Introducing electric cars into Ghana

Some few days ago, while I was registering the first full-electric salon car from China – a model DFAC ER-30, with a rooftop solar panel – at the Tema DVLA station, a lot of admirers and officers on duty took pictures, and expressed joy, and hoped that more electric cars would soon be brought into the country.

I had, before then at the Tema Port, lectured onlookers about the advantages and practicality of owning an electric car, especially in a developing economy like ours. True, we don’t have any infrastructure in place to service or repair any major faults, but, the advantages are overwhelming.

There are only three major parts in the electric car – the battery pack, which could last for about eight years, the motors which drive the wheels (no servicing for ac motors; dc motors do require change of carbon brushes in the future), and the control box which contains the digital electronics – guaranteed to work, and is replaced by the manufacturer if a fault develops.

This contrasts very sharply with our petrol or diesel engine cars that have hundreds of parts, and thus need serving or replacements more frequently. The charging of the battery pack of an electric car is done with the common household supply of 220Volts from an AC outlet, or with the output of a modest solar inverter, depending upon the capacity of the batteries.

For those who harbour concerns about the distance or range to be covered after a full charge, particularly for long-distance travels, the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) may be the answer, if affordability is not a concern (costs about 37,000 USDollars); this car pairs a gasoline engine with one or more electric motors and a rechargeable battery pack. The benefit is that one can drive on electricity alone, and switch to petrol or diesel when the car is about to run out of its electrical charge.

1. Electric cars are money-savers – no more trips to the petrol pump!

When ordering the electric car, one needs to select the options according to one’s requirements and resources; suffice to say, that the cost-insurance-and freight (CIF) values can vary from say 5,000 USDollars (for a 5kW motor, 120km range, max speed of 60km/h, with minimal options) to 12,000 USDollars (60kW motor, 255km range, max speed of 115km/h, with full options). By comparison, an American-made Tesla goes for around 35,000 USDollars, depending upon the model and options.

The cost of electricity to charge the car from zero to 100% is a fraction of what one would normally spend at the fuel pump station (about 10% in the U.S., and cheaper if night rates apply); the charging is usually a topping up done at night, with the plug at home; one could use a speed charger (to achieve 80% in one hour) – with a 50A breaker system installed at home, or use a slow charger with the normal 13A socket (it charges about 10% of capacity in one hour).

But, away from home, one could do a short top-up at any place where there is an appropriate 220VAC power source, using an extension socket, or at a convenient petrol station along the route; the electricity meter would indicate how much the charge costs.

If one has a solar panel system (about 3kW or more), one could charge the vehicle during the daytime – then, there is no cost or increase to the electricity bill. The range of the electric car, as specified by the manufacturer, is the most noted information about the car, e.g. when the range is specified as 250km, the car could be driven from Tema to Accra for about three times – depending upon the delays in the traffic – before running out of charge; but it is prudent to top up at night to ensure that the car has close to maximum charge.

The pieces of information below are intended to give a broad overview of the history, technologies involved, and the trend that electric cars are likely to follow – they will most likely eliminate the petrol and diesel cars in the foreseeable future.