Nova Lumos combines solar energy, mobile payments and microfinance to bring electricity to far-flung places.
By Inbal Orpaz | Jun.04, 2013

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 candles or kerosene lanterns to light their homes. These substitutes are costly and often hazardous, and have prompted a young Israeli startup to solve the electricity problem in developing markets.

The company, Nova Lumos, uses a combination of solar energy, mobile payments and microfinance to provide electricity to far-flung communities. (Despite the lack of electricity, modern communications technology has succeeded in reaching even the most remote regions across the globe, with cell phone penetration estimated to have reached 80 percent 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 in Guinea, and hopes to expand the system’s capabilities to enable Internet connections in homes in developing countries, among other things.

Nir Marom and Davidi Vortman established Nova Lomus last year and employ five staffers working in Beit Yehoshua, a moshav in central Israel. The company is expected to double in size in the near future. Before Nova Lomus, Marom established cleantech 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 salaries, 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. Therefore, Nova Lomus developed a daily or weekly payment model, costing as much as other lighting solutions – 50 cents a day, or 3 dollars a week.

The payment is collected through cellular phone companies, who already serve most of the population. “The idea is to cooperate with cell phone companies that have already reached 80 percent infiltration and are searching for new challenges using the marketing platform they have already constructed,” Vortman says.

The company demands an earnest 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.