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Kenya’s chance to leapfrog climate change challenges

By Jit Bhattacharya | Dec 18th 2021 | 4 min read
By Jit Bhattacharya | December 18th 2021
Jit Bhattacharya, the CEO and Co-Founder at BasiGo.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, speaking during a side meeting at COP26, said the country is determined to achieve a full transition to green energy by 2030.

Currently, the President noted, green energy accounts for 73 per cent of the country’s installed electricity generating capacity, while 90 per cent of electricity in use is from renewable sources such as hydropower, geothermal, solar, and wind.

This figure is extraordinary, making Kenya one of the world leaders in clean, renewable electricity generation. It also gives Kenya a head-start in the booming global market for mitigating climate-warming emissions.

The COP26 convening of world leaders in Glasgow had mixed results for addressing the climate crisis. The world’s largest CO2 polluters, such as China and the United States, failed to provide commitments that would prevent warming below the Paris target of 1.5°C, leaving the global south to fend for itself as it deals with the most severe impacts of climate change. But amidst these international policy failures, bright spots emerged from the private sector. 

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), a global coalition of over 450 finance firms managing USD $130 Trillion, pledged to align investment activities to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

A similar pledge was made by the Climate Finance Partnership, an alliance between investment manager Blackrock and the governments of France, Germany, and Japan.

Additionally, COP26 opened a new chapter in the international market for trading CO2 emissions, creating a renewed opportunity for wealthy countries to invest in climate-impactful projects in emerging markets

How does a country like Kenya leverage its abundant renewable electricity to capitalize on this enormous market? The answer is simple:  electric transportation.

Over 70 per cent of Kenya’s energy-related emissions come from transportation and the burning of imported petrol and diesel.

Just as Kenya leapfrogged traditional consumer finance to become a leader in mobile money, Kenya now has the opportunity to leapfrog to a clean and sustainable transport system by capitalising on the surplus of renewable energy powering our electricity grid.

The electric vehicle revolution in Kenya has already begun with a growing number of tech-savvy startup companies transforming the boda boda market with cost-effective electric motorcycles and novel business models.

However, the transition to e-mobility needs to extend beyond boda bodas. Buses remain one of the primary modes of mass transport in African cities. In addition to climate-warming emissions, diesel engine emissions are also a major source of the pollution choking our air in Nairobi.

The WHO now identifies air pollution as one of the biggest environmental threats to human health. Electric vehicles have none of the diesel tailpipe emissions. 

Because Kenya’s electricity is so green, an electric bus or matatu in Kenya would also produce 95% less CO2e emissions than a diesel bus of the same size. Until now, bus operators in Nairobi have had no options other than the same, polluting diesel buses.

The key to making electric buses viable in Africa is cost. The upfront cost of an electric bus is higher than a diesel-powered bus. But when the costs of fuel and maintenance are included, electric buses are lower cost than current diesel buses.

Electric vehicles are the future and their benefits are clear. Electric buses would help Kenya leapfrog to modern public transport technology that is cleaner, safer, and higher quality of service for passengers.

They would dramatically reduce the air pollution clouding our cities whilst lowering the costs and risk for bus owners.

They would also increase consumption of domestically produced renewable energy from KPLC while reducing reliance on imported diesel fuel and with local assembly, this transition would create jobs in this new technology sector.

Most importantly, electrifying buses in Kenya would have more immediate and significant climate impact than almost anywhere else in the world, especially when we consider powering projects like the BRT from our overwhelmingly green electricity grid.

This potential climate impact would drive private sector investment into Kenya while leapfrogging Kenya to the front of the clean energy revolution.

The climate crisis calls for urgent action. Addressing climate change is both a moral imperative and the biggest business opportunity of our lifetime. Kenya is already a global leader in renewable power generation. In this decade, we can become a world leader in building a sustainable, net-zero economy while accelerating economic development.

Electrifying and modernising public transportation is the perfect initiative towards this goal. It is economically viable with today’s technology, immediately impactful on climate, and a necessary transformation for our cities.

But we need a support system incorporating government, technology, banks, and financial institutions working together to enable this transformation. If we incorporate all of these elements, then Kenya will definitely take a lead in the race to mitigate climate change.

The writer, Jit Bhattacharya is the CEO and Co-Founder at BasiGo.

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