East Africa prepares for its first solar car
|July 25th, 2016|
|located in:||Kenya, Uganda, Burundi|
|tags:||clean energy, East Africa, Saloon car, solar|
The flagship project includes a locally-assembled saloon car with each member state playing a role in its manufacture.
The saloon car, christened Uhuru, Swahili for freedom, is being assembled in Kenya while its engine is manufactured in Uganda by Kiira Motor Corporation, the steel frame being made in Rwanda, the glass in Tanzania and its trimming in Burundi.
Kiira Motor Corporation has been at the heart of driving innovations in the motor industry, having launched Africa’s first solar powered bus which made its maiden trip earlier this year. The bus excited the region and was one of the highlights in the recently concluded United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi. The Uhuru saloon car will also tap into the use of solar energy riding on the fact that the East African region enjoys, on average, 12 hours of sunlight each day.
The four-seater, five-door sedan will resemble India’s Nano and post-war Germany’s VW Beetle and is targeting the consumer market that has expressed insatiable appetite for cars due to a burgeoning middle class with an affinity for spending. Traditionally the market has largely been served by Japanese cars.
The project managers are also mulling substituting fuel stations with battery change stations across major highways of the member states. The idea is to ensure that drivers bring their flat batteries to the stations and find fresh ones which they can install and then continue with their journey.
“The East African Community is home to some 146 million residents. It is experiencing tremendous growth in key facets of the economy. The industrialization decade is one of the most ambitious ideas to have been conceived in this region. That’s why it matters that this car project works without hiccups, because it will be the region’s face of industrialization,” said Casper Lumumba, an analyst on East African Community Affairs at the University of Nairobi.
By embracing the solar technology, the project is meant to cushion member states from the erratic oil prices that have taken a toll on key industries in the region, making the cost of doing business unbearable. Key sectors, including manufacturing and transportation which oil the wheels of regional economic prosperity, have borne the brunt of increasing oil prices in the international markets.
“The use of solar energy in the automotive industries, as is evidenced by the Uhuru car concept and the launch of the first solar bus in Uganda, is heralding a new dawn in cost cutting and embracing clean energy for key sectors of the East African community. This can only translate to cheaper alternatives that ensure that goods and services are at affordable rates for the citizenry,” added Casper.
Governments across the region have also taken the solar energy seriously introducing policies that are pro clean energy. They have also offered incentives to investors who invest in solar energy, including rebates and tax holidays.
In the last three years, the national budgets of the member states have also sought to remove customs duty on solar panels and other solar related appliances to encourage uptake.
In Kenya which is seen as a regional frontrunner in embracing solar energy, the government announced a 16 per cent VAT removal on solar products to spur uptake. This happened even as it continues working with the private sector in a $1.2billion project to build solar power plants across the country.
Uganda on the other hand is in the process of building a 10 Megawatt PV utility scale solar farm 300 kilometers north east of the capital as it seeks to increase uptake while spurring more investment on solar.
Rwanda has also managed to prove naysayers wrong after investing in an 8.5 megawatt (MW) power plant that moved from signing, construction to connection in a period of one year.
Such investments in the alternative energy, industry players say, are critical for the success of the Uhuru car project. “We are talking of, for example, the solar-powered refill stations that will be required in major highways across the region. Countries need to demonstrate that they are alive to the importance of solar energy and moving beyond powering homes to applying it in other key sectors like automotive if we are to talk of getting the East African region into industrialization within the set timelines,” added Casper.