Three African countries are piloting the use of a 3 and 4 wheeled bikes powered by solar energy. Dubbed the Solar E Cycles, the bikes are fitted with solar panels that tap the sun’s energy and charge the batteries during the day. The energy stored in the batteries powers the vehicle for a distance of up to 50 kilometers a day, at a maximum speed of 35 kilometers per hour, before a recharge is needed. It can also carry 2 to 3 passengers and loads weighing between 50 to 100 kilograms.
According to Solar E Cycles Founder Roger Christen, a company in Morocco is using the solar powered vehicles in solid waste collection, and it requires 35,000 of them to cover the whole country. Another company in Madagascar plans to be using the Solar E-Cycles to collect garbage from homes, at a small fee. In Kenya, 100 of these tricycles are being built for use in street vending within the country’s capital Nairobi. Milk companies have also expressed interest in using these vehicles to sell milk.
To test its resilience and toughness, Solar E Cycles has conducted tests on the vehicles.
“We have tested our vehicles by doing a 619 kilometers successful road trip from Nairobi to Mombasa, to prove this new technology has capacity to revolutionize the way of life of ordinary Africans,” said Christen.
Though the Solar E Cycle vehicles rely primarily on solar energy, their batteries can also be recharged when the sun is less or lacking, by plugging it to an electric power source. When batteries run out of power, the vehicle has pedals that can used to cycle it like an ordinary bicycle. Potential buyers can get one Solar E Cycle at a cost of Ksh 200,000 (approx USD 2,000) or buy on credit but be paying Ksh 200 (USD2) daily for three years, in a pay as you go model. The solar panels used can last up to 10 years.
Christen saw the need for Solar E Cycles, 30 years ago, after visiting a rural village in Cameroon and learning from the chief that in dry season locals walked 14 kilometers to fetch water. But he had to wait for 30 years for the costs of solar panels to drop so they can build a solar vehicle for $1,000. In 2014 they began to work on prototypes of solar powered vehicles to be providing people with mobility and power for up to 10 years.
In Sub Saharan Africa an estimated 625 million people have no access to electricity and modern fuels according to a UNDP report. Solar E Cycles aims to empower these people by providing affordable fuel free transport and energy while also protecting the environment from greenhouse gases by utilizing solar power. Any extra power the Solar E Cycles have can be used to charge solar LED lights in rural regions that local children use to read.
Solar E Cycles aims to build 10 million vehicle cycles annually to meet the demand in Africa once they secure adequate financing. They are also working on a 2 seater sports car they estimate will reach a speed of 130 kilometers per hour dubbed Speed-O-Light.