The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a pilot electric bikes project with forty-nine motorcycles at Nairobi’s Karura Forest.
Following the pilot phase in four locations in Kenya, the project is expected to expand in an effort to reduce air pollution, improve national energy security and create green jobs.
The launch follows data showing that Kenya is importing more motorcycles than cars, doubling its fleet every 7-8 years. UNEP Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya says that these imports are generally inefficient and poorly maintained polluting motorcycles.
Read: SGR electric upgrade to cost Sh49bn more – Kenya
Kenya’s electricity is very green in 2019 with more than 80 per cent was generated by hydro, solar, geothermal, and wind. Shifting to electric bikes in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and elsewhere will reduce costs, air pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, as well as create jobs.
The average motorcycle is estimated to be 10 times more polluting per mile than a passenger car, light truck or SUV. Hydrocarbons are dangerous to human health. Electric motorcycles not only mitigate against this health hazard but also help reduce noise pollution that the rampant increase of petroleum-powered motorbikes currently causes in our cities.
UNEP’s pilot aims to help policymakers assess the barriers in uptake of the much-needed technological shift towards electric bikes and to demonstrate that the shift is feasible and within reach.
In Kenya, the number of newly registered motorcycles, commonly used as taxis (bodaboda), was estimated in 2018 at 1.5 million and will likely grow over five million by 2030. Though developing countries have the fastest growing fleets of bikes, most lack vehicle emissions standards or programmes and incentives to promote zero-emission vehicles.
The pilot test in Kenya is based on a study implemented by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, the University of Nairobi, and Sustainable Transport Africa. The pilot includes a host of local partners, including ministries, and national and sub-national authorities, and uses bikes donated by Shenzhen Shenling Car Company Limited (TAILG).
It will last 6-12 months and is replicated in Uganda, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. The overarching project, “Integrating Electric 2&3 Wheelers into Existing Urban Transport Modes in Developing and Transitional Countries” is supported by UNEP with funding from the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Ministry for the Environment.
Two- and three-wheelers are a central transport mode in many low and middle-income countries, including African ones, quickly rising in numbers to a 50 per cent increase by 2050. Highly polluting two- and three-wheelers can account for the same amount of emissions as a passenger car. A rapid global shift to electric motorcycles can result in saving 11 billion tonnes of co2 and about USD 350 billion by 2050 (more than double the annual energy-related emissions in the USA and about 14 times the 2019/2020 budget of Kenya).
A global leapfrog to electric vehicles, already underway in countries like Norway and China, is essential to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Transportation contributes approximately one-quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions.
By 2050 it is likely to reach one-third when the global number of passenger cars is projected to more than double. This growth is expected mostly in low-income countries, where there are rarely any vehicle emissions standards.
Scaling up the transition to electric mobility will require investments in battery charging infrastructure. Kenya’s electric power generation capacity is sufficient to support the charging infrastructure.
However, while demand for motorcycles is high, particularly in rural areas, distribution networks are inadequate. However, this challenge may be tackled by using solar energy, setting up charging stations, consulting bodaboda operators and using lithium-ion batteries.
Read: 2016’s largest car producer goes electric in Africa
UNEP’s Electric Mobility (eMob) Programme promotes the transition of low-income countries to zero-emission vehicles, in line with the UN Environment Assembly’s Air Quality Resolution and the Paris Agreement.
The launch comes after Kenya’s monopoly power provider Kenya Power unveiled plans to roll out charging points for electric vehicles. The monopoly says that it will build a nationwide network of public charging points which will ensure the removal of one of the major hurdles for use of electric cars in Kenya. These electric car charging points will be installed along major highways, parking lots and malls countrywide.
Kenya, which is regarded as an investment hub in the East African region is joining the global push in the promotion of electric vehicles usage while moving towards a reduction in petrol and diesel reliance. Kenya’s import tab is dominated by fuel products.
For a while, Kenya’s capital Nairobi has witnessed the use of electric cars in the public transport sector following the launch of Nopia Ride, a taxi-hailing service that only uses electric cars.
Nopia ride which is scaling up operations in Kenya has charging stations at the Hub Karen, Two Rivers Thika Road Malls.
The taxi-hailing service was launched in 2018 by EkoRent Africa as a fully electric taxi service in Nairobi, Kenya. The Nairobi launch saw Nopia joining an extremely competitive industry that already had Uber, Taxify, Mondo and Little Cab which are concentrated in the major towns.
In going green, the transport industry will help in cutting down Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) globally.
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where East Africa falls, is responsible for just 7.1 per cent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. This is despite the region being home to 14 per cent of its people. Except for South Africa Nigeria and Zambia, most African countries do not emit much carbon dioxide.
In the transport sector, transportation emissions in SSA are produced primarily by vehicles powered by oil-fuelled internal combustion engines (ICEs).
A 2015 report, Low-carbon development in sub-Saharan Africa 20 cross-sector transitions showed that between 2000 and 2012, transport fuel consumption increased 82 per cent from 17 Mtoe (Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent) to 31 Mtoe.
Associated transport emissions increased 88 per cent from 49 million tCO2 e to 92 million tCO2 e. Despite the increase, these emissions remain lower than the transport emissions of the UK (113 million tCO2 e) or Italy (102 million tCO2 e).
Vehicle ownership remains low, but motorbike ownership has increased rapidly due to their affordability and suitability.
Given SSA’s vast territory and increasing urbanisation, there is a high latent demand for transport in the region and car ownership, fuel consumption and emissions will all continue increasing.