With the sun through the city

The automotive group KMC from Uganda has developed East Africa’s first-ever solar-powered bus. Called the Kayoola, it can travel up to 80 kilometres thanks to its two batteries. The bus is expected to revolutionise urban transport and even create jobs. Anne Gonschorek reports from Cape Town.

Uganda’s fragile power grid poses a problem for electric mobility. The country’s first solar-powered bus could revolutionise local transport. (Image credit: Kiira Motors)

Uganda’s fragile power grid poses a problem for electric mobility. The country’s first solar-powered bus could revolutionise local transport. (Image credit: Kiira Motors)

Ugandan engineers have built a solar-powered bus. They say it’s the first of its kind in East Africa. “The bus is purely electric and our idea is to test the strength of solar energy in enabling people to move,” Paul Musasizi told Uganda’s Observer newspaper.

Revolutionise urban transport

Musaizi is the CEO of the state-funded Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC), which built the Kayoola. Given the potential for solar energy in Uganda, it made sense for automobile engineers to use this energy source. Due to its limited range, the Kayoola will mostly be used within cities – and it’s set to revolutionise urban public transport.

Musasizi’s company built the prototype of the bus with funds from the Ugandan government. But KMC is now hoping to also attract investors to start building buses for the mass market by 2018 at a retail price of USD 58,000. The Kayoola can transport up to 35 people. Conventional buses of the same size cost between USD 35,000 and USD 50,000, so the solar-powered Kayoola is hardly a bargain.

“As we continue with developing concepts, we are also studying the market,” said Doreen Orishaba, one of the project’s engineers in the project. “We want to see that we don’t make vehicles for stocking but for production on orders.”

Power grid is fragile

KMC has previously experimented with energy-efficient vehicles and was able to learn from its problems. Last year, for example, the company introduced the Kiira Smack, a petrol-electric hybrid that was supposed to come onto the market by 2018 with a USD 20,000 price tag. But experts doubted the car’s commercial viability. In a market that sells just 20,000 cars per year, they said that the price is simply too prohibitive for the majority of people.

Another problem is that the electricity needed to support widespread use of electric vehicles is not widely available across Uganda. The power grid is too fragile to cope with the increased demand for electricity brought on by electric vehicles.

Harvesting solar energy

KMC might have just found a solution to this problem with its solar-powered bus. “Uganda being one of the 13 countries positioned along the equator, gives us about eight hours of significant solar energy that can be harvested,” said Musasizi.

The Kayoola can travel up to 80 kilometres using the two batteries located inside the bus, and the batteries can be recharged with solar panels installed on the roof of the bus to give it an extra 12 kilometres range.

Musazisi is confident that his solar-powered bus represents the next generation of public transport in eastern and central African cities. “The electric bus offers a smoother and cleaner ride, experiencing less vibration and noise unlike the usual internal combustion diesel engines. The city will love this bus.”

Solar-powered bus to create jobs

KMC also hopes that the Kayoola could even create jobs – assuming it finds investors to bring the vehicle onto the market. Theoretically, more than 7,000 people could be involved directly and indirectly in producing the solar-powered bus by 2018.

But for this to happen, KMC needs the backing of the international companies that manufacture the various vehicle parts. KMC’s vision is that by 2039, it will be able to produce the Kayoola and all its parts 100 per cent in Uganda.

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