• Wednesday, December 06, 2023
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Lagos electric bus plan faces familiar foes

Kenya starts production of Africa’s first all-electric bus

The deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) as part of Lagos State’s bus fleet has been hailed as sustainable and eco-friendly transportation, but analysts say it must contend with issues involving cost, transport congestion, and power cuts to be truly sustainable.

Last June, the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Oando Clean Energy to roll out electric mass transit buses, charging infrastructure, and service centres (EV Infrastructure Ecosystem).

Some experts who spoke with BusinessDay commended the move but also raised issues that must be addressed to truly be sustainable. Top on the list is the high cost of EVs and unreliable power supply, followed by limited charging infrastructure in a city prone to absurd traffic snarls.

The basis of this whole project is to reduce carbon emissions. Transportation contributes the largest proportion of carbon emissions, according to Seyi Osiyemi, an urban mobility expert.

He said that the quick win regarding cutting emissions will be converting diesel buses to gas. According to him, electric vehicles are still expensive and are not commercially viable for operators because it will be difficult to charge passengers for the cost of the bus, which is close to $500,000.

“The battery is the most expensive part of the bus. It makes up about 40 percent of the cost, and that cost will be passed on to the passengers.

“In other countries, governments subsidise the cost of the acquisition of electric buses because of the cost. We do not have a framework now that supports subsidies in our public transport system. Either the government heavily subsidises the cost of the acquisition or the cost of operations,” he said.

According to him, getting the scale of the EVs will require massive investments. “There are bus operations and managing the assets.”

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On whether electric buses will reduce transport costs, he said that the only way it will happen is if the government covers a significant amount of the acquisition cost. An electric bus costs between $400,000 and $500,000, almost four times the diesel buses in Lagos.

“Unless the government is bankrolling their acquisition costs, that will be a form of capital subsidy. Passengers will only pay for the cost of maintenance.”

Chukwuebuka Uchendu, production, planning and technical lead, JET, told BusinessDay that the challenges associated with electric vehicle adoption in Nigeria include high costs, structural deficiencies, a knowledge gap in technical know-how, and the government’s policy, and regulatory framework on e-mobility.

He said that despite these challenges, adopting EVs in Nigeria is still possible. The reason why electric vehicles are expensive in Nigeria is the cost of battery packs.

Chukwuebuka said: “With the abundance of lithium ore in Nigeria, the government can leverage that, making Nigeria the hub for lithium-ion battery production to serve the whole of Africa’s electric vehicle market.

“For the infrastructural deficit, if sufficient money or tax incentives are given to both EV manufacturers, electric vehicle supply equipment, and mini-grid developers, the mini-grid developers can access the abundance of renewable resources in Nigeria.”

However, this will enable mini-grid developers and EV designers to come up with solutions to power public charging stations.

“In context, public buses in Lagos average 200–250 km daily mileage. On face value, this is lower than the average range of 300–350 km for EV bus batteries,” Osiyemi said. “However, the time spent in traffic congestion needs to be captured in the daily mileage operated by Lagos PT buses, which can be quite significant.

This, according to him, implies that the buses will never be able to operate for the whole day on a single charge. “So, it’s obvious that the operation of EV buses in Lagos will require on-road rapid charging infrastructure, and this will come at a huge cost,” he said.

Lagos State recently announced the addition of two electric buses to its Mass Transit Master Plan. According to the state, this initiative is still in the pilot stage, and a lot of data gathering will still be done in comparison with the existing BRT system.

According to the state, positive results are expected once the pilot scheme is done.

“Electric vehicles function quite differently when in traffic jams compared to fuel-powered vehicles. The range or charge of EVs does not decrease dramatically when sitting in traffic, as most of the electricity, or charge goes toward moving the vehicle forward,” said Gerald Omo-Osagie, an automotive/fleet management professional.

He said: “In other words, for an EV, power is discharged mostly when it is deployed to put the vehicle in motion. However, units like heating, cooling systems, radios, power windows, etc. consume minimal power when an EV is idling or stationary.

“This is what makes the EV so efficient. Electric vehicles regenerate electricity when going downhill or braking. So, in effect, time spent in traffic jams will most likely not reduce the battery charge significantly for an EV bus operated on Lagos roads, given the daily mileage coverage. They do well in stop-go conditions compared to gasoline engines.”

According to him, a major challenge in operating EV buses on Lagos roads would be that they cannot be towed if they run out of battery on the road, unlike ICE vehicles with a regular drivetrain.

“They will have to be re-charged on the spot or loaded on a flatbed! Hence, the need for heavy investments in recharging infrastructure.”