In the past few months, sets of sturdy, brightly branded battery swapping stations have cropped up around Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, allowing electric motorcyclists to exchange their low battery for a fully charged one.
It is a sign of an electric motorbike revolution starting to unfold in Kenya, where combustion engine motorbikes are a cheaper and quicker way to get around than cars, but are 10 times more polluting.
East Africa’s biggest economy is betting on electric-powered motorcycles, its renewables-heavy power supply, and position as a technology and start-up hub to lead the region’s shift to zero-emission electric mobility.
The battery swapping system not only saves time — essential for Kenya’s more than 1 million motorcyclists, most of whom use the bikes commercially — but also saves buyers money, as many sellers follow a model in which they retain ownership of the battery, the bike’s most expensive part.
“It doesn’t make a lot of economic and business sense for them to acquire a battery … which would almost double the cost of the bike,” said Steve Juma, the co-founder of electric bike company Ecobodaa.
Ecobodaa has 50 test electric motorbikes on the road and plans to have 1,000 by the end of next year. The bikes sell for about US$1,500 each — about the same price as combustion-engine bikes thanks to the exclusion of the battery from the cost.
After the initial purchase, the electric motorbike — designed to be sturdy enough to traverse rocky roads — is cheaper to run than gasoline ones.
“With the normal bike, I will use fuel worth approximately 700 to 800 Kenyan shillings [US$5.68 to US$6.49] each day, but with this bike, when I swap a battery I get one battery at 300 shillings,” said Kevin Macharia, 28, who transports goods and passengers around Nairobi.
Ecobodaa is one of several Nairobi-based electric motorbike start ups working to prove themselves in Kenya before expanding in East Africa.
Kenya’s consistent power supply, which is about 95 percent renewable and is led by hydroelectricity, has a widespread network, and was a major support for growth of the sector, said Jo Hurst-Croft, founder of ARC Ride, another Nairobi-based electric motorbike start-up.
The country’s power utility estimates it generates enough to charge 2 million electric motorbikes a day: Electricity access in the country is higher than 75 percent, and even higher in Nairobi, the World Bank said.
Uganda and Tanzania also have robust and renewables-heavy grids that could support electric mobility, Hurst-Croft said.
“We’re putting over 200 swapping stations in Nairobi and expanding to Dar es Salaam and Kampala,” he said.
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