How Much Range Do You Really Need? An African Urban EV Experience

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I just read this article  by Zachary Shahan citing a report that says 79% of drivers in the United Kingdom could charge an electric car just once every week or two! In the first paragraph he mentions the most frequently asked questions when it comes to EVs basically anywhere in the world, which are:

1) How far can it drive?

2) How long does it take to charge?

Zach says “Typically, though, these are sort of useless questions. For the most part, people charge at home and need to think about it very little.” This is also true where I am from, and I get asked these questions all the time. Charging here for your standard daily commute is not really a big deal and most charging will also be done at home. A lot of people who would be able to afford or get the current or recent generation models of EVs live in areas where the homes are mostly detached, have decent-sized backyards and won’t have problems finding space to charge EVs at home.

I drive 2013 Nissan Leaf. When I got it, it still had 10 of its original 12 bars. It’s now down to 9 bars, but I pretty much expected that, so its not really a big deal at the moment. The Nissan Leaf’s battery degradation issues have been well documented. Due to the lack of active thermal management/liquid cooling, the battery in early Nissan Leafs is not ideal for places like hot and sunny Zimbabwe. So why did I get it? Well, used Leafs come in at price points which are more budget friendly in this part of the world. At the first sight of a decent budget, I will pounce on a Tesla Cybertruck, or at least a Model Y.

The UK study cited in Zach’s article says that 79% of drivers in the United Kingdom drive fewer than 150 miles per week. One charge per week in a modern EV like the Model 3 would be enough to meet the needs of these drivers. In Zimbabwe, the average commute distance is about 15 kilometers (km) per day. In Kenya, Drivelectric Kenya did a survey and found that popular commutes around Nairobi fall within these three:

1) Up to 40 km round trips

Nairobi to: Kiambu (17 km), Kikuyu (20 km), Ongata Rongai (20.4 km), Githurai (15.3 km), Runda (13.5 km), typically on a normal working day, they drive a distance of up to 40 km a day if they follow a regular driving pattern.

2) Up to 60 km round trips

A driver who lives up to 30 km from Nairobi CBD, e.g. Ruiru, (28 km), Karen (23 km), Kitengela (30 km), Kiserian (27 km), Ngong’ (28 km), Ruai (29 km) in a day, they drive about 60 km a day,

3) Up to 80 km round trips

For a distance of up to 40 km from Nairobi, e.g. Limuru (37 km) or Juja (33 km), in a day that’s 80 km.

So, this got me thinking, how much range would one really need for the usual urban commute charging from home? People tend to overthink the range anxiety thing, and this pushes people to think bigger batteries that offer long range are the only option. But here’s the thing — brand new cars generally cost a lot of money, especially those with large battery packs. For the commutes listed above, a vehicle with a range of about 100 km would be OK if you are charging at home and your standard daily schedule would not be disrupted too much.  I tested this out a few months ago by simulating going on my “normal commute.” I say simulating because in the new normal in 2020 and 2021, we don’t do that so often due to do the coronavirus-induced lockdowns and the whole remote working thing. Most of our meetings these days are on Zoom and Teams. But to show that my normal schedule would be quite comfortable in a 9/10 bar Nissan leaf, I did go on my traditional routes one day including the school run, driving to the ballet venue where my daughter goes, and also the venue for her swimming lessons. The round trip including the morning dropoff and afternoon pickup was about 80 km and was quite comfortable without charging in between. You can check out my trip in these two videos here and here.

City EVs seem to be making a big comeback in China. Jose Pontes’ recent report shows that 3 of the top 5 EVs for December are small city EVs lead by one of my favorites, the Wuling HongGuang Mini EV. It has two battery options and some decent specs for that price:

  • 120 km of range using 9.2 kWh battery (NEDC I suppose) for just $4,112
  • 170 km of range using 13.8 kWh battery (NEDC I suppose) for $5,540
  • A top speed of 100 km/h
  • A 13 kW and 85 Nm electric motor
  • Can seat up to 4 people
  • Very decent boot space of 741 liters of space when the rear seats are folded down
  • 2,917 mm long, 1,493 mm wide, and 1,621 mm high, with a 1,940-mm wheelbase

For that price, I want one! The world needs more of these small affordable city EVs. Bigger is not always better. If we can get more of these in Africa, it would be great. We can even replace some of those noisy polluting tuk-tuks with these and use them as taxis and ride-sharing platforms. Some local startups around the continent are looking into converting old ICE vehicles to EVs and also building their own EVs from the ground up. They could also look at these type of city EVs or mid-range EVs to offer affordable practical models that are perfectly capable of meeting most people’s urban commute needs. These types of vehicles could really make an impact on the penetration of EVs in this part of the world. Accelerating EV adoption is one of the best ways of reducing carbon emissions, since the transport sector is one of the major contributors of carbon emissions and these types of affordable EVs are one of the options to help achieve this. 90% of vehicles imported into Africa are used ICE vehicles that push up the contribution of emissions from the transport sector. Substituting these imports with used EVs that have a decent range is also another viable option.

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since.

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has 732 posts and counting. See all posts by Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai