The Electric Motorbikes in Kenya Edition
On batteries, cost, and pollution
Colin here. Spend any time in Africa and you will see how motorbikes are essential to daily life. People use them to commute, for deliveries, for errands, and more. They generally serve as a low-cost connective tissue for society. But they are also estimated to be ten times more polluting than an average car or light passenger vehicle, let alone the level of noise pollution. When you extrapolate the population and urban density of many cities on the continent, this adds up to a problem for health (respiratory disease) as well as the environment.
Electric vehicle pilots have been attempted in Africa, but have been hampered by various factors: price, and also the challenge of finding charging. The move to electric is indeed a noble idea that was quickly hijacked by daily realities.
A recent solve has been popping up. As Reuters reports:
“Over recent 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…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 in which they retain ownership of the battery, the bike's most expensive part.”
Why is this interesting?
It is interesting that this swappable battery approach brings to mind the ill-fated EV startup Better Place that ran on a similar premise: battery swap stations, rather than charging stations that take time to fill. But in this instance, it is a lighter lift both literally and figuratively. The motorcycle + swappable approach makes things more economically accessible, and solves for the ever-present electricity charging port problem that hampered other efforts to move to electric. The cost of an electric bike is around $1500, with significantly lower operating costs when you remove the need to fill up with petrol. Right now, a startup called Ecobodaa is using Nairobi in Kenya as a test phase, with the goal of having 1500 vehicles on the road by the end of 2023. The startup, alongside others, are using Kenya as the test bed before larger planned expansions into East Africa.
This iteration of technology solves a lot of things: charging time and range anxiety. The next logical step will be the rollout of more battery swapping stations in Nairobi, coupled with a necessary brand and awareness campaign that a clearer, cheaper option could be viable for a lot of the economic spectrum. Other players in the market are Arc Ride, which cleverly bills itself as a “battery as a service” brand, a play on SaaS. (CJN)
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