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Battery swapping spurs Kenya’s electric motorbike drive

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.

It is a sign of an electric motorcycle revolution starting to unfold in Kenya where combustion-engine motorbikes are a cheaper and quicker way to get around than cars but environmental experts say 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 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.

“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 motorcycles on the road now and plans to have 1 000 by the end of 2023 which it sells for about $1 500 each – roughly the same price as combustion-engine bikes thanks to the exclusion of the battery from the cost.

After the initial purchase, the electric motorcycle – designed to be sturdy enough to traverse rocky roads – is cheaper to run than petrol-guzzling ones.

“With the normal bike, I will use fuel worth approximately 700-800 Kenyan shillings ($5.70-$6.51) 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.

Expansion plans

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

Kenya’s consistent power supply which is about 95% renewable led by hydroelectricity and has a widespread network, was a major support for growth of the sector, said Jo Hurst-Croft, founder of ARC Ride, another Nairobi-based electric motorcycle startup.

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

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

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


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