Providing Affordable Electricity to Africa’s Poor


SEATTLE — Providing affordable electricity to Africa’s poor is critical to the development, economic growth and prosperity of the continent and its people. A solution to the energy crisis is mobile-enabled solar home systems or grids in partnership with mobile operators to provide pay-as-you-go solar electricity service.

The Sustainable Energy for All Initiative set a goal to provide electricity to everyone by 2030. Current projections indicate this goal will not be reached. In fact, by 2030 half a billion people will still have no electricity.

In areas without electricity, hospitals must operate without light and power for life-saving equipment. Businesses cannot function or grow without access to affordable and reliable electricity. Teachers must educate children in the dark, and once children go home, they must do their homework in the dark, too.

In 2013, the Mobile for Development Utilities Programme awarded Nova Lumos (Lumos) a seed grant to develop a mobile-enabled energy service. Lumos partnered with MTN Nigeria to form MTN Mobile Electricity offering pay-as-you-go (PAYG) energy-as-a-service or lease-to-own through solar home systems (SHS). Lumos proved that providing affordable electricity to Africa’s poor can be done using a mobile-enabled energy service. It is less expensive than the petrol generators used in many homes. Furthermore, it is a successful alternative to less reliable and less safe forms of energy.

At an event announcing the PAYG mobile-enabled solar energy service, the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria William Symington said “this very simple solution in a clinic means the difference between life and death, in the home it means the difference between learning and literally having the lamp of learning go out for the night and in a store, it means the difference between being able to pay your bills the next day, or having to do something else.”

Customers receive power via a single solar panel and a small yellow box. The process is simple: First, they ensure that their mobile phone has a large enough airtime balance to pay for the service package they want. Customers then send an SMS indicating the service package (3, 7, or 30 days) to a dedicated number. Once their request is received, the airtime is deducted from their account and the provider (Lumos) is notified of the payment. The provider sends a command to the customer’s SHS to credit and unlock it. The SIM card in the SHS receives the command and turns on, providing affordable electricity to Africa’s poor.

Customers can choose either the lease-to-own or the energy-as-a-service model from the PAYG provider. In the lease-to-own model, the customer eventually becomes the owner of the SHS.

Providing affordable electricity to Africa’s poor has been made easier with the use of PAYG mobile-enabled solar energy sources. The success of this mobile-enabled energy service is helping to bring electricity to other remote and off-grid areas including sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr


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