/ 20 August 2023

Urban transport across Africa turns to electrification

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Powering on: Egypt’s cities of Cairo Alexandria and Sharm El-Sheikh are shifting to electric buses. (Khaled Desouki/Getty Images)

Across Africa, public transport is embracing electrification at an unprecedented pace. Municipal administrations are taking the lead, forging partnerships with private enterprises to drive this eco-friendly evolution of bus fleets.

South Africa is the latest country to take the leap to sustainable urban transportation after the Cape Town-based Golden Arrow Bus Service unveiled an ambitious plan to electrify its entire fleet of 1 100 buses — a strategic move that is a significant step towards greener public transportation in the country.

A report by TopAuto.co.za, a motoring news platform, said Golden Arrow — South Africa’s largest public transportation service — will electrify 60 buses from its fleet every year, beginning from 2024, until it has replaced the diesel-powered buses.

The report said the bus operator first employed a BYD K9 electric bus in Cape Town in April 2021 to test the feasibility of these vehicles for transporting commuters in and around the city.

Golden Arrow is owned by Hosken Consolidated Investments Limited, a black empowerment investment company listed on the JSE and whose major shareholder is the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union. BYD is China’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer.

The collaboration has yielded positive results, with the piloting of two electric buses — a 37-seater and a 65-seater. 

The buses completed rigorous testing, covering 7 000km without passengers and an additional 50 000km with passengers onboard, showing their reliability and suitability for Cape Town’s demanding urban terrain, according to TopAuto. The buses demonstrated they could handle the city’s steep roads.

A key driver behind this electrification push is the substantial cost savings associated with electric buses. 

In an interview on Engineering News, Gideon Neethling, an engineer at Golden Arrow, highlighted the advantage of electric buses in terms of operating costs. 

“Compared to the current diesel price, we expect the electricity costs to be approximately 70% less than the equivalent diesel costs per kilometre,” he said.

Cape Town’s success story has the potential to trigger a domino effect across the nation. 

A report in electric mobility industry news service electrive.com suggests that Cape Town could soon extend electrification efforts to its MyCiti fleet, which consists of more than 374 buses. 

Beyond South Africa’s borders, other African nations are also stepping onto the electrification stage of their public urban transportation. 

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Kenya rolled out its first electric bus in 2022. An electric bus in Nairobi represents an effort to introduce clean and energy efficient transport. (Simon Maina/Getty Images)

Kenya, for instance, has seen private firms such as Basigo pioneering the transition to electric mass transit buses. The company has introduced 36-seater e-buses tailored for the Kenyan market. 

Basigo has also entered Rwanda’s market, while a partnership between the Rwandan government and Vivo Energy for more than 200 e-buses demonstrates the growing regional momentum.

Roam Motors, another player in Kenya, is capitalising on the burgeoning interest in electric buses with designed-for-purpose e-buses, crafted for the bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

Mega-cities such as Lagos and Cairo are also embracing the electric bus revolution in an effort to green the urban commuting experience. 

Lagos has introduced an initial set of e-buses through a collaborative effort with Oando Clean Energy Ltd and the Lagos state government. Through agreements with partners such as Yutong Bus Co Ltd, Lagos envisions a substantial fleet of 12 000 e-buses within the next seven years, according to sustainablebus.com.

Egypt, a front-runner, is making even greater strides, with cities like Cairo, Alexandria and Sharm El-Sheikh becoming major hubs for the e-bus. 

While these cities have shown their commitment through initiatives like the deployment of more than 140 e-buses during the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, the ministry of transport is implementing the ambitious Cairo Ring Road, a project that further underscores the potential for increased e-bus adoption, promising more than 100 locally manufactured e-buses operating on a 106km BRT system.

As Africa embarks on a path towards electric urban transport, the importance of infrastructure investment such as charging systems cannot be overstated. 

But, for Peju Adebajo, an economic industrialist and renewable energy policy expert with experience in Europe and Africa, countries should look beyond the infrastructure.

“We should forget charging stations and move straight to smart roads since the road infrastructure in Africa also needs an overhaul,” she explained.

The outlook for Africa’s electric bus market is promising, with Mordor Intelligence projecting its value to surge to some $1.5  billion by 2027. — bird story agency