Business

Battery swap boosts electric motorcycle drive in Kenya


  • Electric motorcycle startups enter Kenya
  • Say changing a battery saves drivers time and money
  • Planning to scale up the model in Tanzania, Uganda

NAIROBI, Dec 26 (Reuters) – In recent months, clusters of sturdy, brightly branded battery swap stations have sprung up around Kenya’s capital Nairobi, allowing electric motorcyclists to swap out their dead battery for a fully charged one.

It’s a sign of an electric motorcycle revolution starting to take off in Kenya, where combustion engine bikes are a cheaper and faster way to get around than cars, but environmental experts say they pollute 10 times more .

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

The battery-swapping system not only saves time – essential for Kenya’s more than one million motorcyclists, most of whom use the bikes commercially – but also saves buyers money, as many sellers follow a model where they keep ownership of the battery, the most expensive motorcycle part.

“It doesn’t make a lot of economic and business sense for them to acquire a battery…which would almost double the price of the bike,” said Steve Juma, co-founder of electric bike company Ecobodaa.

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

After the initial purchase, the electric motorcycle – designed to be tough enough to traverse rocky roads – is cheaper to run than those that guzzle petrol.

“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 a battery, I get one battery per 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 steady power supply, which is about 95 percent renewable, led by hydropower and has a widespread grid, has been a major support for the sector’s growth, said Jo Hurst-Croft, founder of ARC Ride, another Nairobi-based electric motorcycle startup.

The country’s electricity utility estimates it generates 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 stable and renewable energy-rich grids that could support electric mobility, Hurst-Croft said.

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

($1 = 122.9000 Kenyan shillings)

Reporting by Ayenat Mercy; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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