Ideas & Debate

Kenya needs to gear up for electric cars


When we talk of energy transition and carbon emissions reduction the most significant game-changer is the electrification of transportation - road, railway, air and ships - for indeed this is where most global oil demands are domiciled.

Kenya is slowly taking the first baby steps to electrify road transportation with a market entry of electric motorbikes, tuk-tuks, taxis, and the planned buses for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). However, Kenya’s rate of electric vehicles (EV) uptake will mostly depend on the pace of global rollouts.

With massive technology and capital deployed by investors on electric vehicles development and production, global sales are rapidly picking momentum.

The traditional petrol/diesel internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle manufacturers are fast shifting their business models to EVs, to protect their overall automobile market shares.

The latest EV report by International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that in 2021, electric car sales more than doubled to 6.6 million, representing close to 9 percent of the global car market and more than tripling EV market share from two years earlier.

EV uptake will be further accelerated by European environmental and energy regulators who have issued deadlines beyond which no new petrol/diesel vehicles will be sold.

After 2030 it will be difficult to find new petroleum-driven cars in some markets, with EVs having gone into mass production with improved affordability, performance, and convenience.

The same IEA report projects that by 2030, eight years away, 60 percent of global car sales will be EVs. Kenya being mostly a secondhand vehicles market will certainly struggle and lag in making the transition to EVs.

Post Glasgow COP29 climate summit, governments, donors and businesses will be expected to play a more proactive role in policies and funding to accelerate transition to electrification of transportation.

In Kenya, the planned Nairobi metropolitan Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) is a government policy-driven project modelled on use of EV buses. It will increase energy use efficiency, reduce traffic congestion, while supporting transition from oil to renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions.

If the project is run efficiently and cost effectively, it will encourage Nairobi residents to leave their cars at home. Further, BRT should be made to succeed by shielding it from known ills that usually make Kenyan public projects to flop.

The transition from ICE vehicles to EVs will definitely call for slowing down of petroleum supply chain infrastructure investments, while stepping up provision for facilities to support EVs. Pipeline and other infrastructure investors will need to mull an eventuality of reduced petroleum throughputs and revenues.

Oil marketers will need to re-engineer their medium- and longer-term business models, as service stations will diminish their traditional significance as points of fuels and lubrication services.

EVs will be charging their batteries at home, service stations, car parks, or dedicated vehicle charging locations. It is the vehicle industry and their agents that will assume a bigger role in serving the motoring customers by availing EV charging capacity.

Provision and service of EV batteries will also become major supply chain activities. This is why training in EV technologies should start early.

Even the Treasury should expect a future with significantly reduced tax revenues from petroleum fuels unless they re-configure how to recover the same revenues from EV transportation. It will also be a time of reduced forex requirements to fund fuel imports, as EVs will use indigenous electricity.

Power generation and distribution companies will welcome increased electricity demands from EVs. However, this incremental electricity demand will need to be genuinely sourced from renewable sources not imported fuel oil.

Kenya missed a major opportunity to electrify railway transportation when SGR was configured to use diesel. However, this can be corrected in the future to electrify the current SGR, and indeed any new future rail project.

This will be in keeping with objectives to reduce carbon emissions from diesel fuels.

Global electrification of the aviation industry will take much longer. However, progress has already been made with aircraft manufacturers, aerospace engine makers, already developing and testing battery-powered aircraft.

Reports indicate that an all-electric commuter aircraft is soon expected to make about 700 km flight, powered by battery technology. However long-range battery-powered passenger flights will take much longer to achieve.

Finally, with electric vehicles being a real eventuality, Kenya needs to accommodate their presence in energy policies, and in planning and design of future infrastructure and facilities.