Namibia makes inroad when it comes to swiftly increasing the share of renewable energy in the electricity sector. On top of some 20 MW of net-metered installations and the first PV park of 5MW, 30MW of solar parks under power purchase agreements are around the corner together with about 10 PV 5 MW projects in the pipeline which will be accommodated under the REFIT scheme. BUT, electricity in Namibia – like in many countries worldwide – accounts only for about 25% of the national energy usage. A lion’s share (some 60%) goes into transport and all transport fuels (except those for donkey carts) are imported to Namibia against hard currency. So if we really want to introduce energy change (“Energiewende”) in Namibia we will not succeed without overhauling the transport sector (“Mobilitätswende”).
Just compare for your own situation: your house probably has a much lower power rating than your car; if your main circuit breaker allows 40 Amps this translates into a power capacity of 9.2 kilowatt while your car’s engine may have anything between 30 and 150 kilowatt or more.
So what is around the corner in terms of alternatives for transport? Electric vehicles (EVs) are on our door step since they are available (in right-hand-drive version) in South Africa. The latest arrival there is the novel BMW i3 which is an electric car newly designed from scratch with a carbon fibre body; not just a clumsy and heavy metal chassis converted from the gasoline-burning species. Audi has announced to bring the A3 etron to Namibia in 2016, a car which ranges under “plug-in hybrid”, i.e. it can run for about 50 km on batteries which can be charged from the grid (including your solar feed-in system) and falls back on a combustion engine for longer distances.
For the motor industry this will constitute disruptive change from “business as usual” but for the country there are a lot of advantages, ranging from savings in fuel imports and safeguarding against price hikes to reducing transport effects on climate change since electric cars can be optimally powered by “renewable” daytime solar electricity. Energy wise EVs are 3 to 5 times more efficient and their battery “tank” could even be backing up the electricity grid by involving a technology called “vehicle-to-grid” (V2G).
Who will be the early adopters of electric cars? Since the driving range of the not-so-expensive EVs is typically some 160 km, it will probably start in and around town: moms who will use them as “mom’s taxi” or commuters who reside in those residential developments with a radius of 60 km around Windhoek. In many other countries the starting point is government fleet cars, buses or taxis like our airport transport services.
The transitional phase towards EVs can be compared with the transition in electricity generation: Solar can currently not cover everything but it raises as a game changer and contributes to the existing mix. The falling PV modules prices after 2009 made the difference and the simplicity of EVs leaves tremendous room for price reductions as well; thus Namibia has to prepare itself since EVs will – any time soon – take over where they make economically sense.