Switching to electric vehicles urgent, but it won't be an easy ride

President William Ruto rides the first Kenyan electric vehicle, Autopax, AirEv YETU, during the Africa Climate Summit. [PCS, Standard]

The Transport Ministry has revealed plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles in the country by 2030. President William Ruto also said recently there are plans to phase out petrol-powered motorcycles in favour of electric motorcycles.

This is a laudable move and would come with a number of benefits including reduction in air pollution and fighting climate change, something that is increasingly becoming urgent. Internal combustion engines emit pollutants including greenhouse gases and continue to make global warming worse.

Transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs), therefore, can significantly reduce these emissions. Full adoption of electric vehicles would also improve air quality and reduce diseases associated with poor air quality.

For Kenya, using electricity as fuel would save the country billions of shillings that it uses to import fuel. Petroleum is our largest import and last year, Kenya spent Sh597.65 billion to buy petroleum products. This is about a quarter of the Sh2.49 trillion that the country spent on all imports.

Using locally produced electricity would mean more local content in the automotive sector. Of course, it would also require increased power production capacity. As it is, it is in doubt whether the country’s electricity grid can support 100 per cent transition to EVs. Recent studies have shown that in Nairobi, the grid can support 100 per cent transition to e-motorcycles and only 10 per cent transition to electric vehicles. This would mean a lot of work needs to go to power production and improving the grid to allow for the transition to EVs by the said 2030.

The level of preparedness of the grid is perhaps just one of the challenges that the government faces in pushing for EV adoption. At the moment EVs are expensive, costing three or four times what the petrol and diesel vehicles are going for. Banning fossil fuel-fired vehicles without addressing the EV affordability concerns could exclude most Kenyans from owning even entry-level cars.

There is also limited infrastructure to support EVs in the market today. Charging stations for EVs are what petrol stations are for petrol and diesel engines. There are however only a handful charging stations and they thin out once you move out of Nairobi.

Phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles could also be disastrous for many industries that manufacture and sell both the vehicles and the spare parts of these vehicles locally.

It is an ambitious goal to make sure only EV vehicles will be sold in Kenya by 2030, considering that adoption is fairly low at the moment. The National Transport and Safety Authority in earlier estimates, put the number of EVs in the Kenyan market at 1,350 as of February this year. A majority of these, at over 800, were motorcycles. The low adoption in Kenya has been due to high ownership costs.

To successfully transition to EVs over the next seven years, the government will need to address the challenges that this transition poses, put in place policies that support it and also balance the social concerns. It is an ambitious goal that is worth pursuing.