Israeli Startup Provides Electricity to Remote Regions Around the Globe

By accepting mobile payments through cell phones, which are widely available even where the power grid does not reach, Nova Lumos can offer solar power to remote communities in Africa and Asia.

Roughly a fifth of the world’s population − around 1.5 billion people, mostly in Africa and Asia − has no access to electricity and uses candle or kerosene lanterns to light their homes. These alternatives are costly and often hazardous, and have prompted a young Israeli start-up to address the problem.

The company, Nova Lumos, uses a combination of solar energy and mobile payments and financing to provide electricity to far-flung communities. Despite the lack of electricity, modern communications technology has managed to reach even the most remote regions of the globe, with cell phone penetration estimated to have attained a rate of 80% in Africa. Nova Lumos has created what it calls a “home power station in a box” that includes a solar panel activated by text messaging that can supply sufficient electricity to charge a cell phone, operate a radio and, of course, illuminate one’s home.

Nova Lumos is carrying out a pilot program in Nigeria and Guinea and hopes to expand the system’s capabilities to enable Internet connections in homes in developing countries, among other things.

Expected to double in size

Nir Marom and Davidi Vortman established Nova Lumos last year and employ five staffers working in Beit Yehoshua near Netanya. The company is expected to double in size in the near future. Before Nova Lumos, Marom established clean-tech companies such as SunIsrael and GreenLet − and was consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s first employee in Israel. Vortman managed the instant messaging department at Comverse, and later worked for Nice Systems.

“We want to be the largest alternative electricity company in the world, and supply home systems producing clean electricity,” CEO Vortman says. “Our model allows consumers to pay for the electricity used, without purchasing the whole system in advance. This is a huge revolution.”

“Everybody wants to start using decentralized energy so that solar energy is exactly right for those places,” says Marom, the head of business development. Marom argues that due to the local populations’ low income, it’s hard for them to buy an entire system, which might cost up to their yearly salary.

“The first thing is to find a viable solution for the local population [that combines] compatibility of funding and easy implementation,” Marom says, so Nova Lumos developed daily and weekly payment models, costing as much as other lighting solutions − 50 cents a day, or $3 a week.

The payment is collected through the cellular phone companies that already serve most of the population. “The idea is to cooperate with cell phone companies that have already reached 80% [market] penetration and are searching for new challenges using the marketing platform they have already built,” Vortman says.

The company demands a down payment of $20 to $30 before initial use. This model allows customers to pay for the system over five years, until it is finally their property.

Bloomberg