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Kenya: How Electric Bikes Can Help Make Kenya’s Streets Cleaner, and Beat Nairobi’s Infamous Traffic #AfricaClimateHope

Nairobi, Kenya — Entrepreneurs are on a mission to make our cities cleaner and more liveable.

As the co-founders of eWAKA, a platform dedicated to serving commuter and commercial electric micro-mobility fleets, Celeste Vogel and Jimmy Tune are committed to making our cities more sustainable and liveable. They believe that electric micromobility is the key to reducing traffic congestion, air pollution, and noise pollution.

eWAKA is a Kenyan company that provides electric two-wheelers, including cargo bikes, to a wide range of people, including women, young people, and commuters. The company believes that electric cargo bikes are the best way to reduce carbon emissions in cities like Nairobi, and is committed to finding sustainable solutions for battery waste. It was founded in 2021 with the aim of identifying the types of electric vehicles that would be most successful in Africa, not just Kenya.

“When we started, the industry was focused on boda boda (motorcycles) riders, but we believed that one size does not fit all. We wanted to create electric two-wheelers that would appeal to a wider range of people, including women, young people, and commuters,” Vogel said. “Our first customer was a clinic that used our electric scooters to transport lab technicians, nurses, and doctors to deliver urgent care at home or at the office. This saved them a lot of time in traffic, as they would have otherwise had to take a car.”

“We then tested our scooters with commuters to see if they would be interested in taking control of their own schedules, rather than waiting for public transportation,” she said, “We found that a lot of people were interested in getting their own electric bike, especially as fuel prices are going up. They were able to save quite a bit, not only financially but also in terms of time.

“We also thought of cargo bikes, and we were the first to bring actual cargo bikes to Kenya that can carry a weight of 165 to 200 kilos together with a rider. Our flagship bike, the Shujaa, was tested commercially with delivery riders, partnering with fleets and logistics platforms. We developed a model that we found to be more scalable by connecting riders, especially women riders and unemployed young people, with jobs. Instead of renting them the bike, we would give them the bike without any upfront payment, connect them to a job, make sure that the job pays well, and then we would pay ourselves out of what is earned at the end of the day.

“Our last vehicle is the e-bike, which we also target commuters but also commercial riders. We actually give the battery together with a charging kit. This gives people more freedom to decide when and how to charge their bikes and benefit from the low electricity rates in Kenya. They also have the freedom to decide when they would like to charge the battery. A lot of our customers actually buy an extra battery so that they can take charge of their own swapping and are not dependent on someone else to decide when they can swap and at what price. These are the bikes that we offer in our company,” she said.

Checkups Medical Procured e-bikes from eWaka

In the face of rising fuel costs and environmental concerns, Dr. Moka Lantum, the founder and CEO of Checkups Medical, has embraced a revolutionary solution: electric bikes. His innovative initiative, which dispatches nurses to homes in logistically challenging areas using e-bikes, has not only reduced the company’s fuel consumption by 80% but also set a precedent for sustainable healthcare delivery.

“At our main location, we have seven bikes that deliver medicines within a 10-kilometre radius. We also have nurses who use bikes on demand for house calls. The cost of fuel is replaced by the cost of battery charging. We have reduced our fuel consumption by 80% in the past year. We expect to further reduce our consumption by 15-20% in the next year,” he said.

Dr Lantum added: “in order to make electric bikes safer and more accessible, we need to improve our infrastructure. This includes building dedicated bike lanes and educating motorists about the rules of the road. We also need to raise awareness of the benefits of electric bikes, so that more people will choose to use them. With the right infrastructure and education, electric bikes can become a safe and sustainable mode of transportation for everyone.”

By raising awareness of the environmental and economic benefits of these vehicles, Lantum hopes to inspire others to adopt this sustainable mode of transportation.

Electric Cargo Bikes for a Greener Future?

Transportation is a major contributor to the climate crisis. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that transport accounts for around one-fifth of global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, with three-quarters of this coming from road transport.

A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on April 4, 2022, found that falling costs for renewable energy and electric vehicle batteries, along with policy changes, have helped to slow the growth of the climate crisis in the past decade. However, the report also concluded that deep, immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed to stop emissions growth entirely. The new IPCC report outlines several possible scenarios for how much emissions reductions can be achieved through improvements in the transportation sector.

Electric vehicles, often called EVs, are a critical part of the solution to cleaning up the transportation sector. However, the ability of EVs to cut greenhouse gas emissions ultimately depends on the cleanliness of the electricity grid. EVs are a key part of meeting global climate goals. They are featured prominently in emissions reduction pathways that limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius or 1.5 degrees Celsius, which are in line with the Paris Agreement‘s targets.

E-bikes are powered by electricity and are also much quieter than cars, which can help to reduce noise pollution.

Vogel said: “Our bikes are fully electric, so they have zero carbon dioxide emissions. We believe that electric cargo bikes are the best way to reduce carbon emissions in cities like Nairobi. They are powerful, nimble, and can carry a lot of weight. They also don’t pollute or make noise, which is a big problem in Nairobi. If everyone in Nairobi used an electric cargo bike to get around, we would have much lower levels of pollution and noise, and we would also save money.”

Electric Bikes – Silent but Safe?

While EVs do not directly emit greenhouse gases, they still produce emissions in the process of being built and charged. This is because the electricity that powers EVs is often produced from fossil fuels, and the mining and processing of the materials used to make EV batteries also requires the use of fossil fuels.

The production of EV batteries requires the mining of raw materials, such as cobalt and lithium. These materials can be extracted using environmentally harmful methods, and their mining can also have negative impacts on local communities. However, manufacturers are working to develop more sustainable battery manufacturing processes, and there are also efforts to recycle EV batteries and reuse them in other applications.

“We’ve been thinking about battery waste management since we started the company. There’s no major infrastructure for recycling electric vehicle batteries in Africa, just like in Europe. However, there are a few projects underway to address this issue. We’re talking to a potential partner about using old batteries to power appliances at home. We don’t want to add to the waste problem in Africa, so we’re committed to finding sustainable solutions for battery waste.”

Protecting the Environment – A Global Effort

“… the Africa Climate Summit … is a testament to Kenya’s commitment to addressing climate change. I am also a member of the Electric Mobility Association of Kenya, where we work with policymakers and other stakeholders to develop the right policies and standards for electric mobility. I agree that it is the responsibility of the government, but also of stakeholders like us, to push for conversations and make suggestions to ensure that we operate in a self-regulated environment that addresses concerns such as the quality of electric vehicle parts imported into the country and the import of old petrol cars from other countries. These are all important discussions that need to take place, and I believe that everyone is aware of the need for them,” Vogel said.

International companies are leading the way in the adoption of EVs, with many setting ambitious targets to electrify their fleets.

Electric mobility is gaining momentum in Africa, driven by innovative policies and initiatives. Several countries, including Rwanda, Mauritius, and Ethiopia, have introduced progressive policies and incentives to help drive the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). Some African governments are beginning to introduce policies to support the adoption of EVs. For example, Egypt plans to manufacture 20,000 vehicles internally starting in 2023, and Kenya aims for electric vehicles to account for 5% of all vehicle imports by 2025. Rwanda has exempted EVs from import duties and taxes, and Ethiopia has provided subsidies for the purchase of EVs. Additionally, the African Development Bank (AfDB) announced in February 2023 that it will provide U.S.$1 million in grants for technical assistance to support the development of EV infrastructure in Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.

Smart grids powered by renewable energy can help Africa overcome its chronic power shortages, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and achieve its climate goals.

“I know that Kenya has instituted lower rates for electric mobility than for other uses. Our batteries are all removable, so people can take them out and charge them in their homes just like they would charge their phones. We also have charging stations at various locations around the city, including our own location. Riders can either charge overnight or during the day. Many of our customers purchase two batteries so that they can swap them out as needed.”

Human Rights Abuses in DR Congo Cobalt Mines Exposed

The increasing demand for clean energy technologies has led to a growing need for specific metals, such as copper and cobalt, which are essential for making lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are used in devices such as electric cars and mobile phones, reports Amnesty International.

(DRC) has led to the forced eviction of entire communities and grievous human rights abuses. Amnesty International and the DRC-based organization Initiative pour la Bonne Gouvernance et les Droits Humains (IBGDH) detail in their report, Powering Change or Business as Usual? how the scramble by multinational companies to expand mining operations has forced communities from their homes and farmland. DRC has the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and the seventh-largest reserves of copper. The human rights group’s report estimates that the demand for cobalt will reach 222,000 tonnes by 2025, triple the demand in 2010.

Amnesty and IBGDH interviewed more than 130 people at six different mining projects in and around the city of Kolwezi, in the southern province of Lualaba, during two separate visits in 2022. Researchers found that people were being forcibly evicted, threatened, or intimidated into leaving their homes, or misled into consenting to derisory settlements. There was often no grievance mechanism, accountability, or access to justice. The report calls on the government of the DRC and the mining companies to take immediate steps to stop the forced evictions and other human rights abuses and to ensure that the communities affected are adequately compensated and resettled.

Challenges

Despite the growing momentum, Sub-Saharan Africa still faces some unique challenges in its transition to electric mobility, such as unreliable electricity supply, low vehicle affordability, and the dominance of used vehicles. Mckinsey reports that the upfront cost of EVs is currently prohibitive for many Africans due to comparatively low household incomes, low availability of asset finance at affordable rates, and higher price points for EVs.

Another challenge to the adoption of electric vehicles in Africa is the lack of charging infrastructure, coupled with the poor condition of roads and electricity grids in many African countries.

“It’s still early days in the electric mobility sector, but the primary concern is the upfront cost, especially for low-income people. Finding financing solutions is at the top of the list of barriers to adoption. We also need to educate people about the benefits of electric mobility, such as reduced traffic congestion and pollution. Cargo bicycles are especially beneficial for African cities because they are democratic, easy to use, and can help to reduce traffic congestion. We are excited to see the growing interest in electric mobility in Africa, and we believe that it has the potential to transform our cities,” Vogel said.

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