Saturday, February 18, 2017

Electric cars could change everything in SA

Electric cars could change everything in SA
Really great article by Dirk de Vos for Tech Central. It's quite a long article but looks at the future of electric vehicles in South Africa and their relation to energy production in the country, in some depth.
The energy system is huge and change happens at glacial speed. Small changes have tended to come from policy changes on a top-down basis. For a long time, this was the position of the telecommunications sector. But the introduction of the Internet protocol and cellphones upended everything. What is significant is that almost every innovation in telecoms over the last two decades has come from outside the industry and change has been driven in a bottom-up process. Regulators and state-owned incumbent operators have been forced to adapt to the immense changes that they had no part in bringing about.
I like how he has compared the electric vehicle industry with the telecommunications industry. Nobody seemed to predict how the Internet would take off and to an even lesser degree the rapid almost universal adoption of cellphones. Electric cars aren't going to land up in peoples driveways because Ford, GM, Toyota, Fiat etc. want us to have them, they're going to end up in our driveways because we want them. Like digital cameras, the camera & film manufacturers didn't predict the demand for digital cameras and by the time they realised the way consumers were leading the market it was too late for some of them.
As EVs start to make sense on a pure financial basis, decisions to buy them are made by individuals deciding what is best for them. 
Even when digital cameras were two or three times the price of a similar film camera, they began to outstrip film camera sales, the increase in sales in turn made digital cameras more affordable and ever since digital cameras have continued to get better and better. Obviously an automobile is a lot more expensive than a camera and no one is expected to pay three times the amount of a gasoline car for an electric car. In the article the author compares the costs of buying and running a Nissan Leaf to that of a Nissan Sentra, a similarly sized ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. On this basis an ICE vehicle is about 40% cheaper to purchase at the moment but as the article explains the savings in running costs make the overall costs comparable.
Against a R300 000 car, the Leaf is still more expensive to own, but not by a big distance. Further, fully a quarter of the cost of the Leaf is in the battery and batteries are falling in price quicker than expected.
When the difference gets down to say 20% there will certainly be an overall saving for the EV buyer, when people see other people saving money by driving an electric car then they will want one too.

The biggest adoption of EV's in South Africa could well be the more rural and remote areas where petrol stations are few and far between. It'll be a lot cheaper to set up solar powered charging points than to build a service station.

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