6 December 2017

Uganda: Will Electric Cars Run Out of Battery in Mabira Forest?

opinion

A quick search online shows that Ssekabaka Daudi Chwa was the first person ever to import a motor vehicle in Uganda in 1906. It was a 16-horse power engine built by Albion Motors.

If the media existed the way we know it today and Chwa wasn't the Kabaka of Buganda, he would have been called names for his "lack of foresight."

People would have questioned him on plans to refuel the car, repair it, and ultimately the type of roads he would be driving it on. People would have said how could he import a car when pushcarts are the most ideal form of transport in our country?

That is the kind of discussion that is dominating online media discussions regarding electric cars. How and where will electric cars be charged? Do we have enough Yaka to recharge cars? What will happen if I am driving through Lwera and the battery runs down? Electricity is too expensive, and so much more is said.

Well, charging the battery of an electric car isn't different from the way you charge your phone today. The electric car battery is the same as the smartphone battery. They are both lithium-ion. The only difference is size. Anywhere there is a socket in your home, you can charge an electric vehicle.

Actually there are electric boda bodas on the market in Uganda today and they are charged the same way as we charge our phones.

A car isn't that different from a motorcycle. Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe has been using electric vehicles to move around the zoo for ages.

On the issue of cost, it may actually be cheaper today to charge the battery of an electric car than refilling its tank with petrol. It costs just $13.43 to fully charge a Tesla Model X, a crossover SUV with a range of 295 miles in the United States. That is Shs 49,019.

Can you imagine driving from Kampala to Kabale at a cost of under Shs 50,000? If you are to drive a normal car (internal combustion engine) with the same specifications as the Model X in the United States, you would pay an extra $24.50 (Shs 89, 425) on petrol to cover the same distance.

Let us break it down further. It would cost you Shs 138, 444 to drive 295 miles (474km) in a normal car instead of Shs 49,019 in an electric vehicle.

With Uganda being on the equator, which guarantees sunshine all year round, you will only need to invest in solar once and then say 'bye-bye' to fuel costs. You will save a lot of money on transport, which may enable you to achieve your financial freedom dreams faster.

On average, somebody who works in the Kampala Central Business District (CBD) and lives in one of the suburbs that are in a radius of 15km spends Shs 30,000 on fuel every day.

With electricity, you will be spending less and zero if you installed your own solar. No need to do the maths anymore.

The question we should be asking is, when do we get electric vehicles on our roads?

And if you don't fuel your car properly today, it will still run out of fuel in Lwera and there is not a single fuel station in that swampy stretch.

Going back to Tesla, their newest car, the Tesla Roadster can go up to 620 miles on a single charge. That is 997km, which means you can drive from Nairobi to Mbarara and beyond without recharging. So, if you recharge your car properly, the battery will never run down in Lwera or Nakasongola.

In the developed markets where electric cars are starting to make inroads, there are charging stations at shopping malls, hotels, office blocks, leisure parks, hospitals, and restaurants, among other places.

Once you park at, for example, Acacia mall to go for coffee and you anticipate you don't have enough battery power, you leave your car charging. And you can have a car charged up to 170 miles (273km) in just 30 minutes! So, by the time they bring your coffee, your car would have been charged.

Fuel stations as we know them today will actually become charging stations in the future. The fuel pump will be replaced with a charging unit. And for your home, you will only need an extension cable to charge your car.

And unlike in the past, there is electricity in most parts of the country. When the construction of Karuma and Isimba power dams is complete and they are connected to the grid, there will even be more electricity.

For those interested in business, it is time to think out of the box. Where will you position your charging stations and people pay you as they enjoy some chips and chicken or shop for matoke in the market?

Uganda

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