Battery swapping fuels Kenya's electric motorbike revolution

Technology helps East Africa's biggest economy lead shift to zero-emission electric mobility

An electric motorcycle revolution is unfolding in Kenya, where two wheels are more convenient than four. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

In recent months, brightly-branded battery swapping stations have cropped up around Kenya's capital Nairobi, allowing riders of electric motorcycles to exchange their low battery for a fully-charged one.

It is a sign of an electric motorcycle revolution starting to unfold in Kenya, where petrol-fuelled motorbikes are a cheaper and quicker way to get around than cars, but according to environmental experts are 10 times more polluting.

East Africa's biggest economy is leading the region's shift to zero-emission electric mobility, by using electric-powered motorcycles, its renewables-heavy power supply and position as a technology and start-up hub.

The battery swapping system not only saves time — essential for more than a million motorcyclists in Kenya, most of whom use the bikes commercially — but also saves buyers money, as many sellers follow a model in which they retain ownership of the battery, the bike's most expensive part.

“It doesn't make a lot of economic and business sense for users to acquire a battery … which would almost double the cost of the bike,” said Steve Juma, the co-founder of electric bike company Ecobodaa.

Ecobodaa has 50 test electric motorcycles on the road. It plans to have 1,000 by the end of 2023. Each is sold for about $1,500 — about the same price as a combustion-engine bike thanks to the exclusion of the battery from the cost.

After the initial purchase, the electric motorcycle — designed to be sturdy enough to traverse rocky roads — is cheaper to run than its petrol-guzzling equivalent.

“With the normal bike, I will use fuel worth approximately 700-800 Kenyan shillings ($5.70-$6.51) each day, but with this bike, when I swap a battery I get one battery at 300 shillings,” said Kevin Macharia, who transports goods and passengers around Nairobi.

Ecobodaa is one of several Nairobi-based electric motorcycle start-ups working to prove themselves in Kenya before expanding in East Africa.

Kenya's consistent power supply, which is about 95 per cent renewable, led by hydroelectricity and has a widespread network, provides major support for growth of the sector, said Jo Hurst-Croft, founder of ARC Ride, another Nairobi-based electric motorcycle start-up.

The country's power utility estimates it generates enough to charge two million electric motorcycles a day. Access to electricity in the country is over 75 per cent, according to the World Bank, and even higher in Nairobi.

Uganda and Tanzania also have robust and renewables-heavy grids that could support electric mobility, said Mr Hurst-Croft.

“We're putting over 200 swapping stations in Nairobi and expanding to Dar es Salaam and Kampala,” he said.

Updated: December 28, 2022, 3:30 AM