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A Need For A Just Energy Transition With E-Mobility

“This is an industry that is highly industrialised and it’s our crown jewel and we stand the chance of losing that if we do not transition in time for 2030″
Victor Radebe
Co-Founder, Mobility Centre for Africa

The need for a just and sustainable energy transition has become increasingly evident as the world grapples with the challenges of climate change and social inequality. 

E-mobility, the shift towards electric vehicles (EVs) and associated charging infrastructure, holds immense potential to drive a just energy transition. By integrating e-mobility with social and environmental considerations, we can create a more equitable and sustainable future. 

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This was the conversation at the annual Enlit Africa conference hosted in Cape Town at the Cape Town Conventional Centre (CTICC). Enlit Africa brings together the entire value chain in sectors such as power, energy, mining and water but now also mobility. “A just energy transition through e-mobility” was a panel that took place Wednesday 17 May in the Strategic Stage.  

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The panel of speakers included the following experts: 

  • Marco Rahner, Sales Director: Smart Infrastructure, Siemens
  • Victor Radebe, Co-Founder, Mobility Centre for Africa (MCA)
  • Bongani Mthombeni-Möller, Director: Smart Mobility, Royal HaskoningDHV
  • Vuyisile Majola, Director, Mobility Centre for Africa (MCA)

The growth of renewable energy in Africa is expected to support the development of e-mobility, as electric vehicles are powered by clean energy sources such as solar and wind power. And vice versa, the use of e-mobility also contributes to the decentralisation of energy systems in Africa, as EVs serve as mobile storage devices that help balance the grid and provide power during blackouts or emergencies. 

The panel answered burning questions that brought focus to these key points: 

  • Challenges and opportunities for e-mobility adoption 
  • New school versus old school 
  • Access and affordability 
  • The roadmap to achieving successful e-mobility adoption in Africa 
  • The way forward to achieving a just energy transition with e-mobility 

Opportunities lie ahead 

The key challenge for e-mobility is still cost in many parts of Africa, however some government and private sector stakeholders are tackling this through changing in taxation and incentives. Asides from the cost and incentive issue, there also lies opportunities that build a strong case for e-mobility adoption.

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A just energy transition through e-mobility fosters economic opportunities for all. Investing in the production, deployment, and maintenance of EVs and charging infrastructure can create jobs and stimulate economic growth. These opportunities can further be enhanced by prioritising local manufacturing, job training programs, and small and medium-sized enterprises, ensuring that the economic benefits are inclusive and reach disadvantaged communities. 

Marco Rahner, the Sales Director: Smart Infrastructure at Siemens highlighted the opportunity for rural areas to provide fast charging hubs for e-cars.  

“We must move over towards the renewable energy generation to charge e-cars especially in rural areas where cars travel long distances. If you only have 10 kilometres left of charge in the middle of nowhere, to find a house which has home charging is difficult. But even in gas stations or petrol stations in the middle of nowhere to get an overhead line there…they don’t have the capacity to charge cars certainly not fast charging,” said Rahner.


New school versus old school 

According to the EU European Green Deal, the sale of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Vehicles emitting 55% less CO2 will be banned in 2030 with a complete ban of ICE vehicles emitting CO2 by 2035. Norway has in fact set their target for 2025. Over 70% of South Africa’s vehicle exports are to EU member states. New energy vehicles (NEVs) will soon be the order of the day however, there are some traditional automakers who are lagging behind.

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According to Victor Radebe, Co-Founder, Mobility Centre for Africa (MCA) Tesla and BYD lead the global EV sales, whereas legacy OEMs particularly in South Africa, some of which have been in operation for over 100 years, have done little to respond to the innovation presented by these disruptors. 

“We build 1% of the global output of cars in the world, which in a way I would say, means we are punching above our weight. This is an industry that is highly industrialised and it’s our crown jewel and we stand the chance of losing that if we do not transition in time for 2030,” said Radebe. 

Access and affordability 

One of the risk implications facing e-mobility adoption is lack of access and exclusion. It is crucial to ensure access to e-mobility for all segments of society. Efforts need be made to address the affordability gap for electric vehicles.  

This can be achieved through financial incentives, grants, and subsidies for low-income individuals and communities. Also engaging the informal sector and guiding them through the transition will ensure no one is excluded.  

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Additionally, expanding public charging infrastructure and promoting innovative solutions like shared electric mobility can improve accessibility and affordability, particularly in underserved areas. 

Vuyisile Majola, Director of Mobility Centre for Africa mentioned the risk of excluding the informal transport sector from the just transition towards e-mobility, where in a country like South Africa loadshedding and power cuts are the norm.  

“So definitely the risk would be convincing the informal transport providers to move to energy efficient mobility. Telling them it would both be affordable and as efficient as the transport services that they currently provide,” said Majola. 

How do we achieve a just energy transition with e-mobility? 

Integrating e-mobility with renewable energy sources is essential for a just energy transition. By coupling EV charging infrastructure with renewable energy generation and storage, we can create synergies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable energy systems.  

Encouraging the development of solar-powered charging stations and promoting smart charging solutions can facilitate the integration of e-mobility with renewable energy, making the transition more sustainable and just. 

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Another main contributor to achieving this just transition with e-mobility is involving local communities in decision-making processes, including them in the planning and implementation of charging infrastructure. Engaging communities ensures that their voices are heard, their concerns are addressed, and benefits are shared equitably.  

Bongani Mthombeni-Möller, Director: Smart Mobility at the Royal HaskoningDHV provided emphasis on the point of intention behind justifying an equitable transition toward e-mobility and renewable energy. 

“I think we have made it very clear that for the transition to be just it needs to address inequality, it needs to address unemployment. It needs to address how people with disabilities move. Equality across the board with a specific focus on making sure that women are included across the whole value chain and that on a safety perspective, everything that’s been going on in the country, women are high up on our radar,” said Mthombeni. 

What’s the way forward? 

A just energy transition through e-mobility is critical for combating climate change and addressing social inequalities. It is vital for future job creation which drive real value to local people as well as the overall economy. By prioritising this we can create a sustainable and equitable mobility ecosystem.  

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“E-mobility is coming with or without the policies because the industry is going in that direction. Whether we’re going to make the vehicles in South Africa or not. The days of VROOM VROOM are coming to an end,” said Radebe. 

A just energy transition with e-mobility will require collaboration between governments, businesses, communities, and civil society to ensure that the benefits of e-mobility are shared by all. Through a comprehensive and inclusive approach, we can pave the way for a future where clean and accessible mobility contributes to a just and sustainable society. 

Join us at Smarter Mobility Africa summit on 3-4 October 2023, and explore the global mobility transition through an African lens.

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About the author

Anazi Zote
Mobility Content & Stakeholder Manager
Anazi Zote is a multifaceted woman with a passion for creativity and innovation. With her diverse skill set encompassing creatives arts, technology, and entrepreneurship, she continuously pushes boundaries and explores new frontiers. She is known for their unique perspective and out-of-the-box thinking and strives to inspire and challenge conventional norms.
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