Why Kenya could be getting ahead of itself in electric vehicles drive


Nearly every global vehicle manufacturing company is shifting to electric vehicles, in effect putting a brake on future production of petrol/diesel-driven vehicles. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

The transition to electric vehicles (EVs) cannot be gainsaid as the elimination of tailpipe emissions is a central part of the climate change offensive.

Kenya’s electric mobility ambitions led it to sign the COP26 declaration on accelerating the transition to 100 percent zero-emission vehicles.

The brutal truth is that we have little choice about switching to EVs because car makers will over time abandon internal combustion engines given the stance of regions such as the EU, which will effect a ban on new ICE vehicle sales by 2035.

The question is whether Kenya is ready for an exodus to EVs. In its 2023 Budget Policy Statement, the government promised to provide financial and tax incentives for PSVs and commercial transporters to convert to EVs.

Excise duty on EVs is already lower than on ICE vehicles but as EVs are expensive due to the high cost of batteries, the lower duty rate may not be effective in achieving affordability.

On the positive side however, the prohibitive upfront cost has led to the development of innovative financing models such as BasiGo’s Pay-As-You-Drive model, which keeps the cost of electric buses similar to traditional models while allowing operators to pay separately for the battery, based on kilometres covered.

On the vital issue of charging facilities, we face two challenges. First, Kenya Power was recently reported to have stated that the country’s power-generating capacity can currently only support charging of up to 100,000 EVs.

There is, therefore, work to be done to enhance power generation in the country if we are to achieve a switch to EVs.

This would need to be coupled with the development of proper charging infrastructure as we currently have relatively few of these.

The 2023 Budget Policy Statement states that the government will roll out EV charging infrastructure in urban areas and along highways but there is always the thorny issue of funding.

PPPs would enable the government to partner with the private sector and project financiers to set up the charging infrastructure but PPPs notoriously take years to reach financial close. Ongoing PPP reforms are intended to reduce project procurement timelines.

In the absence of adequate public charging stations, EV owners can charge their EVs at home overnight which could strain the power supply.

In addition, charging at home may be more costly than charging stations which are expected to benefit from a special lower electricity tariff.

Charging EVs at home also presents a challenge for those who are not connected to the national grid or a reliable alternative.

Based on media reports, Kenya Power and KenGen are proposing to install public charging stations.

The target for the KenGen stations is 50,000 buses and two million motorcycles which raises the legal issue of fair access to charging points.

Ultimately, an enabling regulatory framework is needed for all aspects of the EV ecosystem. Issues such as disposal/ recycling of EV batteries could be particularly thorny, considering that a large percentage of cars imported into the country are second-hand.

Without proper regulation and facilities for dealing with dead EV batteries, we could quickly end up with tonnes of battery waste to deal with – akin to the scourge of the plastic plaguing the world.

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