Kadri Nassiep writes that the City of Cape Town sees electric mobility as an opportunity to create a healthier, more inclusive city, and a city that uses a proactive climate change response to help drive the Covid-19 recovery.
Driving the transition to electric mobility for all remains one of the key focus areas of the City of Cape Town's climate change response.
Globally, cities have been the electric vehicle (EV) champions, supporting the uptake of charging infrastructure, driving research, education and awareness campaigns and the transition of public fleets to EVs. Similarly, the City sees electric mobility as an opportunity to create a healthier, more inclusive city, and a city that uses a proactive climate change response to help drive the Covid-19 recovery.
If we embrace such disruptive technologies, we can plan for and manage the transition appropriately. For example, this includes understanding the implications of a growing EV market, the impact of additional electricity usage on the grid and the required charging infrastructure development.
Thus, for the City, supporting the first steps in the technology transition can help create an enabling environment for mass adoption of electric mobility for all and ensure resilience in an uncertain and rapidly changing energy future.
Pre-Covid-19, climate change was seen as one of the greatest risks for social advancement and economic growth. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the devastating economic impact that global crises can have and has shown that planning for climate resilience and reducing emissions are increasingly important.
In support of the growing global momentum to tackle climate change, Cape Town, along with cities in South Africa and worldwide, has committed to achieving carbon neutrality and climate resilience by 2050. This forms part of immediate efforts to keep global warming to 1.5°C in an effort to reduce the climate change impact, while giving us time to adapt to the new and impending climate reality.
These necessary targets can only be reached through significant transitions in urban form, energy sources, transportation and resource efficiency. A key element is cleaning up our sources of electricity and the electrification of transport. The City has been working on its dynamic climate change response for at least a decade.
A detailed greenhouse gas inventory and modelling projections have identified the big ticket mitigation programmes and projects in our local context. Broadly, these cover a transition to renewable electricity, electrification of the transport fleet supported by public transport, spatial planning and catalytic urban investments and the diversion of organic waste at source.
Apart from the eMobility drive, one of the big initiatives is the energy procurement from Independent Power Producers (IPPs). The City is also investigating the opportunities in City-owned solar PV systems within the 1-10MW range, with the most feasible being a ground mounted system in Atlantis, as well as smaller scale rooftop systems.
Interventions and actions must be inclusive and all our people need to have access to cleaner, cheaper and more climate-smart options.
If we are proactive in our approach to EVs, there are a myriad of co-benefits alongside protecting and growing a key economic sector.
EVs have no tailpipe emissions, so could contribute significantly to a reduction in air pollution and thus result in improved health benefits.
As less crude oil will be imported, EVs will also positively impact on the country's current account balance. EVs can reduce transport-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), which currently account for 24% of carbon emissions in the city, and help us meet our climate change targets. EVs are more efficient than ICE vehicles, producing 34% less GHG emissions, even with most of our electricity being produced from coal.
With the greening of South Africa's grid, the environmental benefits of EVs will increase even further. EVs are considerably cheaper to run with very low maintenance requirements and, as the upfront cost of EVs comes down, electric mobility can provide cost-effective transport for all Capetonians.
Globally, the transport sector is rapidly moving towards electrification and the list of countries, regions and cities that have set dates to ban internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles is growing. For example, the Netherlands requires all new cars to be emissions-free by 2030, and all new vehicle registrations in New Delhi must be EVs by 2023.
In response to these regulatory targets, vehicle manufacturers are setting their own targets for the release of electric vehicles.
Consequently, the number of EVs globally has grown to over 7.2 million cars by the end of 2019, up 2.1 million from the year before – and costs are expected to reach price parity with ICE vehicles within the next five years, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
While Covid-19 may result in a flattening in the global sales of EVs and a bump in the public transport take up of EVs as many who can, refrain from using public transport currently, forecasts indicate that the significant investments in sustainable technologies, by regions such as the EU, to drive post-Covid-19 recovery, will mean sales will pick up in the next two to three years.
This global electric mobility trend is not being reflected in South Africa, which has serious implications for our economy and environment. The import and export markets for ICE vehicles are shrinking, while EV markets are growing. This will make ICE vehicles more expensive for South Africans and, if our local automotive manufacturing and component supply chains do not adapt to the trends, the sector will be left behind.
Knock-on effects will be felt in downstream activities as well, putting at risk the livelihoods of the 110 000 directly employed in manufacturing vehicles with 457 000 in the broader automotive sector (wholesale, retail, trade and maintenance). During these economically difficult times, the risks of being left behind are not ones we can afford to take. We need to innovate quickly if we don't want to lose our vehicle production capacity and access to principle export markets.
The demand for transport services in the city will grow in the coming years and public transport presents the best business case for electrification. Currently, 38% of morning peak trips are on public transport, with about 95% of public transport users being in the low to low-middle income brackets.
As such, for many Capetonians, public transport is their main, and often, only way of getting around. Even during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, public transport was still in demand. Thus, the challenge the industry faces is to reduce the environmental impact of the sector while delivering improved mobility.
Through the MyCiTi Integrated Rapid Transit system, the City is using public transport to achieve a more efficient and sustainable city, while offering a service that is affordable and safe. The City remains committed to the transition to electric bus, taxi and passenger vehicles by 2050, so that we can become part of the international green economy.
This kind of proactive response to climate change will also assist our city's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic as the green economy offers new opportunities for businesses and jobseekers.
It also helps to ensure that the local economy can continue to trade competitively in a global world that is rapidly rejecting carbon intensive goods and services. But it also means seeking new ways to deliver essential services in a more inclusive, cost-effective and sustainable manner.
- Kadri Nassiep is the Executive Director for Energy and Climate Change at the City of Cape Town.
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