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Ford F-150 Lightning
Ford's all electric F-150 Lightning should prove to be a popular addition to the company's truck lineup. Image courtesy of Ford.


We Need More Vehicles Like The Ford F150 Lightning: An African Perspective

I spend most of my time in East and Southern Africa. Nations in these parts of the world currently face sharply contrasting situations in the electricity sector. In Southern Africa, people in South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe experience regular and in some instances prolonged outages as the power companies in the respective countries fail to meet demand. This forces the utility companies to implement electricity rationing program known as load-shedding.

Just this week, Eskom, the national utility company in South Africa, raised the level of load-shedding to stage four. Eskom’s load-shedding program is structured in “Stages” where Eskom sheds a certain quantum of load from the grid to stabilize the grid. So, depending on the severity of the crisis, load-shedding is implemented in stages from Stage 1 to Stage 8, where Stage 1 sheds 1000 MW of load from the grid and in a Stage 8 scenario, Eskom takes out 8,000 MW of load from the grid.

Load-shedding is implemented over 2-hour or 4-hour blocks on a rotational basis depending on the severity of the crises. Stage 8, however means most consumers will experience a blackout for about 12 hours. Let’s look at what Stage 4 load-shedding looks like for a particular neighborhood, Bryanston, Johannesburg in this case. Stage 4 means that the utility company will switch off your electricity from: 06:00 to 08:30, then again from 14:00 to 18:30 and then again from 22:00 to 00:30.

The situation is pretty much the same in Zambia and Zimbabwe at times, especially in the winter months when the demand is highest. According to Eskom’s System Status Briefings, a typical day demand profile sees demand peaking well above 30,000 MW between 4pm and 8pm and dropping to a low of  around 23,000 MW between 12 midnight and 4am. A simple load-shifting program backed by battery storage could help address two big problems simultaneously. This is where vehicles such as the Ford F150 Lightning could come in handy.

A lot of these homes in South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe now have backup fossil-fueled generators typically ranging from 5 kW to 10 kW to cover the periods of load-shedding. The Ford F150 Lightning can provide 9.6 kW of continuous backup power to help power your home or appliances in the event of a blackout or high grid electricity prices. By pairing the F150 Lightning with the necessary vehicle to home (V2H) gear, the pickup truck could help power homes and replace or reduce the used of the fossil-fueled generators.

The F150 could backup these homes comfortably for up to 3 days, or much longer if they use energy more efficiently. In these middle to upper middle class homes, most families use about 40 kWh of electricity per day. If we assume most people’s daily commuting patterns to work and all to be consuming at most about 30 kWh, the total stationary and traction needs would be about 70 kWh. This would still leave enough left in the battery from a full charge if we assume the F150 Lightning’s battery to be well above 130 kWh. A lot of the families in this segment could afford an F150 pickup truck, but we would also need more models that are cheaper and also models with smaller battery packs for families that consume less energy and travel shorter distances. Charging these electric vehicles overnight at home when the demand is much lower would help shift some of that load for usage during the peak times when there is load-shedding.

Pickup trucks are actually the most popular type of vehicle in South Africa. If we look at the pre-pandemic figures, the Toyota Hilux pickup was the top selling vehicle. Its sales made up close to 9% of vehicles sold in South Africa. Also in the top 10, there were 3 full size pickup models including the Ford Ranger and the Isuzu D-Max. The sales of these 3 models total 82,142, representing 17.5% of all new car new sales.

Now let’s look at East Africa where several countries have an excess generation capacity of electricity. Ghana in West Africa is another country in a similar position. Kenya’s installed generation capacity is sitting at over 2,700 MW (Most of it is clean from hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal) which now exceeds the current peak demand of around 1,900 MW. At night during the off-peak periods, this demand goes down even further to about 1000 MW. So where can all this excess and very clean night time electricity go? It would be a shame if they must curtail all that clean geothermal energy at times. Electric vehicles could help soak up some of this electricity.

Ghana, Rwanda, and Uganda are in a similar position. Uganda’s current installed capacity stands at 1,252 MW against a domestic demand of just over 700 MW. 80% of this generation capacity comes from hydro power stations. According to Ghana’s Energy and Demand Outlook 2020, by the end of 2019, the installed electricity generation capacity available for grid power supply in the country was about 4,990 megawatts (MW). The peak load, however, was around 2,612 MW. The interesting part is the portion of the total dependable grid capacity which was 4,580 MW in 2019 and was therefore in excess of the peak load by a whopping 1,968 MW! Fleet operators could also help boost revenue for utility companies by charging their vehicle overnight at depots depending on their usage cycles.

Residential tariffs in Kenya can be as high as 23 cents/kWh. With a vehicle to home platform, families could actually use vehicles with similar capabilities to the F150 Lightning to unlock more value from their primary vehicle. If the vehicle is charged essentially for free at work, at public buildings, at restaurants, and at shopping centers during supermarket runs, owners could then use this “free electricity” to offset the more expensive electricity from the grid at home when they get home after work.  This could make the business case and total cost of ownership more appealing to would-be EV buyers in this part of the world.

Ford actually has a factory in Silverton South Africa where it is currently building one of the largest solar carport systems. A whopping 13.5 MW of solar will be powering up the plant that currently assembles the Ford Ranger Pickup. It would be so awesome if Ford can bring a Ford Ranger “Lightning” with similar specs to the F150. Or they could just bring the F150 Lightning to South Africa and export to the region! 90% of vehicles brought into Africa are used vehicles, mostly from Japan for right-hand drive markets. Newer generation Nissan Leafs with larger battery packs (62 kWh) plus their ChaDeMo standard that allows V2H, could also play as role soon in this ecosystem. We would need though more vehicles equipped with a good active thermal management system (which the Leaf doesn’t have) to ensure the battery packs can have a longer life cycle under these conditions.

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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. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.


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