell on today. Electricity is, by and large, a local product. We have our own stations that generate the power we use. Agreed, a small proportion of our power will soon be imported from Mozambique and later from Zambia then from Tanzania but the bulk of it is locally generated. This has tremendous implications on our forex reserves.
Fuel, along with fertiliser (the two f’s), is a great guzzler of our forex reserves. We just have to find solutions to these two. This column submits that the solutions lie in finding local substitutes for them. For fuel, e-mobility is the ultimate solution. It may lie several years away, but it is something we must aspire to and prepare for.
As for fertilizer, I have stated before that we need to return to organic fertiliser, which can be manufactured locally, but that is a story for another day.
Do we have enough power to keep our vehicles on the road when (not if) we switch to electric vehicles? The obvious answer is a resounding no. But that should not deter us from preparing for e-mobility. The state of our power represents a great opportunity for people to invest in power generation. I foresee a situation where motorists do not depend entirely on power from the national grid. There is no reason why independent power producers cannot set up charging points along the major routes using solar or wind generators or both.
Some will, of course, be tempted to use generators running on fossil fuels to provide charging services from. That will defeat the purpose, in as far as the environmental benefit of electrical vehicles is concerned. The regulators should only permit those that produce clean power to provide the charging services. Even mini hydro plants can be installed on some perennial rivers across the country for this purpose. Those who run filling stations now should seriously consider setting up charging stations in the next decade or so.
Some of the electric vehicles will run directly on solar power. The vehicle that I featured last month as having been produced in Malawi by Frank Mafeni Soko was a solar powered one. It is hoped that, following the demise of Mr. Soko, someone else will take up the project to refine the design so that the car can be commercially produced.
Uganda is already commercially producing solar vehicles, including a solar bus branded Kayoola. What I am discussing now is, therefore, not far-fetched as some may suppose it to be. These are some of the ideas that should occupy our minds and fill our discussions. As stated in my last article, discussing ideas is infinitely more valuable than discussing people.
Some of the materials to be used for manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles can be found locally. Graphite is one such material. Sovereign Metals Limited intend to go into the extraction of this resource at Malingunde in rural Lilongwe.
While we are waiting for e-mobility to take root in Malawi, we can still do something to move away from fossil fuels. Ethanol and biodiesel can be used as substitutes for petrol and diesel, respectively. Both can be produced locally and will boost the value chain significantly, creating thousands of jobs in the process. From farmers through distributors to factory workers, the entire value chain will be jolted into unprecedented action. Besides, the importation of fuel will be greatly reduced and our forex reserves can be directed elsewhere. This could signal the much anticipated transformation of Malawi into a middle income economy.
We need to search within the country for solutions to our forex problems.