This solar-powered TV brings global news to rural Africa

Story highlights

  • A solar power provider in Kenya has launched a TV suitable for low-energy use
  • People who live off-grid in rural areas can buy the set on a monthly payment plan
  • This could change the lives of the 70% of Kenyans who currently do not have a TV

(CNN)In rural Kenya, people walk for miles in the blistering sun after work just to watch television in the nearest town.

At 7pm, in the village restaurants, the music turns off, and the news turns on.
    In this nation of 45 million people -- where many live without electricity -- only 30% of Kenyans have their own television.
    Now a start-up has developed a 16-inch TV which runs on the sun's rays, bringing communication to the masses.
    "There are some 5 million homes in Kenya that don't have electricity," says Jesse Moore, founder of M-KOPA Solar.
    "And the product most people living off-the-grid want to get is a television."

    Staying current

    This couple from Kisumu, Kenya, were among the first to buy M-KOPA's solar TV kit.
    The M-KOPA Solar TV connects to Kenya's digital television network of about 30 free channels, screening soap operas, premier league football games and marathons.
    But culturally Kenyans are very engaged in politics and business, and it is news broadcasts that attracts the most viewers, Moore says.
    "If you travel around Kenya, you see people veraciously reading the newspapers ... People want to consume information about their society and about their government."
    M-KOPA has sold around 5,000 sets since the launch in February, and Moore says they are struggling to keep up with the growing demand.
    "It's feeling of, 'Hey, I can live in a rural area, but I'm not cut off'."

    How it works

    The new kit adds a 16" TV to the original package.
    The Solar TV is an extension of a more basic solar panel kit to power lights, radios and mobile phones, which the company has sold to 340,000 households in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
    Now it can also power a TV.
    Users simply fix the solar panel to a sunny area outside their home and connect it to their television via a power cord.

    Power on loan

    M stands for "mobile" and KOPA is Swahili for "to borrow" -- the business is tailored to people in less affluent areas who are unable to buy solar panels, or a TV, up front.
    "Most of our customers live at, or below, $2 per day per capita," says Moore.
    Using a mobile payment system provided by partner company, Safaricom, customers pay between 50 cents and $1.25 a day over 1 to 2 years, depending on their payment plan.
    The TV and solar panel cost $500 in total -- once that is paid, the kit is no longer on loan, and all power is free for as long as the sun shines.

    Mobile payment paved the way

    Moore, a former aid worker from Canada, says mobile payment systems like M-PESA are crucial to business in Africa.
    "It allows everybody in this country to move money seamlessly through their mobile phones in a way that's almost to the envy of the UK or Canada."
    Moore saw an opportunity to bring social change to remote communities with affordable solar power kits -- and started M-KOPA Solar in 2011 together with Nick Hughes, Chief Product Officer, and Chad Larson, Chief Credit Officer.
    Today, the company has 2,000 employees and offices in five countries.