Rwanda’s energy startup, Ampersand, has raised $3.5 million from Ecosystem Integrity Fund (EIF) to expand its operations beyond Rwanda. The startup assembles electric motorcycles that riders use in place of petrol-fueled ones for their daily hustle.
Since it launched in 2019, Ampersand has grown a fleet of 35 drivers and e-motorcycles (cycles) and has 7,000 currently on its waiting list. The riders prefer the electric cycles because of the increased efficiency and reduced cost of operation. In Rwanda, it costs an average of $11 to fuel the petrol-powered motorcycles daily while the riders make a net revenue of about $1.60 at the end of the workday.
With the electric cycles, instead of buying petrol to fuel the motorbike, the battery is swapped at any of Ampersand’s battery swapping centres in the country. With the batteries, the motorbikes are more equipped to go longer distances at less cost than their petrol-fueled counterparts. Because they do not produce CO2 emissions, electric bikes do not have negative impacts on the climate.
Two of the factors aiding Ampersand’s quick growth are the Rwandan government’s stance on switching motorbikes in the country to electric ones and the quick growth of the country’s electricity grid system. The waiting list for the company’s bikes grew to 7,000 after the government announced the impending transition in August 2020.
The market for Ampersand’s product is a ready one, with the government pushing for as many electric bikes as possible within the year. The energy and mobility startup also plans to expand to other East African countries including Uganda and Kenya. While there is the possibility of reaching other parts of Africa, its CEO, Josh Whale, says there is enough opportunity in East Africa alone.
“If you add up the amount that’s spent on fuel, motorbikes servicing, and financing at the moment for the existing industry [in East Africa], that’s a $14 billion a year industry,”Josh Whale
Electric vehicles are closer to being the more popular option than they were some 10 years back. Companies working on electric vehicles include Tesla, Faraday Future, Apple, Nikola, Uber, Volkswagen and Nigeria’s Stallion Group Automobile.
The poor state of electricity supply in many African countries, including Nigeria, as well as other challenges battling the continent, suggest that electric vehicles may take some more years before becoming popular in Africa. However, strides made by Ampersand and the recent investment show that the development of electric vehicles in Africa may happen at a close-to-similar pace as on other continents.
Remarking about the investment, Josh Whale said, “we now have the momentum to scale our operations to electrify all of East Africa’s five million taxi motorcycles by 2030. EIF’s support further dispels the myth that electric transport will happen in rich nations first and trickle down to developing countries later, second-hand.”
With more funding and government-driven adoption, the development of electric motorbikes and vehicles, in general, can happen at a faster rate in many African countries.
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