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Meet the face behind Africa’s first solar-powered bus

In February 2016, Uganda unveiled the first solar-powered bus in Africa. Evelyn Makena caught up with Richard Madanda Vice president product development Kiira Motors United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi and this is what he had to say.

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Excerpts:

Tell me more about this bus

‘Kayoola’ as we commonly refer to the bus is the first solar-powered bus in Africa. It’s a nine-metre executive 35-seat bus. The reason we came up with this bus is because Africa is endowed with a lot of sun; almost six hours of sun everyday.

We use sun for other purposes, but not for transport, so we decided to tap into this free resource. We also wanted to give a solution to the public transport crisis in Africa by offering a cheaper and cleaner alternative.  The bus will go a long way in promoting environmental conservation because it has zero emissions.

Who came up with the idea?

Makerere University is the brain- child behind the solar bus. The idea came up in 2012. We launched the bus prototype in February 2016. The government of Uganda funds the initiative and owns 96 per cent of the project, while Makerere University owns a four per cent stake.

Kiira Motors Corporation, which is government owned has been tasked with implementing this project. The bus has already been tested on the road and the results are impressive. We are planning to go commercial in 2018 for not only the bus but also other kinds of vehicles.

In 2018 we will have mass production of sedans, suvs, trucks and buses with conventional engines while kayoola bus will be produced on order.  We have already identified a site for  production in Jinja, Uganda. Currently, we are conducting environmental impact and topographical assessments. We are waiting for the site master plan before we begin construction of the assembling plant.

Do you see a future where we  will shift  to solar cars?

With time, the world is likely to shift to vehicles that are powered by green energy because fuel is a non renewable resource. It will run out one day. We are not the only ones to make sure that happens; at some point the conditions will force us to make the shift. Kayoola has attracted a lot of attention both locally and internationally with investors interested in being part of the project and others willing to emulate this great example.

What are some of the special features of the bus that are not found in other vehicles?

The bus relies on two batteries with a total of 384 voltage whose lifespan is up to 10 years. It’s fitted with solar panels on the roof, which tap into the sun energy and store it in batteries.  It can go a distance of 80km when the batteries are fully charged and the solar keeps recharging the batteries. The highest speed the car can cover is 100 km/hr.  In the place of an engine the bus has a motor and an inverter. On the days when there is no solar due to weather changes the batteries are charged using electricity.

What  impact has the solar bus had in Uganda and East Africa in general?

At the moment Kiira Motors has employed 35 permanent staff and over 100 non-permanent artisans who were directly involved in assembling the solar bus. Once the mass production is rolled out in 2018, over 2,000 jobs will be created. Uganda will also benefit from this project through creation of vital infrastructure such as power plants, roads and fibre optics. We view Kayoola bus as a step that will encourage more countries in East Africa and beyond to adopt environment-friendly technologies in transport.

The Article is an extract published on People Daily

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