As a child, Ugandan Paul Isaac Musasizi always had busy hands. He regularly pulled apart the family television, and used motors from old cassette players to make toy cars.
Now, in his mid-thirties, he’s the CEO of technology company Kiira Motors Corporation and the brains behind Africa’s first solar-powered electric bus which makes its debut on February 16.
“In Uganda, we have non-stop sun,” he says. “No other countries manufacturing vehicles are on the equator like Uganda. We should celebrate that, and make a business out of it.”
The 35-seater bus, known as the “Kayoola”, can travel up to 50 miles straight and is powered by two batteries. One is connected to solar panels on the roof, while the other is charged electrically for longer distances and journeys at night.
Musasizi says it takes just one hour to fully charge each battery, making the vehicle suitable for “all sorts of duties in the cities”, such as school buses or longer-haul journeys across borders.
Kiira Motors recently made a prototype of the bus, and ran a test drive near the national stadium in Kampala. The Kayoola debut is big news for the country, whose President Yoweri Museveni will attend the launch.
“I’m really humbled by the response to the bus so far, not only in Uganda but internationally,” said Musasizi. “By launching the bus, we are saying Uganda now has the potential to add value in the world, especially within electric technology.”
Using the sun to power a nation
The bus is just the beginning of a bigger ambition Musasizi has to kickstart Uganda’s solar-powered automobile industry. His vision includes every gas station in Uganda having solar pumps to charge vehicles instead of fuel.
This month, Morocco switched on what will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant. It has the potential to power over one million homes by 2018. Musasizi says Uganda should follow suit by developing solar farms to provide power for vehicles and other everyday applications.
“This is the time for us to be prospecting how solar farms are used past just lighting,” he adds. “We need to explore this for vehicles — because without proper transport technology, we cannot have a good economy.”
The Kayoola solar bus prototype costs $140,000 to produce, but it would come with a significantly lower price tag of $45,000 if mass-produced.
Kiira Motors, fully-owned by the government, gets funding from a scheme known as the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology. Musasizi said he hopes to attract investors interested in green energy for funding and future staff training.
“As an entrepreneur, I would like to break into the business community and get investment,” he says. “But of course, for a project of this nature, the government needs to come in heavily so it can showcase that this is a viable investment.”
Musasizi currently employs 32 people, but hopes to have 200 employees by 2021. The initial plans are to produce 50 buses a year, eventually supplying pick-up trucks, sedans, light and medium duty trucks and buses to East Africa and beyond.
“Our passion for automobiles will help us develop solar motor technology,” he adds. “I’m hoping that as we go by, we’ll become known as the innovation hub for solar transportation technology in the world.”