They say the proof is in the pudding. This is something Reuben Kihiu and the team at Chaji Energy found out very quickly. Reuben and team had started a food and drinks delivery company called Ficar delivery in Nyeri, Kenya using fossil-fueled motorcycles.
“We designed our business model to make our services as cheap as possible. So that meant mostly just earning from delivery fees and a small margin on the product. We started in December 2018. We had 3 launches (the first two failed a few months after). We learnt that we needed to spend as little as possible on logistics, so we can at least make some profit. So that’s when we thought of electric motorcycles as they’d be the cheapest solution. Initially the idea was to have our own bikes in the fleet, but then the charging idea came and Chaji Energy was born.”
Motorcycles are a big deal in Kenya. 210,103 motorcycles were registered in 2019, bringing the total number of registered motorcycles since 1968 to over 1.6 million. Motorcycles are mainly used as public transport vehicles. These motorcycle taxis are popularly known as boda bodas. The motorcycle taxi industry is a vital segment of Kenya’s economy. Several startups are working to electrify the boda boda industry. These include Fika Mobility, Ecobodaa, and Opibus. Most of these players have chosen a battery swapping model for their motorcycles. Chaji Energy wants to play a key role in the boba boda industry through the provision of charging infrastructure. It is setting up a facility capable of charging 1000 batteries at a time. Its facility will have capacity to charge at least 3000 motorcycle batteries per day.
“We’ll have a hub and spoke model. Bigger electric vans will take batteries to the hubs, and then last mile delivery electric bikes/tuktuks will deliver to the smaller swap stations (spokes) – hubs can just be larger swap stations serving smaller ones and we intend all our logistics network to be fully electric. The Nissan eNV200 is definitely one of our first bets but depending on how much we are able to raise we could bring in some bigger ones such as the Sprinter van like the one on our mock-ups. We have adopted a fluid model where depending on demand, we’ll use swap data from our online platform to determine demand per station.
“We have been in discussions with the different manufacturers and taken their specs. We are now refining our base design to suit the different specs. We “store” and distribute batteries. We then charge the end consumers (riders) for the energy they consume, with a small portion of that money going back to the manufacturers. The riders either lease, or buy one battery that they can then swap. Sort of like how you buy one gas cylinder and you can swap it with other cylinders from the same brand.”
To reduce operations costs even further, the 1000-battery charging station will be charged from solar PV. Depending on the type of facility and market segment, electricity tariffs in Kenya can be as high as USD 23 cents/kWh after factoring in all levies and taxes. The installation of a solar PV plant will go a long way in offsetting the electricity bill as depending on the size of the plant, the tariffs of grid-tied systems in Kenya under are closer to 9 cents/kWh. Kenya’s energy mix is already above 90% renewable. All those batteries will be charged with very clean electricity.
All images courtesy of Chaji Energy and Ficar Delivery