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Battery replacement inspires Kenya’s electric motorcycle drive

Battery replacement inspires Kenya's electric motorcycle drive
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  • Electric motorcycle startups on the rise in Kenya
  • Suppose changing the battery saves the driver time and money
  • Planning to expand the model to Tanzania, Uganda

NAIROBI, Dec 26 (Reuters) – In recent months, robust battery swap stations with glowing brands have appeared near Kenya’s capital Nairobi, allowing electric motorcyclists to swap their weak battery for a fully charged one.

It’s a sign that an electric motorcycle revolution is unfolding in Kenya, where internal combustion engine motorcycles are a cheaper and faster mode of transportation than cars, but environmental experts say they’re 10 times more polluting.

East Africa’s largest economy is banking on electric motorcycles, its heavily renewable energy-based power supply and position as a technology and start-up hub to fuel the region’s transition to zero-emission electric mobility.

The battery swap 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 retain ownership of the battery, the most expensive part of the bike.

“It makes little economic and business sense for them to buy a battery … which would almost double the cost of the bike,” said Steve Juma, co-founder of electric bike company Ecobodaa.

Ecobodaa now has 50 test electric motorcycles on the road and plans to have 1,000 by the end of 2023, each selling for about $1,500 — about the same price as internal combustion engine bikes since the battery isn’t included in the price.

After the initial purchase, the electric motorcycle, which is tough enough to traverse rocky roads, is cheaper to run than gas-guzzling ones.

“I use about 700 to 800 Kenyan shillings (US$5.70 to 6.51) worth of fuel every day on a regular bike, but on this bike I can get a battery for 300 shillings when changing the battery,” said Kevin Macharia , 28, which transports goods and passengers in 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 power supply, which is about 95% from renewable sources led by hydropower and has a widespread network, has been a key support for the sector’s growth, said Jo Hurst-Croft, founder of ARC Ride, another in Nairobi based electric motorcycle startup.

The country’s energy utility estimates that it generates enough to charge two million electric motorcycles a day: According to the World Bank, electricity access in the country is over 75% and even higher in Nairobi.

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

“We are building over 200 exchange stations in Nairobi and expanding into Dar es Salaam and Kampala,” said Hurst-Croft.

($1 = 122.9000 Kenyan Shillings)

Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Edited by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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