If you’re one of those people who already know for sure that electric vehicles in Nigeria is a bad idea that will never work – not with the way NEPA is set up, not with the way Nigeria itself is set up, not for the foreseeable future. You have no business here. To save you a few minutes of your precious time, close your browser and go on with whatever you were doing.
If you’re everyone else, well, welcome to another day in the future, or just “another day” like we all like to call it; the future is silent, it keeps coming but never arrives. However, it does feel oddly exciting to understand here that beyond hypotheticals; beyond “wanting to do the cool stuff” because everyone else is doing it; beyond wondering whether there somewhere lies even the smallest glimpse of a definite possibility, we are having this conversation about whether or not using electric cars in Nigeria is an economically sensible and realistically feasible option.
For the sake of argument, throughout this article, we would operate on the assumption that NEPA/PHCN/Every Electricity generating company in Nigeria does not work or even exist. Every watt of electricity that lights up the system is entirely self-created through generators or inverters and solar panels, etc.
Over the weekend, I came across the tweet above that mentioned the possibility of investor/industrialist Malik Ado-Ibrahim, chairman of Nigus Enfinity, introducing electric vehicles into the Nigerian market by 2018 and having a working vehicle assembly plant running by 2020. The proposition itself seems lofty if not audacious as Nigeria is one country that is globally famed for having what has been described by the international community as an “unsolvable” power problem. Before I considered developing this article, I had made a joke about how we might need to carry I pass my neighbours in the boots of our proposed EVs as back up for NEPA light and the power problem if they get introduced. However, the lack of details about the proposition from the web-link through which I had been informed about the development did not help inspire a lot of confidence. The firm itself did not turn up a lot of information on a web search seeming to have literally popped out of thin air a few days ago but then again, the purpose of this article is to evaluate the pragmatism from the consumer’s point of view – a Nigerian Consumer – and not just the business involved. Heck, for the sake of argument, let’s all assume that Elon Musk himself was the one who made the statement. And so, to treat the big question: “why would I buy an electric vehicle (EV henceforth) in a country that has almost no electricity?” start by breaking the question into a few smaller worries.
- HOW LONG DOES THE BATTERY OF AN EV LAST?
This is one problem that is common to everyone who has ever considered for a little bit, the possibility of their adopting full EVs. It is something that bothers even those who live in developed countries that have uninterrupted power supply and so dear Nigerian reader, you are not alone. To clarify one misconception, the strength of an EV’s battery is not judged in its standby time. It is not a matter how long the battery lasts; it’s what distance the vehicle can cover before needing to be recharged. EV batteries do 99% of their work and lose a corresponding quota of their charge when the vehicle is moving and as a matter of fact, during extended periods of inactivity (i.e. in standstill traffic), they are programmed to automatically turn themselves off within mere minutes and turn themselves back on again when the driver steps on the throttle. Going further, one might compare the fuel efficiency of a hybrid with that of a regular internal combustion engine (ICE). Hybrid vehicles combine using electricity and regular fuels and work by switching off either the electric drive when driving above 70KMPH (this is where petrol is most efficient) while using the excess energy created by the petrol engine to charge the electric power system, or, by using the battery when driving below 70KMPH, as we often do within city limits due to more congested traffic. This effectively splits the range of a hybrid into a combination of both sources of energy which accounts for plug-in hybrid users reporting driving on full tanks for months in city traffic without having to stop to refuel, corroborating the fact behind the efficiency of electric powered vehicles in city traffic settings. Compared with regular ICEs that usually burn more fuel when driving in moderate to heavy traffic and are more efficient on highways, the fact that EVs last longer on their charges and are more efficient is beyond dispute. A personal assessment of the fuel efficiency/MPG (miles per gallon) rating of any vehicle, usually gives two values: a smaller figure in front (inner city) and a larger one after it (highway) then a figure that accounts for “combined” usage e.g. Toyota Corolla has a rating of 28/40, combined 36MPGs; the 2002 Ford Explorer has one of 17/25 combined 19MPGs. In EVs, there is only a minimum range estimate that tells just how long one might have to drive before they may need a full charge e.g. Tesla Model S – 294 miles; Nissan Leaf – 107 miles. The range estimates may vary depending on the amount of extra weight in the vehicle and whether or not the vehicle’s air conditioning system is running as this might reduce the range between 5 and 25% of the given minimum estimate much in a similar way as using the AC in a regular ICE tells on the fuel gauge.
[why not just go for a hybrid then?
If you are buying a hybrid with the intention of driving it like an EV, the electric ranges on hybrids are a lot shorter; the strongest electric power hybrid on the market, the 2017 Chevrolet Volt, can only give around 53 miles on the electric drive (compare with the Nissan Leaf (full EV) that gives around 120 miles). This means you would have to bother a lot more about charging the battery compared with a full EV and the savings on fuelling costs are significantly lesser as the petrol engine in the vehicle is being converted to a de facto generator which requires splitting fuelling cost two ways. (explained below) and you still live at the mercy of your mechanic]
In vehicles like the Nissan Leaf which is an older generation of EVs, the range is given at 107 miles minimum, however, users report gaining up to 130 miles before needing to recharge. This bears testament to the fact that the ranges given are worst case scenario assessments. From Akowonjo (where I reside) to the Island by the longest route is about 13 miles. On a full charge in Nissan Leaf, it would be possible to make a return journey (AK to Island and back – WITH LAGOS TRAFFIC – 26 miles at least) at least four times before needing to stop to recharge. If you live in Akowonjo and work on the island (if the vehicle is not taken anywhere else while at work), the car will be available from Monday to Thursday without needing to be recharged. The Nissan Leaf is pretty old for an EV and the newer iterations of it haven’t seen significant improvement on their battery capacity. These days, with improvements in battery technology, more vehicles like the Tesla(s) are fielding minimum ranges of over 250 miles; bear in mind that the distance from Lagos to Enugu State is about 280 miles. If you travel to Enugu from Lagos in a modern EV you would only need to recharge ONCE when you probably stop to eat and rest at Ore or Benin. A 2010 Toyota Corolla, for comparability, is one of the most fuel efficient vehicles on the market scoring a decent 36MPGs on a combined scale. If you make a trip to Enugu in a Corolla, you may need around 30 litres of petrol in a tank that has a volume of around 40 litres. If you fill up in Lagos, you are good for the rest of the journey and it would cost around N4,300. If you make the same trip in an EV, you might need a recharge before getting to Onitsha. If you plug up for an hour at Ore, you could pay around N1000 (if you’re being generous) or it could be free if you find a good spot and this leads up to the second question:
- HOW LONG DOES A FULL ELECTRIC VEHICLE TAKE TO GARNER A FULL CHARGE?
In the olden days (like 2010), when chargers were slow, it could take up to 4-6 hours to charge a vehicle. Back then people in developed countries often plugged their vehicles for recharge overnight; it was cheaper and less stressful. Today you could get a full charge in all of 20 minutes (like in the Tesla Model S) this, of course, depends on the kind of vehicle you own. Charging a battery anyway, is faster when done using direct current (DC) as opposed to alternating current (AC) and many newer chargers capitalise on this. On average these days, it would take anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes to fully charge an EV.
Now, remember when I asked that we pretend that NEPA/PHCN/IE/ETC didn’t exist, this is where it comes into play. In Lagos at least, when the clock strikes 7PM, we all know what time it is – gen time. When the clock hits 11PM (midnight in some places) – its gen off time, some others run their generators for 24 straight hours, even when NEPA comes on. My God, I can write songs of agony about the noise my neighbours’ generators (emphasis on the “s”) make, it’s like always like an awful, grovelling symphony of nightmares. I even considered suing them at some point. At any rate, you have four hours of electricity – at the very least. If you use the old Nissan Leaf and use an old charger that requires between 4-6 hours, at the end of one 7PM – 11PM generator period, you will have enough juice in your vehicle to last at least 3-4 days. If you have a Nissan Leaf and a charger that needs around one hour, well, I don’t think there is a need to further this argument. The chargers are very mobile just in case you are the paranoid type who loves their battery being full all the time. Assuming you drive to work regularly and your place of work needs electricity to run, you can plug your car when you arrive at work and unplug eight – nine hours later when you’re ready to go home – free fuel. On the domestic end, it has the advantage that your fuelling cost is cut from your generator and your car every week – or every 2-3 days, to just fuelling your generator and saving the cost of car fuel almost entirely.
To put this into perspective, let us introduce some numbers and the third question (I do the homework so you don’t have to; come and copy):
- WHAT DO I GAIN FROM BUYING AN EV?
For a person who lives in Alimosho (which houses the greatest population of Lagos’ residents) and works on the Island and has to drive about 30 miles, five days a week; assuming the trip is made in a vehicle with around average of (23MPG – this is very generous and made using data from the US. Ideally the figure might be a lot lower: some 10-18MPG because our vehicles are older and comparatively less well maintained)
- 30 miles x 5 days a week = 150 miles a week (excluding weekends)
At 23 MPGs, 150 miles would need (150/23) gallons of petrol = 6.5 gallons
Converting gallons to litres = 6.5 * 3.8 = 24.605 litres
24.6 litres x N145 (pump price of petrol) = N3567; approx. N3,600 weekly on transport fuel
In a month = 3,600 x 4 weeks = N14,400
In a year = 14,400 x 12 = N172,800
Depending on your vehicle, the figure may be way more (especially for people who drive SUVs) or less if you own a smaller vehicle. Also, depending on one’s itinerary: if you drive around a lot (i.e. sales people, contractors, lawyers, cabbies [Uber, Taxify, etc.]) fuel costs may be significantly greater (also excluding weekends).
- if it costs N500 to power a 2.5kva generator for 3-4 hours daily, you’d spend N182,500 to run your generator annually although this might vary depending on the type of fuel (diesel, gas) and the capacity of the generator and become significantly more or less.
Combining the total cost of fuel annually, comes up to N355,300 and a possibility that you might do away with having to pay transport fuel and just spend N183,000 annually on both.
If you are a home owner who has solar panels and an inverter installed, your annual fuel cost will become a fraction of what it used to be as you might only have to buy fuel minimally. With the increasing penetration and uptake of renewable energy, it stands to reason that the future of transportation will either be free of all costs or require minimal charges. Countries in the EU (i.e. Germany, France and the Netherlands) have increased deployment of zero emission EV charging stations that are powered entirely by renewable sources at no cost to the EV owner. These are actions worthy of emulation and while it does not inspire great confidence on our part today, there remains a distinct possibility of these kinds of infrastructure being deployed in Nigeria as we look to capitalise on the abundance of sunlight hours that Tropical Africa is blessed with.
The first and most popular advantage of having an EV is that it saves a lot of money.
Secondly, if you are tired of visiting mechanics about car problems, then you should seriously consider buying an EV. EVs have some 75% less parts than a regular vehicle – 75% lesser things that could go wrong with the vehicle, 75% fewer things you would need to change. EVs have no engines, no clutch, transmission, radiators, differentials, all that change this, change that problems are factually reduced to routine tyres and brake pads, wheel support and very rarely if you are extremely unlucky and fall into a fatal fault and have to change the battery packs or power systems. You have no need for transmission fluids or engine oil, antifreeze and general maintenance and servicing costs are driven all the way down. An educated guess of around N200,000-500,000 annually captures a lot of people’s mechanic woes, some people even argue that the costs are significantly greater depending on the vehicle they own.
Total savings at this point stand at N355,300 + N (200 – 500,000) = N535,000 – 855,300 annually (possibly greater).
The third biggest reason why you should consider buying an EV is that it has no emissions and helps us cut the amount of CO2 we pump into the atmosphere. This helps a great deal in the fight against global warming and climate change especially as Africans are particularly vulnerable. Its helps add yours in efforts to save the world – literally. Massive uptake of EVs also mean better metropolitan air quality and that one would breathe in less polluted air while in traffic.
I understand I requested that you took NEPA off your mind, but have you notice how since you’ve been reading this essay, light hasn’t been a problem? It’s not NEPA that will stop you from saving close to a million every year; that is not an excuse. Amusingly enough, EV owners in Europe make more than $100 monthly from selling the excess electricity from their vehicles back to the electricity grid. If you choose to, it might be possible that in the future, you could assist NEPA in generating electricity from your EV.
Disadvantages of EVs (because only God is that great – obviously).
- Capital Cost: First and foremost, EVs are quite expensive. Even the low end EV is quite pricey compared with their ICE counterparts and the Nigerian government, unlike those in the great abroad, do not yet offer incentives and tax credits to users of EVs. Generally, the prices of these vehicles begin around $20,000 and may even get as high as $135,000. If Mr. Ado-Ibrahim is really going to make a Nigerian version, it is likely to be around the N10-15m range for the cheaper versions. Compare with the Tesla Model 3 (the cheapest Tesla yet) that would sell for around N11-13m without import taxes. The 2015 Nissan Leaf costs anywhere from N6-10m while the 2017 version ranks alongside the cost of the Tesla Model 3. In all, basically, if you want an EV, you have to be ready to splash some cash.
- Charging Stations: unlike places like the US where the standard electricity output is 110V, in Nigeria, ours puts out 240V exactly what is needed to charge an EV rather quickly, that’s one issue less. However, charging stations are not very popular in this part of the world maybe even non-existent. We have just woken up to the reality of EVs and it does require sometime. This is further compounded by the fact that older EVs (which may be cheaper and are most likely what we would buy anyway if we don’t make ours) have special charging facilities that have to be connected directly to a circuit box and not just the mains. As the owner of an older generation EV, you might need an electrician to install the charging system (comes with the car) in your own house and this throws into question the possibility of walking into a random store and finding the equipment you require for charging already installed.
Plug in Chargers
Most modern chargers are mobile and come ready to be plugged directly into the mains anyway so this might be lesser of an issue than it seems today. However, as more EVs enter the Nigerian market, I aver that the same places we stop by to buy petrol will become equipped to sell electricity to EV owners even if “charge-while-you-park” outlets which are part of social infrastructure in more developed countries might still require more time. Admittedly nevertheless, in this part of the world and at this time, this doesn’t hold desirable prospects for people who would like to make longer journeys through remote areas.
- Range anxiety: this is very common among new EV owners although it does fade away after a few weeks to months of constant use. For the first few months, using an EV, to a lot of people, is like driving a regular car that has its tank perpetually on reserve; one is always anxious about when the vehicle will finally give up and where.
- NEPA: it might be a lot more reliable to run generators for electricity, but it might be a lot cheaper to get electricity from the grid. With NEPA currently set up the way it is, I’d be honest, they are nowhere near the list of electricity sources needed for large-scale adoption of EVs. Strike them out; they’re entirely useless to this cause.
- Variety: in addition to the fact that these vehicles are very expensive, the loss of individuality from a lack of variety as of present does not help promote the EV’s cause. If you buy an EV, odds are you might look like everyone else who drives an EV and standing out as an individual is just that much harder.
Before I round off, there are a few more reasons why betting on the adoption of EVs might not be such a bad idea. First is leapfrogging or the idea of it anyway. Like we saw with the adoption of mobile telephony and internet where Nigerians skipped almost two hundred years of slow progression and have become Africa’s largest mobile telecoms and tech market. It is not entirely out of reach for Nigeria to endeavour to skip over the technological requirements of developing an indigenous ICE industry and choose to enthusiastically adopt electric vehicles that facilitate smoother and cheaper running of commercial and industrial enterprises which brings us to the second point.
Anthropologically speaking, the advancements of the global economy (as well as their individual sublets) depend very heavily on the availability of cheap and reliable sources of energy. Using the expansion of the Indian economy between 2002 and 2015 as a very good example, investments in coal, nuclear and renewable sources of energy translated to an exponential increment in the volume of electricity produced. This saw the Indian economy swell astoundingly from just over $200bn to over $2tr within the same period. The same applies to industries as well as supply chains on which they rely. The cost of energy to power the expansion of the local economies in Africa is expensive. Although most African countries offer fossil fuels at competitive rate compared with the rest of the world, a comparison of energy prices against their corresponding per capita incomes reveals the real cost of energy in the region. Hence, it is imperative that the search for a means of promoting activity in industrial sectors of African economies like Nigeria while saving costs along the supply chain at the very least would most likely drive a massive adoption of EVs in Nigeria.
The third is that China was a country, right up until the early 2000s, fraught with systemic corruption and struggling to get its shit together until the global recession of 2008 came and let them pick on the US as their economic competition. Lofty as that may have sounded then, as of today, the rest is history. Nigeria is a country struggling to get its power generation in order and with citizens who have grown more or less apathetic towards the government’s cause to this regard – every business in Nigeria runs on generators, ironically, even the electricity production companies. A realisation on just how much may be lost, more to the citizens and lesser to petrol marketers on the part of both the government and the electricity companies all to devastating effects, might just be all the kick needed to jumpstart progress in the ailing power sector.As shown, you don’t need PHCN to run your EV so as far as business goes, you have little to fear. Its only left to reason that perhaps they keep failing because we keep relying on them.
In discussions I had while writing this piece, a lot of people had a common concern about the effects of/to the “petrol cabal” and if the government itself would allow this development. These were good points and viable sources of concern but this also quite absurd as it completely undermines the fact that Nigeria is a poor, net importing consumer of petroleum products and it is always in our best interest to find means of reducing our external expenditure. It would be nice to sell crude oil at $50/b and not have to buy back refined petrol at $55/b. Instead of being $5 in debt, we could be $50 richer. It’s a no brainer; you’re trying to save yourself N1000, your biggest concern cannot be about a man who is going to lose N1bn from you giving yourself a better life. Don’t romanticise your captors/captivity.
Furthermore, JOBS. In the US alone, the automotive industry contributes almost 8 million jobs to the American economy without counting the after-sales services industry. I don’t know about everyone else but I think Nigeria does seem like a country that could use a few million jobs. Time however is of the essence, we have to begin with it as soon as possible before, as we see today, 99.9% of the vehicles on our roads as well as the profits, the technology, the jobs, have to be imported from other countries, exposing us to another era of poverty, unemployment and bad governance.
In conclusion, no, Nigeria is not too backwards, neither is NEPA that much of a reason why EVs in Nigeria will not work. Heck, EVs are lighter than regular vehicles and may even fare better on our bad roads than regular ICEs because the action – reaction forces as well as wear and tear that drive the impairment of our regular vehicles are significantly reduced. For domestic and personal use, adoption might take a while due to capital costs, but for corporate use, especially for organisations with extensive fleets (e.g. banks, postage delivery/logistics outfits, etc.) your fleet of EVs can pay for themselves in as little as 5 years (which, assuredly, you will not get with regular vehicles) depending on how much of your general expenditure goes into fuel, transportation/supply chain costs and electricity generation. Not like you care about emissions anyway, might as well invest in the next best thing and save yourselves truckloads of money.