NAIROBI, Kenya -- On the packed streets of Nairobi, Cyrus Kariuki is one of a growing number of bikers zooming through traffic on an electric motorbike, reaping the benefits of cheaper transport, cleaner air and limiting planet-warming emissions in the process.
“Each month one doesn’t have to be burdened by oil change, engine checks and other costly maintenance costs,” Kariuki said.
Electric motorcycles are gaining traction in Kenya as private sector-led firms rush to set up charging points and battery-swapping stations to speed up the growth of cleaner transport and put the east African nation on a path toward fresher air and lower emissions.
But startups say more public support and better government schemes can help further propel the industry.
Ampersand, an African-based electric mobility company, began its Kenyan operations in May 2022. The business currently operates seven battery-swapping stations spread across the country's capital and has so far attracted 60 customers. Ian Mbote, the startup's automotive engineer and expansion lead, says uptake has been relatively slow.
“We need friendly policies, taxes, regulations and incentives that would boost the entry into the market," said Mbote, adding that favorable government tariffs in Rwanda accelerated its electric transport growth. Ampersand plan to sell 500 more electric motorbikes by the end of the year.
Companies say the savings of switching to electric and using a battery-swap system, rather than charging for several hours, are key selling point for customers.
“Our batteries cost $1.48 to swap a full battery which gives one mobility of about 90 to 110 kilometers (56 to 68 miles) as compared to the $1.44 of fuel that only guarantees a 30 to 40 kilometer ride (19 to 25 miles) on a motorcycle,” Mbote said.
Kim Chepkoit, the founder of electric motorbike-making company Ecobodaa Mobility, added that "electricity costs are going to be more predictable and cushioned from the fluctuation of the fuel prices.”
Ecobodaa's flagship product is a motorcycle with two batteries, making it capable of covering 160 kilometers (100 miles) on one battery charge. The motorcycle costs 185,000 shillings ($1,400) without the battery, about the same as a conventional motorbike.
Other cleaner transport initiatives in the country include the Sustainable Energy for Africa program which runs a hub for 30 solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles and battery-swapping in Kenya’s western region.
Electric mobility has a promising future in the continent but “requires infrastructural, societal and political systemic changes that neither happen overnight nor will be immune to hesitance,” said Carol Mungo, a research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute.
The move to electric transport “will require African governments to rethink how they deliver current services such as reliable and affordable electricity” and at the same time put in place adequate measures to address electric waste and disposal, Mungo added.
Some financial incentives are on the way.
Earlier in February the African Development Bank announced that it will provide $1 million in grants for technical assistance in Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.
The African continent records a million premature deaths annually from air pollution, according to a soon-to-be-released study by the U.N. environment agency, Stockholm Environment Institute and the African Union obtained by The Associated Press.
Studies by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition say a reduction of short-lived climate pollutants can cut the amount of warming by as “much as 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.1 degrees Fahrenheit), while avoiding 2.4 million premature deaths globally from annual outdoor air pollution.”
But Mungo warned that cleaning up transport is just one step of many toward better air quality.
“There are so many emission factors in cities,” she said. “E-mobility, however, looks broadly beyond the transport sector to infrastructure development and urban planning, which in the end can solve complex pollution issues on in Africa.”
Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.