NAIROBI – The United Nations Environment Program on Monday marked the official end of toxic leaded gasoline use in vehicles worldwide. A company in Nairobi, where the UNEP is headquartered, is working on the next step — converting all buses and utility vehicles to electric power by 2030.
Lucy Mugala goes about checking on the energy levels of battery modules lined neatly on a workshop table. Mugala is an engineer at Opibus, a privately owned four-year-old Nairobi company that converts cars and public transport vehicles to run on electricity.
Today, Mugala and fellow engineer Esther Wairimu are fine-tuning plans to outfit a public transport bus with lithium batteries. Mugala said converting this bus reduces the effects of greenhouse emissions responsible for global warming.
“A lot has been done currently in terms of mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases in Kenya, but very little is being done in the electrical vehicle sector, and that is the gap we are trying to fill at Opibus. We are looking at maximizing impact by targeting the largest sector, which is the public transport sector, and with this, we will be able to step by step be able to achieve a low carbon economy in Kenya and in Africa at large,” said Mugala.
Douglas Agwata has been in the public transport industry for 15 years. On average, Agwata spends around $80 on fuel daily, a cost he’d like to see come down.
However, Agwata said that drivers like him may find it challenging to adapt to electric vehicles.
He said that converting the engines from gasoline to electric is quite costly and that one may also find that there is a scarcity of charging stations, and this may prove to be quite challenging.
Joshua Anampiu is the strategy and planning manager at the National Environment Trust Fund, or NETFUND, a state corporation that raises funds for sustainable environmental management in Kenya.
Anampiu said shifting toward clean energy requires investment from the government, but he argues that the investment will be worth it.
“No matter how costly it looks right now, we know in the long run it will be more effective towards preserving our environment, which is an existential threat right now if we do not take care of our environment. So, yes, there are areas we need to put up infrastructure. We need to change the entire mechanisms of the infrastructure, and this obviously is costly. And so, going forward, maybe invest now, put in a bit more cash, and then we’ll reap the benefits in the future,” he said.
The global end of leaded gasoline use has been lauded as a milestone by the United Nations Environment Program.
Jane Akumu is a program manager at UNEP. Akumu adds that a lot more needs to be done to ensure efficacy in abolishing the use of leaded gasoline.
“You know, we need a lot of awareness for people to be able to know why it’s important to have cleaner fuels or cleaner vehicles. Policymakers need to also come in, and especially … standards bodies. It’s important for them to set regulations in place because the industry is pushed by regulation. What we’ve noticed is that in some of the countries where there’s no regulation, poor fuel quality, poor vehicle qualities, are imported,” said Akumu.
For Mugala and other clean energy champions, the challenge will be to reduce the costs of going electric and encourage consumers to go green.