TECHNOLOGICAL advancements are seemingly happening at breakneck speed and while parts of the world still resemble the late 19th century some amongst us are imagining new technologies which will propel us into space and ease the smog of pollution here on earth.
Last week South African-born entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled the latest nail in the coffin of the internal combustion engine which for over 100 years has revolutionised the commerce of transport and driving globalisation.
But now a combination of factors are working in concert to ensure that fossil fuel-fired engines are relegated to museums.
Musk’s announcement of the Tesla semi-truck and a new Roadster, both powered by electric motors with the latter boasting a range of over 1000 kilometres while the former will go for 805 kilometres on a single charge. Both vehicles are expected to launch in 2019.
While Tesla’s sales figures are dwarfed by established competitors and the company has a sketchy record of delivering on its products within its own timeframes, the small California outfit is forcing these relative dinosaurs to re-look battery-powered cars because of public demand over concerns for global warming, and most importantly the complicated politics of, and price fluctuations of oil.
The French government has already announced plans to outlaw the sale of new petrol and diesel powered vehicles within five years, forcing manufacturers to resort to electric powered vehicles. Along with the ban, French government is also banning the use of coal to produce power.
This happens while there’s been an increased demand for renewal sources of energy, boosted by the improvement in battery technologies which now means that medium-sized South African city could get most of its power from renewables.
Five years from now we will see more vehicles on South African roads, powered by electricity. Imagine driving from Cape Town to Johannesburg stopping only once to “fill-up” your car’s battery pack at a stop halfway between the two cities, perhaps somewhere near Bloemfontein, and because of autonomous features on future cars, one driver could complete the journey in one day.
Fleet managers and logistics companies would have watched the video of the unveiling of the Tesla Semi truck over and over again. We’ll still need drivers to drive these electric-powered trucks, and hopefully buses.
In South Africa where last year over 14000 people lost their lives on the country’s roads, the idea of self-driving vehicles will become as normal as the use of GPS to navigate city streets.
What this means in the long-term is that demand for oil will slow down and in the short term this will wreak havoc in oil producing countries, which are for the most part are unstable polities in regions scarred by conflict where oil is by farge, and large the biggest income earner.
While we’re still far off from stagnant demand, consider this: According to British Petroleum’s Statistical Review of World Energy in 2016 primary energy consumption grew by only one percent, with growth below average in all regions except for Europe and Eurasia.
According to the same review, energy consumption in China grew by only 1,3%. Over the 2015-2016 period this growth in consumption had been the lowest since 1997/1998. Because of this decreased demand, oil prices have also been falling , averaging $43,73 per barrel in 2016, down from $52,39 per barrel in 2015.
In places like China and India citizens are demanding that their governments rein air pollution after years of turning a blind eye as both countries experienced phenomenal economic growth.
Now both are signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement where 195 signatories have pledged to to cut their carbon emissions to keep global temperature rise to below 2⁰ C for this century.
Quinton Mtyala is the Western Cape Politics and Nation Editor at Independent Newspapers. Besides a keen interest in politics he also follows the latest technological developments