In Kenya the cell phone is being used to transform the way that people consume energy. M-KOPA Solar – the word 'kopa' is Swahili for 'borrowed' – is a Nairobi-based business that has pioneered the idea of "pay-as-you-go" solar energy in Africa.
The idea behind the business is based on harnessing the broad use of mobile payments in Africa. The industry there is already vast: Nigeria based mobile payments company Paga has more than 2.4 million customers, to give one example.
After paying a deposit of around $35, M-KOPA users are given a solar system to install at their homes. Using a mobile payment system on their cell – which can be anything from a top of the range smartphone to an older, less sophisticated model – they then top it up every day to the tune of around 45 cents in order to get energy.
According to M-KOPA, GSM sensors are placed inside the solar systems to monitor and regulate usage based upon payments. After 12 months of regular payments, users acquire full ownership of the solar system and have access to free solar energy.
"Once they own it then the energy is free. Our business… basically offers them upgrades for more power," Jesse Moore, co-founder and Managing Director of M-KOPA Solar told CNBC.com in a phone interview.