Firm eyes untapped Nyanza electric transport market

A battery swapping and charging station at Dunga Beach in Kisumu. [James Wanzala, Standard]

As majority of electric mobility companies concentrate in the city of Nairobi, a new shift of targeting Nyanza’s unexploited lake region market is gaining momentum. This is after Kenyan startup E-Safiri, on August 1, launched the first battery charging and swapping station in the lakeside region at Dunga Beach in Kisumu City.

The deal is a SUN-RUN partnership that also involves Glasgow Caledonian University, United Kingdom, Sustainable Transport Africa and KIRI EV Ltd, an electric vehicle and mobility start-up company.

Apart from charging and swapping batteries, the station will also offer floodlight to the place, help produce ice stones for cold storage of fish, charge phones, radios, lamps, laptops and torches, among other gadgets.

According to E-Safiri chief executive officer and founder Carol Ofafa, there is a huge unexploited e-mobility potential in the lake region that they are looking to tap into.

“We have been working on this project since 2020, and we have noted that most of the electric companies players are concentrated in urban cities like Nairobi, yet we know that 80 per cent of the population in Africa and Kenya live outside urban areas,” says Ms Ofafa.

“Therefore, us moving to rural, peri-urban areas like Dunga Beach and also satellite cities outside Nairobi like Kisumu is an advantage for us. This is because we are tapping or capturing into the market that was previously ignored within the emobility space and because there is also interest among residents.” 

Ms Ofafa spoke to Enterprise recently when their research partners from Glasgow Caledonia University visited the new charging and swapping hub.

She says before setting foot in Kisumu, they held several sessions with residents, including the Dunga Beach community, asking questions and educating them on the benefits of electric mobility, and that sparked the conversation and interest, leading to demo days.

The company, registered in June 2022 with co-founders Janet Gaithigia and Ruben De Girardier, has been doing pilot projects with Mckensey Africa, where they experiment with them on swapping and charging operations.

“We are not only focusing on projects like this one of Dunga Beach, but also we want to go into public charging and swapping infrastructure to ensure that we provide a network of charging and swapping stations that can support different electric mobility samples,” she says.

Due to the transformation of Kisumu City, public transport vehicles have been denied entry into the Central Business District (CBD) and to Dunga Beach, except motorbikes, personal cars, Tuktuks and bicycles as means of transport.

The charging hub will, therefore, present a ready market for those who will buy electric motorcycles and passengers or cargo Tuktuks as they save on the current high cost of fuel.

Before the rollout of the project, they also engaged the fishing community by asking them how renewable energy could transform their lives and others in the value chain.

“If you go early morning or late night in the lake for fishing or in the market, we will provide you with other services at the hub like lighting fishing lanterns, ice-making equipment for cold storage and also security lights,” she says.

Ms Ofafa says they are also soon looking at setting up two other such battery charging and swapping hubs in Homa Bay County.

To help the future buyers of electric passenger and cargo motorbikes, the company has partnered with KIRI EV Ltd to help in affordable acquisition and also offer technical support.

“Demand is there, and we are working on supply. We had ordered for motorcycles from China three months ago, but with the new Finance Act 2023, it delayed us a bit since we had to wait for its passing because some of the tax measures affected us. We expect 150 passenger motorbikes, 20 to 30 scooters and a number of three-wheeler ones,” says Arnold Omolo, an electrical engineer at KIRI EV Ltd.

He says once they come, they will be assembled and sent to traders and customers who have placed orders.

Omollo says they are working with Kenya Commercial Bank to finance buyers at affordable daily repayment of roughly Sh420 with a single-passenger motorbike retailing at about Sh220,000.

“When you look at Sh420, it might look a bit expensive until you compare rates of what competitors are charging and how much fuel-powered motorbikes are paying for, and you find that they are higher than us and this means the rider will be able to make more money at the end of the day,” says Omollo. A recharge and battery swapping at the hub cost Sh200 for each. The battery, when fully charged, can do around 65 to 80kms per day. Charging a half battery costs Sh100.

‘‘For a litre of petrol at Sh200, if your motorbike is very efficient, it can go at 35kms thus, electric motorcycle in the long run makes economic sense because it goes more kilometres,’’ he states.

Ms Ofafa welcomed the removal of import duty on charging infrastructure for EVs that is being done between now and January but said there is a need to extend the period.

“This will help ensure a high supply of EVs in the country and give companies like KIVI ER and others time to assemble, test the EVs and make necessary modifications, for instance, to suit different terrains of the country. There is, therefore, need to extend the window period,” she says.

The government removed the import duty of 16 per cent Value Added Tax on the importation and supply of electric bicycles, solar and lithium batteries and electric buses of tariff heading 87.02 in the recently passed Finance Act, 2023. Prof Emad Farrag, a researcher from Glasgow Caledonian University, says such projects can help communities become sustainable.

‘‘Sustainable communities mean they will be self-reliant and save energy through reducing carbon dioxide emission. It will not only help the community here in battery charging and swapping but also provide light, thus ensuring business activities continue even if there is main grid power blackout or where the power has not reached,’’ Prof Farrag says.  

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