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Solar-Powered Motorbikes Revitalize Transportation In Rural Kenya

Renewable energy not only is a sustainable solution for the environment, but it’s the only way for many people to get electricity in rural areas. To solve this problem, three students from Kenya have created a motorcycle, the Ecotran, that is able to run on solar power with a replaceable battery feature. These bikes give residents the ability to travel cheaply and sustainably without having to use their otherwise limited energy to fuel them.

Ecotran was first unveiled two years ago by Robert Achoge, James Ogola, and Charles Ogingo. All three are students that have now graduated from the University of Nairobi. These solar-powered motorcycles were created as an alternative to the more frequent taxi bikes than run on fossil fuels. These taxis have been a booming industry in Kenya since 2005, and unfortunately, many of them are older bikes that emit a lot of carbon dioxide.

Why go solar? Electricity is severely limited in rural parts of Western Kenya. Much of the area is not connected to a power grid, and even those that are deal with frequent blackouts. This solar alternative paves a different way to charge up motorcycles and avoiding any more pressure on the vulnerable grid. It would also vastly eliminate carbon emissions.

Since leaving college, the group of students have created a company for their project called Pfoofy Solar. Robert Achoge tells Reuters that they received “$100,000 by the United States African Development Fund and Power Africa for the ingenious innovation.” They’ve put it to use on upgrading the project. All of their supply is leased out to the public, which is common in Kenya.

At full capacity, each battery contains a range of about 43 miles. These batteries can be swapped and recharged at a fueling station set up by the former students, which makes them convenient for relatively long distances. According to Reuters, this station features “40 solar photovoltaic units, each generating 250 watts of electricity.” There are no details on how quickly these batteries can be charged, but the infrastructure itself has certainly grown since the initial release. The project now has 40 motorcycles, that have been imported from China, compared to just three bikes at the start of the project.

Naturally, there are some hiccups with the new bikes. Having to travel longer distances would be a burden, if not impossible, with the relatively limited range. On a practical level, the bike struggles to make its way up hilly areas with a weaker acceleration system. However, the benefits when compared to traditional taxi bikes are irrefutable. 

As we’ve seen in other countries, highly populated areas with smog can be deadly. Just spending 30 minutes outside exercising in Allahabad, India, would be dangerous when inhaling carbon dioxide emissions. There’s similar issues in Kenya and all over Africa as it kills around 776,000 people annually. Ecotran may be a small start, but a great invention like this will only improve through technology and additional ideas implemented into it.

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