Ivory Coast: Hi-tech, cheap – and quiet. The Ivorian resort of Jacqueville, just outside the city of Abidjan, is betting on solar-powered three-wheelers as it looks to replace traditional but noisy and dirty bush taxis. “It’s cheaper and relaxing!” said local trader Sandrine Tetelo, of the Chinese-made Saloni or Antara tricycles, which could eventually spell the end for old-school “woro-woro” four-wheelers, as Jacqueville looks to make itself Ivory Coast’s premier eco-city.
The minicars, 2.7 meters long and 2 meters high, are covered in solar panels, each fitted out with six 12-volt batteries, giving the vehicles a range of 140 kilometers.Returning from a visit to China, the solar cars’ promoter Marc Togbe pitched his plan to Mayor Joachim Beugre, who was immediately sold.
“We are used to seeing [typically old and beaten up] bush taxis pollute the atmosphere and the environment. We said to ourselves, ‘If we could only replace them [with] solar trikes,’” Beugre said.
“The adventure started in January with two little cars,” added Togbe, who has created a partnership with local businessman Balla Konate.
“I went to China with a friend,” Konate said, “and afterward I sent four youngsters to Lome for training with a friend who had spoken to me about the project.”
He wants to extend operations to Odienne and Korhogo, towns in the north, the country’s sunniest region.
“Today, a dozen cars are up and running. We are right in the test phase. More and more people are asking for them,” Beugre said, seeing a chance to kill several birds with one solar stone.
Long-isolated, his town, nestled between a lagoon and the sea, has flourished in terms of real estate and tourism since the 2015 inauguration of a bridge linking Jacqueville to the mainland and cutting transit time to Abidjan to less than an hour.
For the start of the school year in October, Jacqueville plans to bring on stream a 22-seater “solar coach” designed to help deal with “the thorny issue of pupils’ transport.”
Many schoolchildren typically have to travel tens of kilometers from their home village to urban schools.
So far, the trikes have also provided work for around 20 people, including drivers and mechanics.
“We’re on the go from 6 in the morning and finish around 10 or even midnight, weekends too,” said Philippe Aka Koffi, a 24-year-old who has been working as a driver for five months.
“It’s pleasant for doing your shopping more quickly,” an impressed passenger, Aholia Guy Landry, said after riding in a vehicle that can carry four people, driver included.
A big plus is the 100 CFA francs ($0.18) price of a trip – half a typical downtown woro-woro fare – helping attract from 500 to 1,000 people a day, according to the town hall and promoter.
A switch to solar and durables may appear paradoxical in Jacqueville, however, as the area produces the lion’s share of the country’s gas and oil.
The wells outside the town produce 6.65 million cubic meters of gas a day, while several foreign firms run pipelines taking oil and gas across the town to feed the refineries at Abidjan.
But the municipality – total budget 140 million CFA francs – sees none of the profits, an issue that has drawn public ire in the past.
The 50 million CFA franks trike project is just one piece in a much larger jigsaw that includes the construction of a new eco-city on a 240-hectare site among coconut trees.
“It will not be a city for the rich,” Beugre insisted, showing off a blueprint replete with cycle paths and a university. “All social strata who respect the environment will be able to live there,” he added.
Yet at national level, such plans are conspicuous by their absence.
Ivory Coast, West African leader in electricity production – 75 percent of which comes from thermal energy and the remainder from hydroelectric dams – is targeting an 11 percent share of national consumption for renewables by 2020.
Even though by September the country had burned through barely 1 single megawatt of solar energy for this year, Beugre is undaunted.
“Our ecological project will go all the way” and “stand up to the power of oil and gas,” the cowboy-hatted local politician said. “In years to come, we want to ensure that these solar-power machines become the main means of travel in the area.”