Power Africa, UNEP
Electric vehicles at Powerhive in Kenya. Credit: Power Africa

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched an electric bike pilot on 2 March for the Karura Forest in Nairobi, presenting 49 electric bikes to Kenyan government officials and business leaders.

The presentation was part of a larger pilot being conducted in Uganda to test 50 electric bikes.

Partnering with Powerhive, KPLC, Kisumu County, and the Friends of Karura Forest, the overall project will be trialled in four locations in Kenya and Uganda. The pilot is expected to expand in order to reduce air pollution, improve national energy security and create green jobs according to Clean Technica.

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In Kenya, the number of motorcycle taxis, or boda-boda, was estimated at 1.5 million in 2018 and is anticipated to be as high as five million by 2030.

The programme aims to help policymakers assess the barriers in uptake of electric modes of transport, as well as demonstrate the feasibility of such technology.

The bikes were donated by Shenzhen Shenling Car Company Limited (TAILG) and the total programme will run for between 6-12 months. Other countries participating in the global programme include Uganda, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The 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.

This pilot is part of a much larger global initiative. Writes Clean Technica’s Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai: “UNEP’s Electric Mobility Programme is currently the only global programme that supports electric mobility for developing and transitional countries. It supports over 50 countries and cities to introduce electric buses, cars and two- and three-wheelers.

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Joyce Msuya, UNEP deputy executive director, commented at the launch: “Kenya is importing more motorcycles than cars, doubling its fleet every 7-8 years. These are generally inefficient and poorly maintained polluting motorcycles.

“Kenya’s electricity is very green … with more than 90% 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.  So how do we kick start the transition?

“The four pilot programmes we’re launching today are a crucial first step. These pilots will allow us to gather the vital information that will then inform the next phase of Kenya’s electric transition. With the right motorcycle, the right blend of policies, incentives and public awareness, and with strong collaboration between government, civil society and the private sector, this shift is possible.”

Picture credit: Clean Technica

Also speaking was Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Governor of Kisumu County. “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.”

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Trikes and bikes are an essential form of transport in many developing countries but they can be responsible for increases in pollution – in some cases, their emissions can equal that of passenger vehicles. However, a shift to electric motorcycles can result in savings of “11 billion tons of CO2 and about $350 billion by 2050 (more than double the annual energy-related emissions in the US and about 14 times the 2019/2020 budget of Kenya).”

Interestingly, both Kenya and Uganda find themselves in the unique position of having excess generation capacity. Uganda’s installed capacity is 1,252MW with demand averaging just over 700MW. In Kenya, installed generation capacity is over 2,800 MW, with a peak demand of approximately 1,900MW.

Any transition to electric mobility will require significant investments in charging infrastructure, along with investment into strengthening local distribution infrastructure. It is anticipated, however, that solar-battery hybrid systems may substitute for traditional charging infrastructure, stimulating and proving the business case for solar minigrids.