Why Africa must speed up transition to e-mobility

Historically, Asia has been the birthplace of motorcycles. China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam are the world's four largest motorcycle markets.

The continent is home to roughly 58 per cent of all motorcycles in the world.

Africa is quickly catching up. According to a report by AMEND and the FIA Foundation, motorcycle usage in Africa has increased from less than five million in 2010 to an estimated 27 million in 2022. Because of Africa's entrepreneurial spirit, 80 per cent of the continent's motorcycles are used for commercial purposes such as taxis or delivery services.

Although Africa’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is negligible at under four per cent, these petrol-powered two-wheelers contribute a significant amount of carbon emissions.

As Africa joins the rest of the world in the drive to reduce pollution, there is an opportunity to drive the adoption of electrically powered motorcycles that produce less pollution.  

Electric motorcycles are hardly a new concept, but they are relatively new to Africa where they are starting to gain momentum by firmly making their way into the cultural and economic zeitgeist while inching the continent’s travellers towards a lower carbon future.

Adoption of electric motorcycles in Africa has its challenges, the issue of charging batteries being one. Given that a significant proportion of motorcycles on African roads are used for commercial purposes, riders rarely have time to wait for their batteries to charge.

However, there are innovative solutions that can be deployed to address the challenge, and technology is rapidly advancing, providing opportunities for innovators to create long-term solutions to the continent's most pressing challenges.

On the back of this, we created Ampersand, an electric motorcycle and transportation energy solutions provider that allows riders to stay on the road while their batteries charge. To make this possible, we built a network of charging stations where riders can swap out depleted batteries for fully charged ones in only 2 minutes, saving them over $500 (Sh66,500) per year by reducing downtime.

Furthermore, each battery has a range of 60-90 km and needs to be replaced less frequently than drivers typically refuel with petrol. This solution not only saves drivers money but also ensures that they have a constant source of power, making electric motorcycles a more viable transportation option.

As the business grew from the initial 20 drivers to the current 800+ vehicles in Kigali and Nairobi, one of the challenges we encountered was keeping track of the batteries and their condition. With hundreds of drivers swapping out batteries every day, being able to track them and ensure they are in good condition is critical to our ability to support more drivers.

Consequently, we built AmperOps, an adaptive cloud solution built on Microsoft's Azure platform that allows the collection of over 15,000 data points and the execution of multiple transactions per second. The system also enables seamless management of battery packs through customisable parameters such as state of health analysis and geofenced alarms for increased security.

Furthermore, the system includes smart maintenance systems that automatically notify the team of required battery or vehicle repairs before they occur.

With this level of customization and real-time response, we can gain a thorough understanding of the performance of each swap station, driver, and battery.

In the long run, the advantages of electric motorcycles extend beyond financial savings for drivers and environmental advantages.

As Africa continues to industrialise, so will the capacity for designing, building, and assembling motorcycle components. This demonstrates an opportunity for green jobs growth throughout the value chain, from design to delivery and maintenance.

There is a clear opportunity for electric motorcycles to impact Africa's transportation industry and for electric motorcycles to become the sustainable lifeblood of public transport systems. In fact, we have set an ambitious goal of electrifying all motorcycles in East Africa by 2030, and earlier in Rwanda by 2027.

Alp Tilev is the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Ampersand