Solar Home Systems Proliferate in Kenya Thanks to Mobile Telecom
Until recently, a major obstacle to rural electrification has been collecting payments and having the ability to deactivate power to customers who do not pay on time. But an economically viable solution to rural electrification in Africa has finally emerged with the development of extensive mobile telecommunications networks and mobile money payment services.
According to an article by the BBC, a Kenya based company called M-Kopa Solar is successfully taking advantage of the development in mobile telecom. M-Kopa sells small scale solar home systems for operating lights, radios, and mobile phone chargers. Customers make regular payments through mobile money service M-Pesa, and own the devices after one year. If customers fall behind on their payments, built-in SIM cards allow M-Kopa to deactivate their systems. According to the BBC article, M-Kopa signs up an impressive 1,000 new households every week.
Mobile phone penetration in rural Africa is already high and continues to soar.
We’re excited about the activity at M-Kopa because it is inline with our core mission to bring energy access to everyone in the world, but we’re taking a different approach in East Africa based on our understanding of the market. Although 4 and 5 watt solar home systems are great for applications such as basic lighting and mobile device charging, we’re betting that people will benefit most if they have access to enough electricity to supply larger, more productive loads, and have the flexibility to use multiple devices simultaneously. An additional benefit of our microgrids is that they can easily accommodate increasing household energy demand over the long term.
Mobile phone penetration in rural Africa is already high and continues to soar, meaning that tens of millions of mobile phone subscribers can readily be served by off-grid energy solutions. Companies like Powerhive and M-Kopa have already begun to tap this enormous market.