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How Nairobi is warming up to greener public transport

By James Wanzala - Jun 5th 2022

Opibus' Filip Garoler explains how they wire cars to make them rechargeable at their workshop in Embakasi, Nairobi. [ Jenipher Wachie, Standard

The transport sector in Nairobi has been blamed for the poor air quality due to emissions at traffic jams by diesel-run vehicles.

The sector, according to the UNEP, contributes up to a quarter of all energy related CO2 emissions.

By 2050, when the global number of passenger vehicles is projected to more than double, it is likely to reach one-third. This growth is expected mostly in low-income countries, where there are rarely any vehicle emissions standards. 

And with fuel prices always on the upward trend, while traffic snarl-ups bedevil Nairobi, electric cars, bicycles and motorbikes are coming in handy. It all started with OpiBus, which ventured into manufacturing of electric buses and motorbikes in 2017.

Next was Nopia company that came to Kenya and did a pilot phase between August 2018 and March 2019.

The Nopia electric ride service, for instance, is an electric vehicle solution developed by EkoRent, Finland and offers CO2 emission free ride services.

It has set up two charging hubs with DC fast chargers in Nairobi  at Two Rivers Mall and The Hub Mall.

Last November, BasiGo, an e-mobility startup headquartered in Nairobi, also announced entry to the Kenyan market. Recently, Jumia and eBee Africa also partnered to launch a fleet of electric bicycles, to amplify Jumia’s logistics capacity for delivery and save costs for riders and consumers.

 Nopia electric ride service. [David Njaaga, Standard]

 

BasiGo says it will provide electric buses for public transport providers, offering a more sustainable solution that is also cheaper to maintain than current diesel run ones.

The company is sourcing buses from BYD Automotive, the largest manufacturer of electric buses globally. It also plans to locally assemble buses.

BasiGo has raised Sh100 million in funding and its first electric buses that will be arriving in Kenya later this year before it begins pilot testing in Nairobi.

OpiBus, according to marketing manager Mr Albin Wilson, converts buses and motorbikes into electric ones and also produce new ones. “The response has been good and we have seen huge demand for our pilot products. We have produced 150 motorcycles, 20 vehicles and we are working on electric buses.”

He said they would scale up production from the current 150 motorcycles per week to 20,000 in 2023. ‘‘I see a quick transition to electric vehicles in Kenya and Africa, thanks to much access to a mixture of renewable energy sources like wind and hydro.”

Last year the company struck a deal with Uber to scale up use of electric motorcycles in Africa. OpiBus says it will supply 3,000  electric motorcycles to Uber this year. “We see huge demand for locally designed electric motorcycles in Africa and by working with Uber, we’ve proved feasibility for large-scale employment,” Mr Mikael Ganga, OpiBus co-founder and chief sales officer, told Planet Action. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies diesel engines as some of the biggest threats to environment and human health, and source of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. By comparison, electric buses would produce 95 per cent less CO2 emissions since most of Kenya’s electricity comes from renewable sources such as hydropower and geothermal.

Experts say electric buses will also save transport providers cost of diesel, which has recently risen sharply. “We provide public transport operators state-of-the-art electric buses that are more affordable, reliable and reduce bus operator exposure to the rising cost of diesel fuel,” said Jit Bhattacharya, CEO and co-founder at BasiGo.

Electric buses will save transport providers cost of diesel. [iStockphoto]

He said the cost of electric bus technology had reduced drastically over the last 10 years, to the point they can offer significant savings.

BasiGo will offer buses with 25 and 36 seat capacities and a targeted range of over 250km. This way transport providers will go a whole day before returning to recharge depot at night.

Mr Alex Mwaura, the chief operating officer at BasiGo, said: “Nairobi’s transportation sector is evolving rapidly, and we look forward to partnering with government and relevant agencies to grow the infrastructure for electrified public transit. Overall, the environmental and health benefits to Kenya will lead to a more productive workforce and help grow economy.”

Jumia says switching to e-bicycles is consistent with their efforts to be an environmentally conscious body.

“The most exciting thing about e-bicycles and e-vehicles is that they make business sense! It’s a win-win for society and the bottom line,” said Jumia Services Country Manager, Mr Ankur Agarwal.

A UNEP’s Electric Mobility (eMob) programme is championing the transition of low-income countries to zero emission vehicles, in line with the UN Environment Assembly’s Air Quality Resolution and the Paris Agreement.

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