Zembo launches the first African intercity e-corridor for electric motorcycles

Zembo has launched the first intercity e-corridor for e-motorcycles in Africa. By installing charging stations along the 120km Kampala-Masaka highway in Uganda, this one-of-a-kind project will help to prove that solar-powered e-mobility is a viable, climate-smart alternative to petrol-powered motorcycles, and will demonstrate the vast potential for expanding in off-grid Africa.

Zembo is a start-up company that provides sustainable e-mobility solutions for Africa. With the financial support of PREO and GIZ, the company has built a pioneering e-mobility corridor between the capital Kampala and the next large provincial town of Masaka – the first route for e-vehicles outside the capital. The PREO grant fund has enabled Zembo to operationalise the e-corridor by recruiting drivers, training them and financing the sale of e-bikes in the catchment area of the corridor.

In Uganda there are more than 700,000 motorcycle-taxis, commonly known as boda boda, most of which run on petrol. It is estimated that 5% of the Ugandan population relies on this business as a main source of revenue.

Zembo makes electric motorcycles, and its rent-to-own model enables low-income boda boda drivers to own their electric bike after two years. Data shows that a Zembo electric motorcycle increases profitability for boda boda riders by 60% compared with petrol motorcycle after the two-year lease period. The electric motorcycles also reduce CO2 emissions by up to 97% as well as cutting noise pollution.

Zembo’s battery swap service also makes it possible for drivers to exchange a discharged battery with a recharged one in their network of solar-hybrid charging stations in Kampala. The company operates 27 charging stations in Kampala and has more than 250 electric motorcycles on the road, transporting 800 passengers per day and seeing 10,000 battery swaps a month.

While Zembo’s stations in Kampala meet most of the needs of urban boda boda drivers, the lack of charging stations in peri-urban and rural areas has limited their working area. The new intercity corridor, made up of three solar-powered and one solar-grid hybrid charging station at intervals of 30 kilometres, will enable electric motorcycle drivers to extend their service and increase their daily income.

“This location was chosen after surveying our drivers, many of whom have village homes in Masaka area (and in towns such as Mpigi),” explains Titus Kimbowa, Director at Zembo. “It represents a good economic opportunity for them, offering the possibility to service long-haul trips to higher-paying customers.”

The new infrastructure especially impacts low-income boda boda drivers whose daily revenue is typically €5. By going from Kampala to Masaka (120km) on an electric bike, a driver will save around 3€ of petrol and 276 kg of CO2 per trip.

Following the opening of this new route, Zembo, with funding from PREO, plans to increase their fleet by six e-motorcycles per off-grid station serving the villages in the surrounding areas. This will also create 20 new battery swapper and technician jobs.

Zembo’s strategy is to position itself as a leading battery swap operator in the country. The company plans to create a nation-wide network of recharge stations, including across off-grid areas where it is challenging for drivers to find affordable fuel and even more challenging to find electricity. Solar has the advantage of being available everywhere in Uganda, making it possible to implement recharge stations anywhere. Building and operating these first off-grid stations will be key to prove that the economic operation is possible and scalable to other intercity routes beyond Uganda.

We’ve already proved that our business model is profitable in urban on-grid areas. Now, this PREO-co-funded project will give us the opportunity to prove that our solar-powered solution is viable and replicable in off-grid areas as well. We’ll then be in a strong position to unlock private investments to expand to other African countries.

Titus Kimbowa, Director at Zembo

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