Electric Boda-Bodas Launch: A Promising Day For Electric Transportation In East Africa

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Kenya and Uganda’s electricity grids are predominantly powered by renewable energy. Geothermal, wind, hydro, and some utility-scale solar power Kenya’s grid, making up over 90% of the generation mix. In Uganda, hydro makes up most of the generation capacity. Both nations are also faced with the interesting problem of having excess generation capacity. Uganda’s current installed capacity stands at 1,252 megawatts (MW) against a domestic demand of just over 700 MW. In Kenya, the installed generation capacity is sitting at over 2,800 MW, which now exceeds the current peak demand of around 1,900 MW. At night during the off-peak periods, this demand goes down even further, to about 1000 MW. Kenya and Uganda are therefore well placed to lead the transition to electric mobility in the region.

Forty-nine electric motorcycles raised a lot interest in Nairobi’s Karura Forest on the 2nd of March, as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a pilot electric bikes project in the presence of Kenyan government officials and business leaders. The 49 electric motorcycles are part of a larger pilot program that includes another 50 electric motorcycles in neighboring Uganda. For the pilot program, UNEP has partnered with Powerhive, KPLC, Kisumu County, and the Friends of Karura Forest. Following the pilot phase in four locations in Kenya as well as in Uganda, the project is expected to expand in an effort to reduce air pollution, improve national energy security and create green jobs. UNEP’s Electric Mobility Programme is currently the only global program that supports electric mobility for developing and transitional countries. It supports over 50 countries and cities to introduce electric buses, cars and two- and three-wheelers.

“Kenya is importing more motorcycles than cars, doubling its fleet every 7-8 years. These are generally inefficient and poorly maintained polluting motorcycles,” said Joyce Msuya, UNEP Deputy Executive Director. “Kenya’s electricity is very green in 2019 with more than 90% generated by hydro, solar, geothermal, and wind. Shifting to electric bikes in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and elsewhere will reduce costs, air pollution, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, as well as create jobs.  So how do we kick start the transition? The four pilot programs we’re launching today are a crucial first step. These pilots will allow us to gather the vital information that will then inform the next phase of Kenya’s electric transition. With the right motorcycle, the right blend of policies, incentives and public awareness, and with strong collaboration between government, civil society and the private sector, this shift is possible.”

“The average motorcycle is estimated to be 10 times more polluting per mile than a passenger car, light truck or SUV. Hydrocarbons are dangerous to human health,” said Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Governor of Kisumu County. “Electric motorcycles not only mitigate against this health hazard but also help reduce noise pollution that the rampant increase of petroleum powered motorbikes currently causes in our cities.”

The pilot aims to help policy makers assess the barriers in uptake of the much-needed technological shift towards electric bikes, and to demonstrate that the shift is feasible and within reach. In Kenya, the number of newly registered motorcycles, commonly used as taxis (boda-boda), was estimated in 2018 at 1.5 million and will likely grow to over five million by 2030.  Though developing countries have the fastest growing fleets of bikes, most lack vehicle emissions standards or programs and incentives to promote zero emission vehicles.

The pilot test launched in Kenya is based on a study by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, the University of Nairobi, and Sustainable Transport Africa. The pilot includes a host of local partners, including ministries and national and sub-national authorities, and uses bikes donated by Shenzhen Shenling Car Company Limited (TAILG). It will last 6-12 months and is replicated in Uganda, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The overarching project, “Integrating Electric 2&3 Wheelers into Existing Urban Transport Modes in Developing and Transitional Countries,” is supported by UNEP with funding from the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Ministry for the Environment.

John Chege, infrastructure coordinator from Friends of Karura Forest, said, “In my restoration work, the bike will help me move swiftly through the vast forest of over 1000 hectares in a very short period. At first, I was nervous about having to charge it, but now I got used to it. Since it is fast and emits no noise and air pollution like the diesel motor, they allow us to provide better security in the forest and tackle one of Nairobi’s worst environmental problems.”

Two- and three-wheelers are a central transport mode in many low and middle-income countries, including African ones, quickly rising in numbers to a 50% increase by 2050. Highly polluting two- and three-wheelers can account for the same amount of emissions as a passenger car. A rapid global shift to electric motorcycles can result in saving 11 billion tons of CO2 and about $350 billion by 2050 (more than double the annual energy-related emissions in the US and about 14 times the 2019/2020 budget of Kenya).

A global leapfrog to electric vehicles, already underway in countries like Norway and China, is essential to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Transportation contributes approximately one-quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions. By 2050 it is likely to reach one-third, when the global number of passenger cars is projected to more than double. This growth is expected mostly in low-income countries, where there are rarely any vehicle emissions standards.

Scaling up the transition to electric mobility will require investments in battery charging infrastructure. Kenya’s electric power generation capacity is sufficient to support the charging infrastructure. However, while demand for motorcycles is high, particularly in rural areas, distribution networks are inadequate. However, this challenge may be tackled by using solar energy, setting up charging stations, consulting boda-boda operators and using lithium-ion batteries. The introduction of electric vehicles in rural areas will also unlock value and stimulate demand at solar minigrids. EVs and PV are a match made in heaven.



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