E-mobility in Ghana, COP26 - When cars become computers on wheels, will we be ready?

BY: Laala Anum Kofi
An electric car
An electric car

The term E-mobility has no connection to electronic or E-Banking (MoMo), but with electric cars.

The Ministry of Energy’s (MoE) announcement that it is seeking tax waiver on the importation and usage of EVs in the country makes interesting news (https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/energy-ministry-seeks-tax-waiver-on-electric-vehicles.html).

At a maiden E-mobility conference in Accra on September 23, 2021, on the theme, “E-Mobility in Ghana: Opportunity and challenges”, the sector minister, Dr Matthew Opoku-Prempeh, said the MoE would request for tax waiver on EVs to encourage their importation and usage in the country.

The minister further stated that, “We cannot take our climate change mitigation efforts for granted and that explains why my ministry is working closely with the Ministry of Finance to secure import waiver for 100 per cent electric vehicles to help drive the penetration of the vehicles, while putting together other measures to ensure the sustainable utilisation of electricity.”

He further indicated that the government was also exploring the possibility of subsidising the certification of EVs, as well as supporting the establishment of recharging stations for the EVs across the country.

At the just-ended COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, 197 nations reached a climate agreement in the last hour of overtime; the agreement, for the first time, made reference to coal as a major culprit in the climate crisis.

Following an objection from India and China, the final consensus agreement on coal was watered down from ‘phasing out’ to ‘phasing down’.

Climate change, vehicles

Road transport accounts for about 10 per cent of global emissions, and its emissions are rising faster than those of any other sector.

So, there is an effort, through UN resolutions, to shift to zero emission vehicles – which is already underway, thereby creating new jobs, bringing cleaner air to cities and increasingly cutting the costs of car ownership.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), together with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and other global partners, launched a global programme at the COP25 climate summit in Chile, in 2019, to promote electric mobility in developing countries.

In this connection, a Global Environment Facility (GEF) programme was announced in Madrid in 2019, during the COP25 summit; there was seed money of $33 million from the European Commission (EC) – to support this E-Mobility Solutions Plus Project.

Through this GEF programme, which finally took off in 2021, an initial set of 17 developing countries would be assisted to deploy electric vehicles for use in air quality tests and in assessing reduction on fossil fuels.

Future

As Ghana showcases its readiness to embrace the use of electric cars in the country, it would be proper to indicate here the major advantages of EVs.

These cars, buses and trucks, etc., do not produce any exhaust gases or pollutants; they therefore have no exhaust pipes.

Indeed, EVs have no engines, unlike most vehicles on the road with Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) – which produce exhaust fumes, damage the environment and contribute to the greenhouse effect, and thus exacerbate the global climate change.

Above all, compared to ICE vehicles, EVs require very little maintenance – no oil changes, no spark plugs, no timing belts, no transmission problems and much cheaper to maintain.

Brakes wear less because of ‘regenerative braking’, whereby during a braking action, the EV converts its kinetic or stopping energy to electrical energy to recharge the battery system.

Furthermore, the prices of EVs are ever falling, due to mass production and competition, especially from China, which is adopting EVs on a massive scale.

Road conditions

No EV manufacturers have yet set up a base here in Ghana, although VolksWagon (VW) has an assembly plant in Ghanan and a competitor to Tesla, the leading developer of EVs in the world.

Our authorities must encourage VW to also include EV assembly here, else, it would be inferred that they are simply taking away their polluting and noisy ICE vehicle assembly plants from European countries, which are now mandating that all new cars in the next decade should be EVs to developing countries.

Price

Electric cars are very important to the future of the automobile sector and to the environment; however, its ultimate acceptance by the Ghanaian public will be based on price considerations, and its continued improvement, performance and ready availability.

Our mechanics and other artisans should quickly master the technology in the assembly of electric cars; they certainly should be able to remove the engines from ICE vehicles, and re-fit them with imported electric motors, battery packs and control electronics boxes – to turn them into veritable electric cars.

In view of the state-of-the-art technologies, involving advanced electronics and computer-based control systems, plus driver-assisted software and eventually a ‘Full Self Driving (FSD)’, the skill sets of our mechanics would need to be improved tremendously; FSD consists of driver-assist features that would make EVs autonomous – meaning that cars would drive by themselves, with no or very limited human intervention.

Tesla and other automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, GM, Ford and Volvo are testing cars with FSD features, that could change lanes, do parallel parking, identify speed limit signs, brake for pedestrians, and eventually enable people to select destinations, using GPS, and have the cars drive them to any location.

But, our road conditions and driving habits in Ghana would be a major stumbling block in benefiting from the best features of the EVs.

How can future FSD cars dodge potholes or evade goats, chicken and cattle crossing the roads, even on major highways, without any notice?

How can FSDs cope with streets with no divider markings, or with commercial vehicles which deliberately and illegally drive on pavements and shoulders of the roads, and constantly cut in front of other cars without much warning?

Or, when motor riders illegally drive on the wrong side of the roads, and facing oncoming traffic? Pedestrians mostly don’t obey traffic rules; they are sometimes forced to walk on the streets, as hawkers take over the sidewalks.

After most rains, puddles of water form on the roads, and thereby leave no space for pedestrians.

How then can a car, fitted with modern devices, artificial intelligence software and other machine learning enhancements cope with lawless drivers – Okada, Taxi, Trotro and Aboboyaa drivers, and stranded pedestrians in such a confused environment?

Yes, we have to start planning for new arrangements on our roads – fix our potholes, improve on road markings; we simply need to enforce road safety laws, regulations, etc., when EVs become a normal mode of transport in most countries, including Ghana, in the next few years.

The writer is a retired Engineer, IAEA; Consultant KERSL Automation, Spintex Road, Accra. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.