Nigeria-based Lumos Global has officially launched a new, nationwide solar electricity service for Cote d’Ivoire, in partnership with mobile operator MTN Cote d’Ivoire. The Lumos Mobile Electricity Service aims to bring power to people who do not currently have access to an affordable, reliable or clean energy supply. The service is paid for using mobile phone credit and is available to all of the approximately 10.5 million MTN Cote d’Ivoire subscribers.
Minister for Economic Infrastructure Amede Koffi Kouakou, Lumos and MTN Cote d’Ivoire announced that the service will now be available in MTN stores across the country. The Lumos service has been available in neighboring Nigeria since 2016 and has experienced rapid growth; over 65,000 systems have been sold, providing 250,000 people with electricity. The service is enabling thousands of children to study into the evening, and it powers clinics and community centers across Nigeria.
Lumos’ solar energy product is aimed at providing electricity to people who live “off the grid” of conventional electricity suppliers. In rural Africa, large proportions of the population live off the grid, in remote areas, so initiatives like Lumos’ will be welcome, and solar energy in particular is appropriate to the climate.
Partnering with a mobile operator is an innovative and interesting approach for Lumos. It is not strictly speaking necessary in order for the service to be established, but it seems to us like an excellent synergy. In sub-Saharan Africa, making payments for a wide variety of goods and services via mobile money services linked to MNOs has become a way of life for many, especially in the rural areas. In this partnership agreement, solar-generated electricity will be paid for by MTN subscribers directly through their mobile credit with the operator, not through a broader mobile-money service such as M-Pesa.
For MTN (whose parent company is based in South Africa), the deal is a promising branding opportunity that associates the operator with a social good in Cote d’Ivoire and will likely create positive perceptions. Beyond that, though, it could have positive effects on the operator’s subscriber base. Consider that lack of electrical power in a region could have a very adverse effect on mobile subscriptions—without the ability to easily charge devices, people may not believe it worth their while or even possible to have a subscription. And since in order to pay for electricity in the underserved regions, an MTN account is necessary, the initiative stands to significantly boost uptake for the operator.
For now, at least, the deal is an exclusive for MTN. But since that limits access to the service, it seems that it would be in the interest of Lumos to expand the arrangement to include subscribers of other operators, in particular Orange, the country’s other major MNO. But at least for now, the initiative represents an important opportunity for MTN.