I am receiving loads of questions in all sorts of different ways about electric cars. Here are some quick answers to the most frequent (bearing in mind that nobody actually knows exactly what is going to happen!)
Will electric cars be cheaper to run, and by how much?
Overall running costs are a combination of purchase price and finance rates, “fuel” consumption, service and maintenance costs, insurance, and resale values/depreciation. Taking in all these factors, over time the change from fossil fuel to electric is unlikely to cause a seismic change in the cost of “motoring”, neither for better nor for worse.
Market forces, national tax policies and consumer conduct will tend to “balance” inherent extra costs and savings to somewhere near existing market “norms”.
Electric and hybrid cars are more energy efficient. Whether that translates to lower “fuel” cost depends on how the electricity they use is generated, at what cost, and with what tax levels.
Currently, electricity is significantly cheaper than fossil fuel energy (which, by the way, is widely used to generate electricity). Kenya uses an admirably high proportion of wind, hydro, geothermal and solar power.
The service and maintenance cost of electric vehicles is lower than for petrol-diesel engines. Their motors have fewer moving parts, less wear-and-tear and require virtually no maintenance – no engine oil change or oil, air and fuel filters. Battery replacement is the big cost issue.
Battery life… and price
How long will the batteries of electric cars last?
The warranty on current lithium-ion batteries averages about 8 years, with an anticipated lifespan of about twice that, and a theoretical potential of four times the warranty period. The cost of replacement of current designs ranges enormously from about Sh453,000 to Sh3 million ($3,000 to $20,000.
The majority would be in the region of Sh754,000 ($5,000) (for your budget calculations), with potentials for repair, restoration and recycling evolving rapidly.
How those international prices would translate through Kenya’s motor industry and customs systems remains to be seen. Small scales, duties and other taxes make our current new car prices much, much higher than in major markets. The costs and lifespans of solid state batteries are not yet commercially established, but seem likely to be a positive step forward.
Will there be enough charging points, and how many will be needed?
There are lots of variables and unknowns here, including the number of electric cars, their range (frequency of refuelling), the proportions that will need fast-charging at specialised “stations” versus those that can slow-charge at their own homes, ongoing evolution of battery and charging technology etc.
As a quick rule-of-thumb, countries which already have a lot of electric cars (in UK, one in every three new cars sold is now electric or hybrid) are talking in terms of one commercial charging point for every 100 vehicles as a predictive guideline.
In Kenya today, that would mean about 20,000 commercial charging points. As a perspective, our national fleet of petrol and diesel vehicles has (at a guess) about 10,000 pumps, and refuelling takes between five and ten minutes per vehicle.
Electric charging takes between half-an-hour and several hours. Whether my guesses on actual figures are in the right ballpark or wild, that’s the math. A saving grace is that electric charging “hubs” (in supermarket car parks or stand-alone) could probably accommodate 50 cars in the space of a major petrol station forecourt; factories, warehouses and transport workshops are likely to self-equip to recharge most trucks in-house.
…and surely nobody doubts that Kenya Power will respond to its part in this challenge with diligence and brilliance, and there will be other innovations like giving charging parks a roof…made of solar panels. Things like that.
New car price
Will purchase price be higher or lower than petrol-diesel cars?
Currently, electric cars are significantly expensive because their batteries are so costly to make, production scales are relatively small, and huge investments are being made in the initial transformation of production lines.
International predictions are that these factors will close-up as volumes increase and battery technology advances. Electric/hybrid versus petrol-diesel cars are expected to achieve price parity within the next ten years.
Will the mileage range of electric cars improve and by how much?
Yes, and by a lot, if and when “solid state” battery technology replaces the current lithium-ion solution. Solid state batteries will be lighter, charge faster, last longer and have higher capacity. That potential is characterised as not just an advance, but as a “step-change”.
There is little doubt that the boffins will come up with technical solutions; the concern is whether the materials they require can be sourced in sufficient quantity, who will have the confidence to invest in manufacturing facilities that could be hobbled or halted by materials shortages, and the geopolitical gymnastics that will arise depending on which countries happen to be the main source of any rare materials involved.
Will all-electric cars solve climate-change/global warming?
No. But they might help. Petrol and diesel vehicles are major generators of greenhouse gases (and other undesirable stuff), but are a very long way from the only or biggest source. There are many, many other existing users of fossil fuels on a gigantic scale, and the fossil fuels that cars might stop burning will simply be used for something else.
To rein-in global warming and climate change, all fossil fuel users will need to match the reduction made by electric cars…and geopolitics and geoeconomics will have to find a way to persuade countries with quadrillions of barrels of a very valuable substance to stop mining, using or selling it. My guess? No chance. Despite all the new renewable energy developments worldwide, both extraction and consumption of fossil fuels continue to increase.
In reality, carbon capture would seem to be the process warranting the biggest investment in research and operationalisation, worldwide.
Given the consequences of failure, I cannot think of anything more important in global budget economics. The methods employed by “Stop Oil” are inane. Their message is not. Read a book called ‘The Burning Question” for a pin-sharp reality check.
The question of timing
Will Kenya be in step with the global swing to electric cars?
In step, yes, but at least 10 years behind the leading edge. You can buy a new petrol-diesel car today without any danger of it losing its resale value because of a looming ban.
It will go through second, third, and fourth-hand cycles before electric cars are even a majority, never mind a monopoly. If the world converts from fossil to electric at the rate of one car per second, starting right now, a complete conversion will take 35 years. A whole lot of stuff is going to change before that.
For us, a formal ban on fossil-fuel cars will probably never be necessary…because eventually electric cars will be the only kind we can import.
My guess is that, in the initial stages of our adjustment in a less dependable infrastructural environment, hybrids will dominate.