George Kwado Appiah, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SolarTaxi, is upbeat about the possibilities for electric vehicles in Africa. He thinks electric cars and motorbikes can be a major step towards the resolution of the effects of climate change. And that they can become the most innovative transportation alternative available in the future.
His optimism is hinged on Africa’s abundant renewable energy sources, where he anticipates an emerging demand, as the need for green solutions looms on the continent’s horizon. “The innovation,” he says, “will make the automotive industry more competitive in the future.”
Despite being referred to as a “Sun Continent”, Africa is still an insignificant participant in the global solar market. But with the dawning of the global age of solar energy, Africa may be gearing up to be at the center of solar commerce. Solar Taxi is one such initiative that aims to explore green technologies in the automobile industry.
Africa’s (taxi) transportation sector has often been highlighted as one of the main sources of pollutant emissions and energy consumption in many discussions about environmental issues and policies. In the scrutinization of the “greenness” of cars today are issues of concern from raw material use to production processes all through to end-of-life of vehicles.
As the automotive industry continues to develop and refine its range of products and specifications to meet the ever-changing requirements of global markets, both fuel economy and green credentials are now key buying considerations for many consumers.
The need to develop and refine a range of raw materials and specifications to meet global requirements in reducing CO₂ car emissions and be eco-friendly in their whole business cycle is a fledgling challenge for automakers.
In abiding by its founding mission to “ensure a clean and sustainable environment using renewable energy,” Solar Taxi has rolled out a fleet of locally assembled solar-powered electric passenger tricycles, cargo tricycles, and motor tricycles, all of whose parts were imported into the country.
In December 2020, the first batch of Solar Taxi’s 10 Cherry Tiggo 3xe 480 EV SUVs arrived in Ghana. The next batch of 30 vehicles is due to arrive soon, and Solar Taxi says it hopes to have brought in at least 90 EVs before the end of 2021.
Some of the solar-powered cars are already available for purchase to the general public. Patrons of the taxi service can order rides with the Solar Taxi App, which has been developed to make the service convenient. The company is currently negotiating leasing its services for its EV cars at affordable rates for as low as GHS 800 ($137) per month for the hatchback, GHS 900 ($153) per month for the sedan, and GHS 1,000 (180) per month for the SUV.
In a statement, Solar Taxi notes that: ” Our electric vehicles have the potential to mitigate climate change and provide affordable transportation. We are trying to make a major statement in the transportation industry, where there is already a huge concentration of fuel cars. We are also much concerned about climate change and with that, we want to try and help the environment by introducing cars that are efficient in terms of servicing, cost of fuel, and all that”.
The startup company, launched in 2018 in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation also has access to stations where the vehicles can be charged using the conventional electricity from the national grid: “We have engaged with the consumer power unit of the electricity company of Ghana, on the possibility of charging all our units across the country,” Solar Taxi Chief Executive George Appiah explained.
With a population of 27.4m people growing at a rate of 2.3% per year, the provision of reliable electricity has become the main focus for Ghana. Ghana’s current power shortage is both a result of and a key constraint to economic growth. However, even with the augmented generation, much of the country still suffers from rolling blackouts, referred to locally as dumsor-, which literally translates to “off/on”.
Regardless of this challenge, Solar Taxi forges ahead in its mission, not just to explore emerging green technologies, which will further stimulate interests in renewable energy, but also to create employment opportunities for young people, while also protecting the environment. On the back of the increased awareness on renewable energy and a growing need for clean transportation, Solar Taxi has also initiated a platform through which encourages gender diversity in the engineering sector.
With a dozen female engineers, it has kickstarted a ‘female training academy,’ the purpose of which is to attract enough women into engineering and contribute to a national skills shortage. The female engineering hub’ at Solar Taxi assembles its solar bikes and cars, thus signifying excellent progress not just in the campaign to encourage more females into engineering. They will be training young women and providing them the opportunity to learn practical and life-long skills, while also building a network of like-minded individuals pursuing social change through innovation.
Catherine Ama Wilson is one of the female engineers helping to crack global and local challenges at Solar Taxi. She worked through all the sections at Solar Taxi from the engineering department: the chassis section, the electrical section, the accessories section and the cover installation section.
“It was my first time working on automobiles. I think it was my eagerness to learn that got me into Solar Taxi. I learned so fast that in less than a month I could assemble a whole electric motorbike on my own,” she enthused while adding that “I’m still learning and it’s one of the things I like about Solar Taxi. They challenge you to do things you never thought that you could.”