Striving to achieve low carbon transport

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s (UNIDO) Low Carbon Transport South Africa Project aims to make our country greener.


The United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s (UNIDO) Low Carbon Transport South Africa Project aims to make our country greener. The Energy and Climate Portfolio Coordinator, Conrad Kassier, discusses the project in depth and the opportunities that Industry 4.0 presents.

Please could you tell us about your background, education and core responsibilities at UNIDO?

My background is in international relations, the political economy and globalisation. I hold a joint Master’s Degree in Global Studies through the Erasmus Mundus Global Studies scholarship from the University of Wroclaw in Poland and the University of Vienna in Austria. I completed my research at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

My academic background also has roots at Stellenbosch University. I always placed a focus on the combinations of development economics, energy and the environment. My UNIDO activities began at the Vienna International Centre and then I moved to the Pretoria Regional Office where I currently coordinate the implementation of UNIDO’s energy efficiency-related projects.

These include the Industrial Energy Efficiency Project, the Global Cleantech Innovation Programme for SMEs and the Low Carbon Transport South Africa Project, all funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). My duties also cover liaison work between Pretoria and Vienna, with relevant support for the recently launched SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE) in Windhoek, Namibia.

What is your involvement in the Africa Energy Indaba?

UNIDO has a long-standing partnership with the organiser, Liz Hart. We typically have all our energy projects on display at the exhibition, which includes the Department of Energy, the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) and the National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC). From the Low Carbon Transport South Africa Project, we include a display of electric vehicles to showcase e-mobility solutions. The Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) joined us in 2018 to showcase their Nissan Leaf. This symbolises their commitment to promoting electric vehicles to diversify the transport mix in South Africa for less future dependence on petrol and diesel engines.

In 2019, UNIDO will facilitate another public-private dialogue on the topic of Industry 4.0, and how South Africa is responding to the imminent rise of new energy vehicles, smart data management and problem-solving skills required by the future workforce. UNIDO’s Regional Representative, Mr Khaled El Mekwad normally participates as a panellist.

What are some of the keys to achieving low carbon transport?

Firstly, we need awareness and a behaviour change. In South Africa, too many people believe SUVs and V8 engines are essential. In Pretoria, it is common to see people working at an office park who drive big 4x4s. Large fuel guzzlers are not only extremely expensive with the ever-increasing fuel prices, but they also are not a necessity to drive between the office, school and home. The big cities are running out of space. The current and future rates of urban population growth will remain unsustainable if road space management is not urgently addressed. Low-hanging fruit, instead, include repairing South Africa’s largely unsafe and still under-performing public transport system.

Please could you tell us more about UNIDO’s project in South Africa known as Low Carbon Transport South Africa?

The project is funded by the GEF, implemented by UNIDO and executed together with SANEDI and the dti, based on national priorities. The main areas of work include support for the improvement of policies and regulations that affect the industrial development of the transport sector including electric vehicles and non-motorised transport.

Other areas cover awareness creation about the business case of clean mobility and we spend a substantial amount of time building the capacity of the government and other institutions. We partner with cities including Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Tshwane to demonstrate existing technologies and to support infrastructure developments.

We also address the issues of standards that apply to the use of electric vehicles and we also actively support all the members and entrepreneurs who belong to the Electric Vehicle Industry Association (EVIA), which is co-administered with uYilo at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Ms Maletlabo Handel and Ms Ashanti Mogosetsi from UNIDO are dedicated to the daily execution of project activities under the national guidance of the dti and the Department of Transport, with support from Ms Nikola Niebuhr at the Regional Office.

How does UNIDO explore the opportunities of Industry 4.0 in South Africa and beyond?

UNIDO follows national priorities and works with the dti as a line ministry. Our mandate is to achieve inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID). Similarly, regarding Industry 4.0, we provide options for what we call technical assistance (specific support aimed at targeted areas in the economy or in the government). The government also requests us to intervene with research, projects or programmes that will bring international best practice, expertise and capacity-building opportunities to the country for industrial development. UNIDO facilitates international collaboration, with one example being an opportunity to link experts from South Africa and Estonia on matters concerning industrial energy performance certificates based on modern energy data collection tools. UNIDO’s office in Uruguay opened a mechatronics training centre in Montevideo, which offers support to universities and industry, and which is a practical example.

How can Industry 4.0 help create cleaner transportation?

Vehicle owners must understand how the transport sector is changing globally and how the market evolves. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are offering mobility as a service instead of mobility as a traditional motorcar. The capabilities of the car are improving. The modern car is an energy storage system, which we see in electric vehicles. Other examples include autonomous vehicles and intelligent cars and trains that can independently communicate with smart traffic lights, for example. Africa’s first traffic lights that use an algorithm and electromagnetic loops will be installed in Stellenbosch in 2019. People’s behaviour will change when they interact with newer vehicles. Secondly, commuters should know the cost savings of travelling in an electric car, for example, when the battery is charged for free through solar panels. Through digital automotive technology, fewer natural resources are required to move goods and people. Most German and well-established Asian car manufacturers are already operating in this space. The agricultural sector is seeing drones being used for precision farming, reducing the dependence on tractors, smoky two-stroke bikes or pick-ups.

What are some of the latest alternative methods of transport that don’t require fossil fuels?

In the Netherlands, the Dutch electricity company, Eneco, assisted with operating all the electric trains on wind energy as of this year. Electric vehicles and bikes charged from solar

Large fuel guzzlers are not only extremely expensive with the ever-increasing fuel prices, but they also are not a necessity to drive between the office, school and home power offer effective transport in cities. Range anxiety is being addressed by prolonging the range of the batteries and installing charging points along major roads. Shell is rolling out super-fast charging stations in Europe. In Germany, Mercedes-Benz and others are pivoting their business model to move away from internal combustion technology in the next decade. Hydrogen fuel cell technology is common in Europe and Asia. Toyota, Honda and Hyundai were first-movers and now Mercedes-Benz produces the F-Cell. Forklifts, buses, trucks and boats are also being commercially tested. Walking and cycling still matter! Non-motorised bikes and other one-passenger vehicles remain popular. Currently, UNIDO is involved with the University of Johannesburg regarding a bike-sharing scheme between the campuses.

What is the biggest challenge in mobility that needs to be changed?

In developing countries, an urgent need exists to improve the energy policy for the transport transition, drastically improving fuel economy standards and changing people’s unsustainable mindset. South Africa is no exception and has already fallen behind the curve in terms of new energy vehicles and cleaner mobility. Globally, electric vehicles are viewed as the future of transport. Import tariffs on electric vehicles are a major market entry barrier. Solid political leadership is essential to ensure a competitive automotive industry in emerging markets.

In terms of electric car infrastructure, what are some of the challenges that face this technology and what incentives are in place to promote more electric cars?

The challenges are usually technical. Lots of ICT infrastructure and back-end systems are required to properly manage charging infrastructure and to capture data on battery performance and energy consumption. The standardisation of charging cables remains a challenge. Ideally, drivers will need charge points where any vehicle type can hook up and charge. Incentives to promote electric cars exist mainly in Europe and China where electric vehicle subsidies are available and much forward planning was done to install nationwide charging infrastructure. Some statistics suggest that at the end of 2017, China had 446 000 charge points. In countries where fiscal consolidation is being implemented, the electric car market will be slower. In most countries where electric vehicle sales boomed, a tax incentive or subsidy was evident. Berlin, Beijing, London, Madrid, Stuttgart and others are directly and indirectly incentivising the use of electric vehicles by banning petrol and diesel vehicles in strategic areas.

Which is the best way to promote cheaper traditional solutions to mobility like bicycles? Do town planners need to take this into account and allocate dedicated cycle tracks to encourage people to go green?

Bicycles and non-motorised transport can only be promoted in safe and clean environments. University campuses and well-managed suburban hubs are good starting points. Cyclists require completed cycle lanes, public safety and smooth paving, free from objects and vendors, which remain major challenges in South Africa. Urban designers hold a golden key to unlock a boom in cycling and public health when our urban spaces are inclusively planned. Additionally, proper law enforcement is crucial.

What have been some of the success stories at UNIDO in terms of cleaner transportation?

Broadly, in South Africa, UNIDO facilitated a macroeconomic impact study of electric vehicles on the economy and, together with SANEDI and the Department of Transport, was diligent in realising the launch of the Green Transport Strategy. These milestones help the country to develop the relevant policies for modern transport development. We support the Sasol Solar Challenge with its legacy projects alongside partners including the Technology Innovation Agency, GridCars, Jukwaa and Proof Communication Africa. We undertook a study tour to one of the world’s largest electric vehicle conferences (EVS30) in Germany and a mission to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, as well as Kenya, which showed fruitful results in South Africa.

What effect do fossil fuel cars have on climate change and what difference might cleaner travel make?

Fossil fuels in transport contribute to about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions and negatively affect public health and air quality. Cleaner travel saves costs on public health, reduces respiratory diseases, especially in women and children, and reduces smog levels in cities. A greater uptake of non-motorised transport will free up space on the congested roads and lead to better human health due to increased exercise. Cleaner mobility allows municipalities to assist the national government by better achieving the intended nationally determined contributions according to the Paris Climate Agreement.

How can we lessen the impact of air travel on the environment, which has increased over the years with low-cost carriers? What might the green evolution of air travel be?

Tourism and air travel contribute an estimated 2-3% of all man-made carbon emissions. Rising populations mean a rising demand for air travel. Aviation greatly contributes to lead pollution, increases in nitrogen oxides and noise levels in communities near airports. Sustainable air travel could include an improved energy mix, such as solar technology for smaller planes or hydrogen. Fuel efficiency standards and certificates may alleviate air pollution and public health problems. Airlines suffering from mismanagement and cash flow shortages will struggle to comply with such environmental aviation standards and will need to work harder to innovate and remain competitive.

How can business, universities and the government work better together to solve some of our energy and climate change issues?

Businesses and entrepreneurs make industrial development a practical reality. Universities are the intellectual capital and skills facilitators for the future. The government must play its role in creating policy certainty and regulatory frameworks that promote the ease of doing business, reduce red tape for entrepreneurs and should ensure that tertiary institutions are world-class. Currently, the relationships between business and the government in South Africa need restoration, and the universities must be equipped to develop the workforce of the future in a digital and networked information economy so that all three parties complement each other. Once confidence has been restored, better partnerships and improved stakeholder management can exist. A common vision to adapt to climate change and new energy economics can then be embraced to realise a circular economy with impact investments that benefit all stakeholders. 

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