Zimbabwe’s Electric Car Fantasy

From last week, Energy Minister Fortune Chasi was quoted in the media as saying the Zimbabwean government is placing modalities to introduce electric cars in the country as a stop-gap measure aimed at reducing over-reliance on traditional fuel in powering automobiles.

Noble idea! The country has to move forward in adopting new technologies, in fact, so that we can bridge the digital divide between the developing and the developed countries and also play catch up on the fourth industrial revolution.

The only challenge with this idea is its feasibility. Having electric cars is not bad, but the question is are we ready as a country? I imagine the majority of Zimbabweans cant picture themselves driving an electric car. The idea is just alien to them and can at best be acceptable as a sci-film. We have a lot to do.

We are still struggling with the basics such as the availability of sufficient electricity, currently we are have a huge power supply deficit and have been forced to rely on imports which we cant even afford because we lack the foreign currency.

We had a huge debt of as much as US$80 million for power imports which h we are struggling to clear and we still go for lengthy periods without electricity even after adding to the debt albatross to get fresh power imports. Eskom, perhaps our biggest bet for bailouts, is having problems of its own and recording loses of R1,5bn in the past financial year.

As it stands, there is no guarantee of power supply unless we invest in our own power plants that are adequate, so how can we talk about electric cars? At best, this remains Disney fantasy.

In June this year, ZERA reported that government had okayed the proposal to purchase a demonstration car for trials, but citizens’ reaction were cynical more than anything. The cheapest electric vehicle one can get from electric car manufacturer Tesla’s Model 3 (2017) costs US$49 000 while the Audi e-tron (2018) is pegged at US$75 000. Only few people in this economy where families are surviving on less than US$2 per day can afford such prices.

The minister, however, tried to dismiss the cynicism in an interview with a local publication.

“When I spoke about electric cars (some time ago) I was the laughing stock. The idea behind an electric car is different from an iron whereby one irons their clothes while it’s connected to the socket.”

“People are quick to say there is no electricity, how are we going to power the cars but we have to plan because electric cars are part and parcel of us dealing with energy issues and so use of solar. It’s very convenient that at every fuel service station we have solar-powered charging points whereby one drives in and recharge,” Chasi said.

Chasi encouraged adoption of solar as an alternative to electricity. This was a great idea except we do not have enough projects to generate electricity from solar. One major project that has for years been on hold is a perfect candidate for the greatest tender scam of all time. I shall not get into detail, lest we digress.

Government set a target of 1,575MW solar power by 2030, which looks like a pipe dream in the absence of serious changes in attitude and the way we do things in general including avoiding corruption.

For now, all we can say is the liberalisation of solar energy equipment through duty-free modalities has been a step in the right direction. Perhaps in a few years we may be there, and that’s a big may.

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