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Clean Solar energy, brings light to Kenya’s villages

Marianne de Nazareth

Head quartered in Nairobi,  M-KOPA Solar has connected over 375,000 low-income homes  to affordable , safe and clean energy in Africa – with 550 new homes being added every day making them the world’s leading ‘pay-as-you-go’ energy provider to off grid homes

Rural Africa is very similar to India. Most villages have no electricity and women and girls are at risk going out in the pitch dark at night to relieve themselves in the fields. This is where solar energy which is clean and renewable is stepping in to bring light in the darkness.

It was several years ago when UNEP, Nairobi, took us selected journalists from around the world to have a look at the living conditions of women and children and how they cope with fresh water issues in a little village outside Mombasa.  The village looked so similar to our villages in India, where women and children walk long distances carrying pots of water from a nearby tank and there is no electricity in the entire village.  Over the years solar energy is bringing light into the lives of these villages, lighting up the lives of the poor.

So it is heart-warming to write about  M-KOPA, a firm in Nairobi, Kenya,  which apparently is the world’s leading ‘pay-as-you-go’ energy provider to off grid homes, like these village homes. They have developed a smart way to provide affordable, safe and clean energy to millions of people who are off the grid and too poor to afford expensive connections.

Using the free rays of the sun combined with mobile technology,  customers can light up their homes, charge their phones and tune into radio and TV. They can do all this at the flick of a switch and for less than they  spend on kerosene, which is foul smelling and a health hazard.

 

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Lucas Ochieng, an M-KOPA Solar customer from Kisumu says, “The look on my children’s face on watching TV at home is priceless. They can finally relate with what they see in their books at school.”

” Every night, hundreds of thousands of homes and over a million people in East Africa are using an M-KOPA Solar home system.  M-KOPA gives you a lot more light, for less, with our affordable annual payment plan. All you need is a deposit of $30 followed by 365 daily payments of 50 cents, which is paid conveniently by mobile money, ” explains Nikhil Nair of M-KOPA Solar.

Each battery-powered 8W system comes with three lights, mobile phone-charging and a solar powered radio. Customers can now also opt for a 20W system with digital TV.  Over a period of time the entire system can be owned by the home owner.  After completing the initial one year payment plan, customers can also get more cost effective financing for a range of productive assets. These include more lights, solar TVs, energy-efficient cooking stoves, internet-enabled smartphones, and water storage tanks.

An M-KOPA Solar customer in Kisumu (Featured image), Jackson Onyango says,

Am happy to share a meal with my family. We get to catch up on our day’s activities after dark, without worrying about the lights going off

Coming from India one can see a huge opportunity to electrify our villages and give our poor a better standard of living. The company is interested in supporting only the poor who subsist on under 2$ a day and not the urban rich.  Interestingly on 11 July 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi  met with  M-KOPA Solar team to discuss the impact of  ‘pay-as-you-go’ solar to millions of low-income off grid homes in Africa. Hopefully his visit will bring back this technology to rural India.

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The reach of M-KOPA Solar

M-KOPA has been build around the money platform. According to the company, 40% of Kenya’s GDP flows through mobile money.  It is as simple as topping up your mobile phone or your Tata Sky connection. As mobile wallets start to take off, especially due to the new RBI regulation around payment banks, the company hopes to see a new business models like M-KOPA emerge out of India.

Mobile money gives customers  the ability to purchase energy  according to their cash flow.  This is where the role of mobile money, helps in accelerating access to transformational energy, products and services – particularly in low-income homes. The Impact of clean, affordable solar energy that helps wean them off the  use of kerosene for low-income homes, as a healthy and clean alternative for the family. So what is the significance of the ‘pay-as-you-go’ model ? It helps  in driving digital, social and financial inclusion. What makes the whole venture inspiring is that 85% of M-KOPA households have a per capita income of less than US$2 per day.

With the implementation of the unified payments interface (UPI), mobile money is set to change the face of financial services in India. The experience in Kenya, the home of M-PESA, is that mobile money also provides a platform for a range of products and services – particularly to low-income citizens who subsist below 2$ a day.

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Head quartered in Nairobi,  M-KOPA Solar has connected over 375,000 low-income homes  to affordable , safe and clean energy in Africa – with 550 new homes being added every day .” We have become the world’s leading ‘pay-as-you-go’ energy provider to off grid homes,” says Nair.

The company’s scalable ‘pay-as-you-go’ platform and mobile technology has enabled customer’s light up their homes, charge their phones and tune into radio and TV.  Why can’t we think of this for our villages in India? The joy of a family whose existence can be changed with clean energy, should be the challenge taken seriously in our country, India.

Photo credits: M-KOPA Solar/ Allan Gigcihi