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Africa’s race to e-mobility

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Africa’s transport sector will be the main beneficiary of America’s drive to replace the paper oil-dollar with a digital carbon-dollar under the “zero emissions” drive.

This drive has led to Western governments diverting taxes to subsidise anything that claims not to emit smoke and is also behind China’s excess stock of dirt-cheap solar panels and electric vehicles.

Thanks to China’s subsidy-based economy, there are a lot of these excess vehicles. Shanghai-based consultancy, Automobility, estimates China’s excess capacity to be between five and 10 million vehicles per year. 

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The European Union and America in April castigated China for dumping these vehicles – which range in size from scooters to trucks – in their markets. Africa, however, sees China’s overcapacity as an opportunity to leapfrog its urban transport sector from what is often still human powered bicycles, to fast, efficient electric power. 

China makes 5-10 million excess vehicles a year, according to Automobility.

African states welcome China’s excess

From Tunis in the north to Pretoria in the south, African companies are partnering with Chinese suppliers to sell electric vehicles and install charging stations.

This electric drive focuses mostly on wheeled transport but in Kenya and Tanzania also includes aeroplanes, with two small airlines having partnered with American electric aircraft company, Surf Air Mobility, to electrify their Cessna aircraft.

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While light electric motors use energy much more efficiently than internal combustion engines, this is not the main motivator for African states to go electric. The savings that governments stand to make in not having to pay dollars to import increasingly expensive refined crude oil products, is the main motivator to join the race to e-mobility.

With a zero percent import tax on electric vehicles and tests of the flat-packed Ox truck now in its second year, Rwanda’s government currently leads the pack towards e-mobility, especially when compared to South Africa, which still lumps a 25% import tax on electric vehicles.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Tunisia and Uganda are not far behind, having all recently announced programmes and tax incentives to electrify their nations’ transport. 

Africa’s race to e-mobility Kenya Power

Kenya pulling ahead

In this e-mobility race, Kenya is pulling ahead with its “Bodaboda” electric motorbikes and the county’s cheap, “green” electricity. 

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The Kenyan government launched Africa’s first electric motorbikes on 1 September 2023 and wants the country’s estimated 200,000 petrol-bike riders to all lease battery-powered motorbikes by the end of 2024. This drive is led by the start-up EcoBodaa, which claims electric motorbikers can “spend less, ride better and earn more” than the riders who rent petrol motorbikes to use as taxis on the congested streets of Nairobi.

Kenya Power has meanwhile been testing electric transport since 2016, when it bought electric forklifts and a fleet of 13 electric motorcycles to test e-mobility in local conditions. Kenya Power this week announced it will invest KShs258 million (over R36 million) from 2024 to 2027 to increase the use of electric vehicles, which currently consume less than 2% of its electricity sales. 

Kenya Power plans to build 20 charging stations by 2026 where users will pay half-price for electricity for the next two years. Kenya Power has a relatively small consumer base with 9.5 million customers, but 90% of Kenya’s electricity is generated from renewable sources — mainly hydro — but also geothermal, solar and wind. This rises to 100% at night, which means Kenya will boast the greenest transport in Africa – if Kenyans can be convinced to buy electric vehicles. 

The problems with electric wheels

So far, the problems owners of electric vehicles have may pose too big a hurdle. They say their evees don’t have range; that the trucks are too expensive compared to diesel; the dealers say used electric vehicles have no resale value and the panelbeaters say they cannot work on them. Firefighters also warn that when a lithium-ion battery pack goes into thermal runaway, it burns hot enough to melt the reinforcing bars inside concrete floors, vent gas explosively and make extremely toxic smoke.

But with electricity sold at half the normal rate to power locally assembled electric motorbikes powered by batteries that can be swapped in minutes, Kenya can solve all these concerns to enable her citizens to leapfrog from pushing pedal-power to e-mobility.

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