Kenyans have no option but to embrace electric vehicle wave

Some of the electric three-wheel Tuk Tuk which have been locally assembled by Associated Vehicles Assembly based at Miritini in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango,Standatd]

In September, President William Ruto signalled Kenya’s readiness to adopt electric vehicles by driving himself, in one, to the venue for Africa Climate Summit, at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, in Nairobi. It was, apparently, his way of showing the country’s commitment to reducing the carbon emissions and contributing to the global dream of a clean environment. Kenya aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

Transport contributes about 30 per cent of carbon emissions globally, with 72 per cent of this being from road transport vehicles. And so, the push for the re-engineering of how we power our road transport, especially the use of electric vehicles, needs all the support it can get.

For avoidance of doubt, the place of electric vehicles, in Kenya, is now firmly established, and we would all do well to embrace the fact. Similar to many disruptive technologies the uptake seemed lackadaisical, but with several transport operators having included electric buses in their fleet there is no turning back.

Additionally, a Swedish-Kenyan company is breathing fresh air into our atmosphere by converting old compression ignition engines to electric vehicles. These and other similar efforts are serving to reinforce the beginning of a sea change in the way we operate our road transport vehicles.

It is normal to be wary and suspicious of new things, but when it is the trend throughout the globe then the wind of change sweeps you, willy-nily.

There are varying configurations in the way electric vehicles operate and are constructed. We have the hybrid electric vehicle, which uses a combustion ignition engine as a power unit and drives a charging unit to service a light duty battery pack used to run a motor which powers the drive unit. And then we have the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, where the engine operates as a power unit parallel to a motor run by an externally chargeable battery pack to power the drive. In all hybrid arrangements the power units run redundantly.

Finally, and crucially, we have the battery electric vehicle (BEV), which is the ultimate in the quest to eliminate the compression ignition engine, and absolutely eliminate exhaust emissions. It is fully powered by a heavy-duty battery pack externally charged from the mains power grid. It’s good to note that the thrust is towards BEV to completely eradicate carbon emissions.

Norway aims to reach 100 per cent electric in new car sales by 2025, having done away with all Hybrids. For countries with sustainable EV charging infrastructure, the market for Hybrids is contracting; and so it would be advisable for Kenyans, as Johnny-come-lately, to hop onto the market at the BEV level to obviate the costly need to upgrade later.

The EV charging infrastructure is already taking shape in the country, though the pace may seem sluggish as with all disruptive investments. Once that is sorted and we have overcome our nonchalance this is sure to fly. All the government needs to ensure is that the power grid is fit for purpose. Thus far, the commitment and unstoppable push is laudable.

Just to give a taste of how far behind we could be, advancements in technology now enable wireless charging on the go, which is a dynamic charging technology that could greatly reduce the weight of the vehicle and optimise energy utility.

As such, the government needs to do more and provide greater incentives for more investment in this area. Concerted efforts need to be applied to forestall the anticipated wanton dumping of expired lithium-ion battery packs, which could defeat the whole purpose of environmental conservation.

Let those concerned lure investors who deal in lithium-ion battery pack recycling to set up a plant. Kenya should be in the lead for such a venture, regionally. This would open business opportunities and create employment.

Rwanda is more upbeat and enthusiastic in this field more than its big brother, Kenya, which is a pity. Granted that economics of scale will favour Kenya once the uptake soars, it is a lame excuse for lagging behind.