Kenya: Solar motorcycles take on Nairobi smog

From The Mail & Guardian

Sophie Mbuguah , Deutsche Welle06 Jan 2019 11:45

No comment.  But they did win prize money ~ctm

Developers of Kenya's solar-powered e-cycle hope to begin mass production by early 2019. (DW)
Developers of Kenya’s solar-powered e-cycle hope to begin mass production by early 2019. (DW)

Nairobi’s reliance on motorcycles is hindering efforts to reduce carbon emissions, as manufacturers struggle to adapt to clean energy technology. But a new solar-powered three-wheeler could help clean up the city’s act.

Kenya has a motorcycle problem.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, more than 190 000 new motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles were registered in 2017, compared to approximately 66 000 cars. This trend has continued into 2018, with 108 000 motorcycles and three-wheelers registered since January against just 38 000 cars.

What’s worrying is the fact that these motorcycles — which are increasing in demand thanks to a growing young population in search of employment — produce more carbon emissions than cars.

A baseline survey on electric mobility in Kenya conducted by the University of Nairobi reveals a steep rise in cumulative emissions from two and three-wheeled vehicles between 2005 and 2017.

Clean energy technology for motorcycles is simply not developing at the same rate as cars.

“Cars are getting more efficient because of vehicle emission technologies, while motorcycles are not,” David Rubia, an air quality and mobility program officer at the United Nations Environment Program (UN Environment), told DW. “One motorcycle can have up to 300 times more hydrocarbon emissions, and 10 to 50 times more for particulate matter [compared to] an average petrol car.”

Making the switch easy

Through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — which formed a key component of the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement — Kenya has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by at least 30% by 2030. In order to meet this commitment, Rubia said 20% of Kenya’s motorcycles must be electric-powered by this deadline.

“This will ensure an economic win for the high number of unemployed youth and prepare Africa for a transition to an electric mobility transport system in general,” Rubia said.

Rubia pointed out that, unlike electric cars, electric motorcycles do not require an investment in new transport infrastructure such as the installation of special charging stations.

“A normal electric motorcycle battery can be charged at home using the normal electricity outlets,” he said.

READ MORE: Africa’s best inventions

The government is actively working toward meeting its NDC commitment by focusing on developing cleaner motorcycles. Kenya, alongside Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda, is collaborating with the Nairobi-based UN Environment to collect baseline data and develop trials for electric motorcycles and three-wheelers. This will allow these countries to develop the right policy interventions and, it’s hoped, introduce more electric motorcycles on the streets.

Solar-powered three-wheeler

Nairobi is infamous for its terrible traffic jams, which only adds to the emissions problem. But a new solar-powered three-wheeler being developed by the Strathmore Energy Research Centre hopes to solve these issues by giving back more control to the driver.

“The battery capacity when fully charged means that one can drive 50 kilometres — if the sun is low, one can peddle home,” said Ignatius Maranga, a renewable energy engineer and researcher. “The [three-wheeler] allows one to conduct business during the day and then use the remaining energy to power the home.”

The developers hope to begin mass production by early 2019, using their €100 000 ($114 000) prize from the 2018 Valeo Innovation Challenge in Paris in October. They estimate the solar-powered e-cycle will sell for approximately $1 000. Customers can also choose a pay-as-you-go scheme, contributing $2 a day for around three years.

Read The full story here:

HT/Willie Soon


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Steve Reddish
January 10, 2019 10:05 pm

What’s with the drogue chute?


Reply to  Steve Reddish
January 10, 2019 10:13 pm

the battery was lasting too long, they needed to add some drag

Reply to  yarpos
January 11, 2019 3:33 am

Also, covering half of one cell there will create a non conducting diode and is probably taking 1/3 of the surface out of production.

Those panels generally are wired in three parallel groups. One is not producing.

But the sail is all about virtue signalling and product promotion, not electricity production.

Also note that they don’t say how many DAYS of sunshine it requires to charge a large diesel sized battery like that with one sqr metre of PV !!

Reply to  Greg
January 11, 2019 7:15 pm

Don’t forget the human component. The peddler is furiously peddling to compensate for the increased drag from the virtue signaling sail as well as for the decreased cell production. The peddler is payed by peddling sufficient energy back into the battery as needed. The more that goal is met the more the peddler is paid. Peddlers are frequently relieved and require great amounts of fresh water and caloric intake.

I could go on.

Lee L
Reply to  Steve Reddish
January 11, 2019 12:41 am

Hard to see in the picture, but it looks to me like that ‘chute’ is covering one of the solar cells. Again, hard to see, but it looks like that is a 98 cell solar panel, which is 7x7x2 cells. Just guessing, but it is probably made of 2 parallel 49 cell strings with a bypass diode on each string. That means your ‘drogue chute’ is killing off half of the power that panel can make just because that one cell is covered.
Aw but it just LOOKS so cool.

Charles Higley
Reply to  Steve Reddish
January 11, 2019 4:58 am

““The [three-wheeler] allows one to conduct business during the day and then use the remaining energy to power the home.””

So, if you use your remaining battery storage to power your home when you get home from work, you will basically have a dead or almost dead battery by morning. The Sun may not be high enough until late morning to really charge the battery, particularly if one is using that power also to get to work. What about rainy days? The battery is not going to last very long, and there goes having energy for your home. It just seems that one is going to do a lot of peddling regardless, while hauling around the solar panels and batteries for no benefit.

What about windy days and the large wing on top of the solar tricycle, even more dangerous if that is similar to the configuration of the bicycles.

Reply to  Charles Higley
January 11, 2019 5:11 am

Charles Higley

………use the remaining energy to power the home.

That’ll be because there’s no reliable electricity supply from fossil fuelled power stations.

I’m all for ‘needs must when the devil drives’ but not as a permanent solution to condemn people to eternal poverty.

Reply to  HotScot
January 11, 2019 9:24 am

I’ve recently been to Nairobi. You could power most of the homes there with a 9 volt battery, mostly because they live in sheet metal and plywood shacks with no electrical appliances that require power. And, in downtown Nairobi electrical power runs intermittently. Cell phones are the most reliable means of communication. I suspect this so so because they are maintained by people who understand the need for reliability, and land lines are prone to failure when unprotected. It is an odd visual to see a Massai tribesman, wearing nothing but a red blanket, herding his cattle with a stick in one hand and and a flip phone in the other. However, you will often see villagers walking long distances to charge their phones.

Reply to  Steve Reddish
January 11, 2019 6:08 am

Adds drag for strength training.

Farmer Ch E retired
Reply to  icisil
January 11, 2019 7:56 am

Or can be deployed as a spinnaker sail to assist when traveling downwind.

Reply to  Steve Reddish
January 11, 2019 12:18 pm

It’s an advertising banner. You have to have an advertising banner, you know.

Fred Souder
January 10, 2019 10:07 pm

Pedaling home is going to be rough with that sail attached to the back.

Reply to  Fred Souder
January 11, 2019 2:13 am

It depends on which way the wind is blowing.

Reply to  JLC
January 11, 2019 6:34 am

A quickly constructed sail on the front of a canoe will really move you through flat water when you have a tail wind. Light weight nylon jacket or towel and spare paddle and a stick from shore and you’re good to go. Frees up hand for beverage control.

Reply to  JLC
January 11, 2019 6:41 am

Downstream wind works great for powering whitewater raft trips through flat water. String the rafts together end to end and turn one vertical at the front of the string and 2 miles of flat water becomes a fun exercise and saves the strength of the paddlers for the real whitewater.

Carbon Based Lifeform
Reply to  Fred Souder
January 11, 2019 2:16 am

Yeah, it would be a nightmare on a windy day

Reply to  Fred Souder
January 11, 2019 2:31 am

Wonder how much weight the entire systems adds to the bikes.

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  Fred Souder
January 11, 2019 3:47 am

Well, if the wind is strong enough you roll up the sail and use the panel as a wing.

Alan Tomalty
January 10, 2019 10:10 pm

As long as there is no subsidies either for the electric motorcycle or the solar bike I am all for this technology.

Steve Reddish
January 10, 2019 10:12 pm

“The battery capacity when fully charged means that one can drive 50 kilometres ”

Once discharged, what is the charge time?


Reply to  Steve Reddish
January 11, 2019 3:53 am

Just leave the solar panel charging overnight – no problem – …. no, wait …

Michael S. Kelly, LS, BSA, Ret.
Reply to  steveta
January 11, 2019 4:53 am

Sure, just turn on the light in the garage. And use the battery on the tricycle to run it.

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly, LS, BSA, Ret.
January 11, 2019 11:46 am

Stop! Stop! Yer killin’ me Michael! 😆😆

Heck, that may be the idea that won them the prize. 😲
Seriously, this is probably a decent solution, as someone mentioned upthread that Nairobi has unreliable power and most don’t have electrified homes. Get the easy ride when the sun shines and peddle when it doesn’t.

I’m not concerned about the CO2 emissions, but the air pollution there is probably fairly bad, so the electric power is probably a help in reducing smog.

This is probably a good solution for the right place at the right time and economic circumstances. However, all you boys and girls in New York or London or other western megalopolises, don’t try this at home.

Craig from Oz
January 10, 2019 10:29 pm

I like the very casual association with emissions from IC engines that can cause problems in any big city and evil evil carbon (sic) emissions.

Electric vehicle have the advantage (probably their only advantage) in that they have next to zero emissions at place of use. If you want to improve the air quality on the physical streets then yeah, not that stupid an idea.

What you need to remember is that electricity does not grow on trees and you are rarely completely reducing your emissions, simply creating them elsewhere.

Hey, if there is a market for it and if it makes the air on these streets nicer to breath, then go for it. Just don’t try and ‘carbon’ guilt me with your cheap made in China toxins be damned solar panels.

Reply to  Craig from Oz
January 11, 2019 12:37 am

Actually, I don’t think they are complaining about CO2 causing smog.

The trouble is that the greenies refer to CO2 as pollution and that’s what confuses the issue. In this case, we’re talking about actual pollution.

Small cheap motorcycles don’t have the pollution control systems that cars have. The article says motorcycles have 300 times more hydrocarbon emissions than cars. That mostly means incompletely burned fuel.

Can motorcycles have better pollution control systems? Yes, but they won’t be as cheap. My guess is that doubling (or more) the cost of small motorcycles in Kenya would result in rioting in the streets.

Where I live there are a lot of electric bicycles. The law requires them to have pedals but they look like scooters. They would largely solve the pollution problem in downtown Nairobi.

Reply to  commieBob
January 11, 2019 4:26 am

so what cost a really good exhaust retrofitted?
encourage to move to 4stroke as well?

John F. Hultquist
January 10, 2019 10:37 pm

Is this solar need because the area does not have reliable grid power?
I do like the idea of carrying my own shade.

In the photo, there is no load. What happens if one adds 250 pounds of veggies and wants to carry them to market. Does the range drop from 50 km to 35?
I would not want to have to pedal the 20 or 30 km going home.
What % of the people are healthy enough to do this?

If it works there and for the people, that’s great.

January 10, 2019 11:16 pm

Tri-cycle probably will need fatter rear wheels for when not driving on the autobahn. You can just imagine that most will retrofit a passenger seat in the back.

For zipping in & out of congested Nairobi traffic motorcycles will still be more popular. Kenya’s Darwin Award runner up could be the guy who decides to ride his solar tri-cycle through the tse tse fly sector.

January 10, 2019 11:22 pm

2USD per day for about three years is well over 2,000USD. Bad interest rate compared to the 1,000USD for a lump sum payment.

January 11, 2019 12:12 am

In a year, there will be dead batteries all over the city.

Reply to  jorgekafkazar
January 11, 2019 12:30 am

Indeed. First-world solutions don’t work in the third. It doesn’t stop idiots from trying it again and again.

Lee L
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
January 11, 2019 12:49 am

This solution doesn’t work in the first world either. It transfers battery mining, refining and manufacturing pollutants to China and yes..there will be dead batteries in a year or so. This is what happens in North America when people buy their first RV. They kill the battery bank from misuse and bad charging. I doubt Nairobi residents will do better.

January 11, 2019 1:11 am

Nairobi’s reliance on motorcycles is hindering efforts to reduce carbon emissions

blockquote>“One motorcycle can have up to 300 times more hydrocarbon emissions, and 10 to 50 times more for particulate matter [compared to] an average petrol car.”

At first, I couldn’t understand were this article was coming from. Obviously a motorcycle is going to produce far less CO2 then a car. It has a much lower MPG, and that’s the only place the carbon in CO2 could come from.

Then I realised that the author’s use of ‘Carbon emissions’ as a stand in for CO2 was allowing him to conflate them with actual exhaust pollution. The article literally doesn’t know what it’s trying to reduce.


Reply to  Schitzree
January 11, 2019 4:39 am

Once again, as usual, a liberal arts educated writer gets the science wrong.

The only place the article mentions smog is in the headline. The hydrocarbon emissions that cause smog are actual pollution, not CO2. It’s pretty obvious the writer doesn’t know the difference.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Schitzree
January 11, 2019 5:11 am

I too was puzzled by the claim that motorcycles create more carbon pollution (CO2) than cars. Assuming we’re talking the two wheeled transport of choice the Honda Cub a 4 stroke which is still production and does 150 mpg if driven carefully. It’s only got a fuel of less than an imperial gallon so has to be economical.

Not only than the density of people per square metre at peak times is far higher if all are on motorcycles than in cars.

A load of codswallop.

Steven Fraser
Reply to  Schitzree
January 11, 2019 9:52 am

I’ve never been to Nairobi, but I have been to Bangalore, India. There, the motorcycles popular with the younger commuters are quire often 2-cycle engines, and all of the 3-wheeled “Taxi’s” are.

During rush hours and noontime on the main roads, the blue smoke of burning 2-stroke engine oil filled the air.

Steven Fraser
Reply to  Steven Fraser
January 11, 2019 9:53 am


kent beuchert
January 11, 2019 1:48 am

Real motorcycles like Harleys and so on definitely have emission controls,and fuel injection.

Carl Friis-Hansen
January 11, 2019 2:26 am

As gringojay said, fatter tires are needed for serious use.
What about this bike from
comment image?v=1524676634
Okay, double price, but usable. Attach a solar panel roof, if preferred for longer range and shade.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Carl Friis-Hansen
January 11, 2019 2:43 am

Plus a windmill and a sail?

Paul C
January 11, 2019 2:53 am

So, the article infers that there is a problem in Nairobi of emissions of 2-stroke oil from 2-stroke motorcycle engines. Simply moving to four stroke engines would solve the problem.

Reply to  Paul C
January 11, 2019 7:52 am

4-stroke engines are more expensive. Lack of resources is already a big problem.

Peta of Newark
January 11, 2019 3:57 am

They’re making it too complicated and expensive.
They are re-inventing a wheel that China worked out years ago. They have the motors, controllers and chargers all going as ‘cheap as chips’
Even here in thee cronified high tax UK you can get an electric scooter, brand new and incl tax, for almost half their money:

A new (sealed lead acid) battery pack (60V @ 20Ah) will set you back £150, less maybe 15% for scrap value of the old pack. Will get you 30 miles easy even in (cold – batteries don’t like) UK conditions
And UK battery prices are a sick joke, easily twice what even European continental folks pay.
(Because of the cold and also that we don’t know how to look after them and always claim under the 2-year warranty. Just what junk is being taught in schools these days?)

I do hope that big grey box on that trike is not all battery – you could get 60V @ 150Ah lead acid in a box that size! 200++ miles. Is this another picture of Sisyphus by any chance?
Buy as powerful a charger as you want (£20 off ebay – delivered from China) – they work off any old electric between 90 and 250 volts AC or DC.

Dump the solar panel or, maybe have a smaller one.
That solar panel looks like ~250W – maybe 300W under Nairobi sun and will charge your 30 mile battery in less than 6 hours
If you do want solar panels, leave it at home or set them up where people come to with their bikes.
Maybe have a folding panel that the cyclist can unravel when (s)he’s stopped/parked/resting.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 11, 2019 6:37 am

I see that the cheapest model at your link still gets 60km on a charge with a top speed of 45kph. The next model up can go 70km.

I’d keep the solar panel for a sun screen, letting it do double duty that way.

dan no longer in CA
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 11, 2019 8:57 am

Parking with the panel unfolded will get exciting when the wind comes up. For efficiency you need light weight, but that works better if the panel is on your roof (if available) and the bike is battery powered.

Johann Wundersamer
January 11, 2019 4:58 am

The solar panel above the driver’s head also protects against sunburn.

January 11, 2019 5:48 am

It seems to me the hydrocarbons are not much CO2. You aren’t burning all the much compared to a car. It’s oil. 2 stroke scooters have oil injection or a fuel and oil mixture. It’s the oil running through the engine and being blown out the exhaust. 4 strokes are the way to go. Some European countries are trying to restrict scooters in their large cities, though it may be just 2 strokes. The 4 stroke scooter seems to be a more recent thing. Most of the older ones are 2 strokes. The main attributes of a 2 stroke are less weight and more torque. The reasons they have such staying power. I want a snowmobile. A fast and light one? Yes please. 2 stroke.

Tom in Florida
January 11, 2019 5:51 am

“which are increasing in demand thanks to a growing young population in search of employment ”

“They estimate the solar-powered e-cycle will sell for approximately $1 000. Customers can also choose a pay-as-you-go scheme, contributing $2 a day for around three years.”

And what is the daily income of an unemployed person?

Craig Austin
January 11, 2019 6:04 am

Another clear demonstration that Journalists are Journalists because physics is hard.

January 11, 2019 6:38 am

A wind turbine on top could help to charge the battery, or be connected mechanically to the driving wheels via reductio ad absurdum gears.

Jeff Alberts
January 11, 2019 6:43 am

I work on power wheelchairs for a living. That’s what these sound like. Typically you’ll have two group 22 or 24 Gel or AGM batteries in series for a 24 volt system. You might get 10 miles if you’re lucky. I’m sure they’ve got different motors and gear ratios to get higher speeds. But you’re already talking about 100 pounds of batteries at least. Not to mention Gel/AGM batteries don’t like being fully or even mostly depleted on each use, shortens their life span greatly.

How many amps are you going to get from those solar panels on an optimum solar day?

And as to “powering your home in the evening”, yeah, right.

Tom in Florida
January 11, 2019 7:20 am

Do you see any wires from the solar panel to the place where the motor is supposed to be? Obviously this is a moving add for these types of vehicles but the one in the picture is not a working model.

Michael S. Kelly, LS, BSA, Ret.
January 11, 2019 7:27 am

I agree that the solar panel looks to be about a 250 watt output device. Given that the average human can put out 75 watts steadily on a bicycle, and the average adult human weight is about 170 pounds, this should be able to propel a vehicle of 567 pounds at the same speed as a bicycle. In other words, the tricycle plus payload could weigh 397 pounds. That would allow for a substantial payload. I think this would actually work out.

January 11, 2019 7:42 am

I’d hate to be riding that thing when a strong crosswind hits.

Jim Whelan
January 11, 2019 9:40 am

That’s what I call a bicycle (technically a tricycle), not a motorcycle. Putting a solar panel on top just makes it harder to pedal but it’s still human powered. I guess that’s “renewable”

January 11, 2019 10:32 am

It would have an anchor attached if the sponsors and grantors asked for it.

January 11, 2019 11:02 am

huh…spent lot of years riding. sometimes at 175+ mph. would suck to have power loss in corner due to solar and battery issue.

January 11, 2019 3:29 pm

How much does a regular pedal trike run for there?

Here’s some local ICE competition.

January 11, 2019 5:56 pm

Umm… this is not about solar powered tricycles, folks. It is a way for Kenyans to shame The West into donating pitifully small amounts of money, accompanied by much fanfare and dozens of layers of Christian Ministries and others needing photo-ops, to “do something to help the Developing country”.

And that’s all it is.
No more.
Maybe much less.


January 12, 2019 12:40 am


Let’s all add huge sails and wind catchers to our vehicles!
Of course, we will save fuel and have vehicles that work at greater efficiency.
And the vehicles will look so much cooler…
/ Sarcasm!

Fools, they must be drinking kool-aid made from certain plants.

January 12, 2019 11:42 am

Silly solar panel virtue signaling. Get rid of the two-stroke-cycle engines and replace them with four-stroke-cycles. Problem solved.

In the city of Bangkok, two-stroke mopeds generate as much as 60% of emissions of primary organic aerosols — while only accounting for 10% of total fuel consumption by traffic in the city. Given the fact that the calculations are based on the average emission factor of the European mopeds used in the study, the actual emissions are actually probably considerably higher.

“Field measurements in China confirm the image of these rampant polluters on two wheels. In the city of Guangzhou the concentrations of arenes in the air fell by more than 80% in 2005 after a ban on two-stroke mopeds. Just 60 kilometers away in the city of Dongguan with its comparatively strict traffic restrictions, higher aromatic concentrations are measured today than in Guangzhou.”

The concentration of specific air contaminants in many Southern European cities could be significantly reduced if two-stroke mopeds were slowly phased-out.

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