E-Mobility in Kenya: The Faces, Startups, and Innovations behind a Revolutionary Sustainability Initiative
When I talk to my friends and clients overseas about what pops into their minds when they think of Nairobi, often; green spaces, nature, arts & culture, innovation-hubs, and clean air are a few words they use to describe the African city. Unfortunately, Nairobi hasn’t felt green or natural for more than a decade. For residents, Nairobi is slowly turning into an environmental nightmare. Exhaust fumes, garbage, noise pollution, and a chaotic transport system have replaced the sanctity of what was once described as Africa’s city in the sun.
I researched pollution in Africa, and some of the statistics I stumbled upon were jaw-dropping. A piece done by the Guardian stated, “pollution in Kenya’s capital is beyond imagination, a health crisis that could kill more than 1.5 million within a generation.”
In 2017, Numbeo also ranked Nairobi as the world’s second-worst city due to traffic congestion.
Tackling the city pollution problem
All hope is not lost though, in snail-paced action, the government seems to be slowly claiming back its green spaces. It has also done a lot to support green initiatives through legislation of favorable policies. Backed by a few start-ups and organizations, Nairobi might soon reclaim its lost glory.
A big part of the city’s problem is caused by air and noise pollution. With the city’s population increasing steadily to more than 4 million, transportation is also expected to double. A big part of the transportation problem is polluting second-hand vehicles from Europe and Japan that are imported with dismantled catalytic converters. Nairobi could soon become the world’s dumping ground for used cars that no longer meet emissions requirements in 1st world countries.
On the flip side, if there’s anything Nairobi is embracing as much as to exhaust fumes, crazy traffic, and noise pollution, it’s innovation. High unemployment rates are pushing young innovative minds into developing start-ups – a blessing in disguise scenario. Nairobi has thousands of brilliant innovative start-ups and in all facets of the economy. But perhaps, the most captivating are sustainability innovations geared towards green energy sustainability and climate action.
Startups in Kenya advocating E-mobility
The following are notable mentions:
Elo-cart self-charging electric hand cart
Auto truck East Africa, founded by Kenneth Guantai back in 2015, came up with a revolutionizing concept, the electric self-charging hand carts. The idea born out of the need to solve congestion, and pollution in city markets, comes with an electromagnetic braking system and a 5km/h maximum speed. The Elo-carts at an advanced staged will be able to self-charge with very little motion through an innovation known as RMRS (Regenerative Motion Recharging System). With the use of kinetic motion, this technology is capable of self-charging, eliminating the need for fuel or electricity for propulsion.
Solar-E-Cycles has come up with an innovative alternative to motorbikes. The solar-powered light electric vehicles offer mobility, about 50 to 100 km and about 1500Wh per day. Apart from dealing with climate change, the start-up also provides employment opportunities through remotely operated PAYGo business units with about 50-100 businesses. The e-cycles come with an overhead solar panel that also acts as shade and protection during extreme weather. The bike can reach up to 40km/h even when carrying a heavy load. According to Alex Makaliwa, the General manager at e-Cycles Kenya, “sustainable mobility is wonderful because it is good for the environment, especially in Kenya where the population is expected to grow massively in the next 20-30 years.”
Opibus is a Swedish company in Kenya founded in Nairobi with about 40 employees. The company specializes in converting conventional gasoline vehicles into electric vehicles by installing electric motors. The company focuses on all-electric conversion kits for fleet vehicles, including public transport, light trucks, buses, and motorcycles. According to Opibus CEO Filip Lövström, the company is looking into going into a deeper level of manufacturing electric vehicles. Opibus is looking to make Kenya a central hub in the region for EVs (Electric Vehicles), eliminating the need to import the same. Opibus have done a fantastic job with wildlife tour vans. The silent electric-powered vehicles are ideal for wildlife watching since they offer little noise distraction to the animals while saving a ton on fuel for the operators.
Asobo is a German Start-up that has set up shop in Lake Victoria. The startup is pioneering a revolutionary electric propulsion project for fishermen in Mbita, located in Homa Bay County in Kenya. Asobo is part of a more significant global sustainability movement that offers a cheaper, more environmentally friendly solution for locals in the small fishing village. Fitted with a 3.5kWh battery and Torqueedo Cruise 4.0T motor, the electrically propelled boats offer enough juice for a day’s fishing trip. The company rents out the electric motors and batteries per trip, offering a cheap, sustainable, and environmentally friendly alternative.
Key players in E-mobility in Kenya
The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) is also aware of the looming environmental and health crisis affecting Kenya and Africa. UNEP is currently working on the introduction of Two and Three-wheeler electric vehicles in the region.
According to Rob de Job of UNEP, “In Kenya, the largest emissions for climate change are the transport sector, and the biggest polluter when it comes to health is the transport sector. A big part of that problem starts with the motorbikes.”
E-mobility offers Kenya an excellent chance to reduce emissions caused by transportation by about 0.6 MtC02e and improve air quality. UNEP is looking to clear this problem by cleaning up fleets, introducing zero & low emissions mobility, encouraging walking, cycling, and public transportation in major cities.
Under a social enterprise WeTu, Siemens Stiftung has also set up sustainable projects to innovate mobility solutions in rural regions in Kenya and Africa as a whole. The initiative feels rural areas offer the perfect space for e-mobility due to all-year-round temperatures above 0 °C, endless sunshine, and average distances of 100km. WeTu hubs in the region use a decentralized solar-powered charging infrastructure that operates independently from the local grid.
The automotive world is going green, and EVs offer a lower carbon footprint by reducing dependency on fossil fuel consumption by up to 70%, significant savings for Kenyan drivers. With advancing technology, EVs will be able to travel further at relatively low charge costs. The bulk of these projects’ progress depends on how innovators and critical players steer the country towards the adoption of these sustainable innovations.