Business

A battery swap powers a Kenyan electric motor

  • Electric motorcycle startups are taking off in Kenya
  • Let’s just say that replacing batteries saves drivers time and money
  • Planning to expand the model to Tanzania, Uganda

NAIROBI, Dec 26 (Reuters) – In recent months, sets of sturdy, brightly branded battery swap stations have popped up in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, allowing electric motorcyclists to swap their flat battery for a fully charged one.

It’s a sign of the electric motorcycle revolution that’s starting to take place in Kenya, where combustion engines are a cheaper and faster way to get around than cars, but environmental experts say they’re 10 times more polluting.

East Africa’s largest economy is betting on electric motorcycles, its renewable energy supply and its position as a technology and start-up hub to lead the region’s transition to zero-emissions electric mobility.

The battery swap system not only saves time – essential for more than a million motorcyclists in Kenya, most of whom use the bikes commercially – but also saves customers money as many sellers follow a model where 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 get a battery…which would almost double the price of the bike,” said Steve Juma, co-founder of electric bike company Ecobodaa.

Ecobodaa now has 50 trial electric bikes on the road and plans to have 1,000 by the end of 2023, which they will sell for about $1,500 each — roughly the same price as combustion-engine bikes thanks to excluding the battery from the price.

After the initial purchase, an electric motorcycle – designed to be tough enough to traverse rocky roads – is cheaper to run than gas guzzlers.

“With a normal bike I will use about 700-800 Kenyan shillings ($5.70-6.51) worth of fuel every day, but with this bike, when I change the battery I get one battery for 300 shillings,” said Kevin Macharia, 28 , which transports goods and passengers around Nairobi.

EXPANSION PLANS

Ecobodaa is just one of several Nairobi-based electric motorcycle startups working to prove themselves in Kenya before eventually expanding into East Africa.

Kenya’s consistent electricity supply, which is about 95% renewable, hydro-driven and has a widespread grid, has been a major supporter of the sector’s growth, said Jo Hurst-Croft, founder of ARC Ride, another Nairobi-based electric motorcycle startup.

The state-owned electricity company estimates it produces enough to charge two million electric motorcycles a day: access to electricity in the country is over 75%, according to the World Bank, and even higher in Nairobi.

Uganda and Tanzania also have robust and renewable heavy grids that could support electric mobility, Hurst-Croft said.

“We are setting up over 200 interchange stations in Nairobi and expanding to Dar es Salaam and Kampala,” Hurst-Croft said.

($1 = 122.9000 Kenyan shillings)

Reporting by Aienat Mercie; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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