In recent years, emobility has become one of the most visibly expanding sectors in the green economy, after renewable energy, with its distinctive, giant windpower turbines and solar PV panels, which are making serious inroads in the consumer market.
Increasingly, public and private transport are using hybrid or EVs or electric buses and the last-mile delivery sector is also embracing the use of ebikes. It is becoming part and parcel of our society and how we live and travel.
Air pollution is seen as the second leading cause of death on the continent, responsible for approximately 1.1 million deaths in Africa in 2019. In African cities, vehicular emissions are a major source of air pollution. A recent study that evaluated the progress that African countries have made in their transition to emobility up to 2021, showed that Morocco and Egypt were the leaders in the transition to emobility on the continent. Mauritius and Seychelles led by far in sub-Saharan Africa. Among the countries studied, only 1.2% of imported vehicles were electric vehicles. Africa currently contributes only 3.8% of global carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 23% from China, 19% from the United States of America and 13% for the European Union. However, Africa is the most vulnerable to climate change. On average, transportation accounts for 40% of Africa’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Opportunity for scale
Despite the threats to the green mobility sector that include infrastructure and energy supply challenges as well as imports that are not built for African conditions, the opportunities are staggering, for example, the sub-Saharan ebike market is estimated at $3.65 billion.
Furthermore, a myriad of emobility startups and innovators are mushrooming around the continent:
Within less than a year after meeting at a conference, Uber Sub-Saharan Africa and vALTERNATIVE Energy recently launched a new last-mile delivery service on ebikes, Uber Package, in South Africa. For Mahomed Jeewa, Founder and CEO of vALTERNATIVE Energy, this fledgling joint venture has already led to or inspired several other projects, including the introduction of two consumer ebikes before the end of this year.
Says Mahomed: “We definitely see the opportunity for scale on another level. The opportunity for the manufacturing sector in South Africa is tremendous. We plan to put up a plant by early next year and hopefully export to the neighbouring countries. It’s easier to enter the market, because you don’t have an engine that has a few thousand parts in it. I foresee the last-mile of the emobility sector growing at a rapid scale.” [Read or watch the full interview here.]
Nairobi’s cleaner air
For Jonathan Green, CFO and co-founder of BasiGo, Nairobi’s clean air during Covid-19 was the inspiration to start an electric bus business. “My co-founder Jit Bhattacharya and I were commenting on how clean the air was because everyone was staying at home and we noticed how a lot of the public transport buses were causing a lot of the air pollution from the internal combustion smoke. And we thought, could there be a way, for example, for us to create a business model, like solar home systems, that would enable bus operators to adopt electric buses versus diesel buses and still be able to benefit from that long-term cost of ownership without having a higher upfront cost?” This was the genesis of the BasiGo model by really looking to address the barriers of electric vehicle adoption.
“We typically use off-the-shelf technology from China,” Jonathan explains. “So, proven electric buses that have been in operation in hundreds of countries throughout the world. We do make a few small modifications, such as seating position and door position and ride height, to match the local conditions. Obviously we right-size the engine motor to ensure that it can deal with the daily use requirements of the transport, whether that’s driving 200 kilometres per day or driving up hills with a 12% gradient like we have in Kigali.”
BasiGo manage their pay-as-you-drive leases via an in-house asset management platform called PAYD. Says Jonathan: “On that platform, our lessees can see how their ebus is performing, where it is, what revenue they’ve created, what their expenses are. So effectively, it is a mini P&L and cash flow statement, which helps them better manage their business.” [Read or watch the full interview here.]
Only way to have an impact
Automotive industry pioneer Henry Kamau, director at VBD Automotive Technologies, also in Nairobi, has partnered with the venture capital fund, VAI Capital based in Switzerland, to work with corporate fleets and get them to transition to emobility. “The only way we’ll have an impact on the climate as well as urban air quality is in through corporate fleets. They tend to be the largest fleets on the continent. Personal vehicles are also considered as part of this, but the real impact comes with the transition of fleets to emobility.”
The biggest challenges on bringing emobility to the continent are the capital costs. Henry explains: “There are many schemes that we’re looking at, such as battery swaps, where the owner of the motorcycle only pays for the motorcycle without the battery and then leases the battery. And they are able to swap the battery. In Africa, motorcycle taxis are a very big industry, and there’s quite a lot of potential here for the switch to emobility. They are also a very big contributor to poor urban air quality and health.”
Henry says emobility is a win-win for everyone: “For the naysayers on the continent who feel that emobility isn’t the way for the continent to go, they must remember that Africa has no vested interest in thermal driveline technologies, as we don’t manufacture engines or gearboxes. And these items are easily replaced by electric motors and batteries and battery management units. So there will be no lost jobs in the transition to electric mobility. So, this is something that should be seen as a positive for the continent.” [Read or watch the full interview here.]
Image source: Frimufilms on Freepik main pic_
This article first appeared in the GREEN ECONOMY EXPRESS, issued by Africa’s Green Economy Summit.