Yuri Tsitrinbaum, is the Chief Executive Officer, Lumos Nigeria, a mobile electricity service provider, who is convinced that movable power is the new revolution for Nigeria in view of the prevailing energy crisis. In this interview with ROSELINE OKERE and ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, he speaks about how Lumos Mobile Electricity is powering homes and slashing energy costs by as much as 75 per cent for businesses.
Nigeria’s electricity demand is put at 40,000 Megawatts (MW), to what percentage can the Lumos Solar Technology help an average Nigerian solve basic electricity challenges?
At Lumos Mobile Electricity, our service provides a reliable and affordable source of electricity, which simply didn’t exist for many people before. Our service provides our customers with a power solution that keeps family homes, small businesses, and clinics powered 24/7.
The cost of installing solar power in Nigeria is above the reach of many Nigerians. What makes your offering different?
When we established the Lumos Mobile Electricity Service, we wanted to make sure that the people who needed our service the most could access it. This is both the key catalyst and offering of our business.
That’s why we use a pay-as-you go model, meaning that the initial cost is as low as N26,000, and customers pay for our electricity service in monthly, daily or annual payments, according to their needs and ability.
Nigerians today use different solutions to complement the national grid. Many Nigerians use generators while others use kerosene and flashlights. Potential customers pay small, small, but those increments add up to meaningful spend for households.
What we offer our customers is to divert the spend from the more costly and unreliable solutions to solar energy, for the same cost of running a small generator (I better pass my neighbour) for two hours, our customers enjoy 24/7 access to electricity.
Of course, a key feature of our system is that it will only produce electricity when it has been paid for, and making that payment is quick and easy using your mobile phone.
Maintenance is key in sustaining the efficiency and effectiveness of the solar panels, which adds to the cost of the panels. What programme is Lumos offering in this regard?
That’s one of the elements that our customers like most about our service. We give a five-year warranty to our customers. Our customers enjoy peace of mind; there are no hidden costs and no worry about needing to spend more.
We have our own R&D unit that designs the product, and we ensure the highest quality and product experience standards.
Power investors are working hard to ensure regular electricity supply in Nigeria. If this happens, are you not afraid that this may undermine the success of your product in the market?
We are seeing a solar energy revolution, comparable to the mobile communications revolution, which swept across Africa over the past 15 years. The demand for power to keep up with our busy lives is outpacing even the most ambitious grid plans. Our service can be deployed quickly and easily without the need for major infrastructure projects. Just as with mobile communications, off-grid solar will complement investment in the grid. We all have the same goal – universal energy access for Nigeria. And as the Nigerian power sector grows to meet ever-increasing demand, we too will adapt to that changing reality.
Do you think current economic policies are attractive enough to encourage investments in Nigeria, particularly in the power sector where investors are frustrated over their inability to recoup on their investments and make profit?
Our commitment to Nigeria is not time-limited or linked to a specific economic policy; it’s about providing a vital service to Africa’s largest population. When you’re investing in a business, you’ll always push for a better deal or for more support, but we are very confident in the future of Nigeria, and plan on investing for many years to come. There is no other market like the Nigerian market.
Specifically, what do you think the Nigerian Government should do to attract new investments into the country?
The Nigerian Government is working hard to stabilise the economy for the benefit of both international and national investors. It is true that today the macro-economics of Nigeria pose real concerns for any investor. Foreign investors are attracted to opportunity and stability, in that sense; I believe that consistent policies and access to forex can play a meaningful role in any foreign investor investing here.
What gave rise to the idea of the Lumos solar power mobile platform, especially in a recessed economy?
The mobile industry, which sparked a revolution in Africa, leapfrogging traditional landlines, and upturning industries from banking to communications, was the inspiration and the impetus for mobile electricity.
In 2013, Lumos Global founders, Davidi Vortman, and Nir Marom, decided that this would be the next big thing, marrying renewable energy, mobile technology’s existing infrastructure into a service, Nigeria’s first distributed utility. Lumos was born.
All the team in Lumos, both Global and Nigerian are very proud and passionate to be a part of a business that is here to better the lives of millions of people.
Perhaps a bit ironically, there is no better time to come to this market. Nigerian consumers are smart and always looking for better product and services that can fit into the current financial environment. We offer a better, cheaper and more reliable solution. So now is the time for Mobile Electricity – more than ever.
How much has Lumos invested on this particular project?
In 2016, Lumos closed a record funding round of $90million, which will allow us to bring affordable, reliable and clean energy to a target one million Nigerians over the next 12 months. This investment allows us to employ over 450 people in Nigeria, and has already brought around 40,000 Y’Ello Boxes into Nigerian homes and businesses.
We are delighted to be partnered with OPIC and UK Aid, whose investment in Nigeria helped make the Y’ello Box possible.
How does the solar technology work with the MTN Nigeria mobile platform, seeing as this is the first of its kind in the country?
Our partnership with Mobile Operators is one of the critical enablers for the business. Partnering with mobile operators and specifically MTN Nigeria here, is enabling us to reduce our operational costs, provide an easy and accessible payment platform, and therefore increase the access to the service and reduce the cost to our consumers.
Mobile network has remained an issue in Nigeria due to poor network services, how are you able to overcome this challenge? What other challenges do you face since the debut of the project?
The growth of mobile technology and its penetration in Nigeria has been one of the great technology stories of the past decade. There are still gaps, and the regulators as well as the Mobile Operators are doing their best to bridge the gaps. Simply said, it is in the most basic interest of the Mobile operators to have the best coverage as happy customers spend more on your service.
With its launch earlier in the year, how has the Nigerian market responded to this innovation?
The response in Nigeria has been fantastic. When you consider that 73 million Nigerians do not have access to reliable electricity, and that huge numbers of them use expensive, unreliable, noisy alternatives, or make do without power, it was always clear home-solar was going to make a big impression.
Currently Lumos is bringing energy to more than 150,000 people across the country. Our mission now is to make sure that everyone has access to this innovation.
Is there any specific market segment targeted, and how simple is the installation?
Our target market is Nigerians who do not have access to 24/7 grid electricity; people who are looking to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Specifically, from our customers we learn that we have three key segments: families, businesses and gifters.
Everyone enjoys waking up with a fully charged phone, coming home and knowing that you have light. Families, specifically, love having quiet peaceful illuminated nights and evenings, watching television at convenient hours and enjoying a good night’s sleep with a fan.
Businesses find special value in our service; non-business customers may be more flexible with their spend on fuel for generators, but a business with no electricity is a closed business. So we help business by shifting them from spending upwards of N600 a day on fuel to N150 a day only, reducing by over 75 per cent the spend on electricity.
Gifters, is a growing segment of our customer base, and the name is self-explanatory. People who understand the value and positive impact of electricity on quality of life and generously bestow that upon their families and loved ones
Our customers say:
“No noise… No heat… No disturbance”
“With solar, you are very sure you will have constant light…”
“24 hours light at my family and at my shop…”
“With N150 a day, I see with light, charge my phone, watch my television…”
As for the installation, it is incredibly simple. The system will be up and running on your roof within less than an hour. It’s a plug and play system.
Why is the partnership only with MTN? What happens to other non-MTN subscribers, who may also be interested in your product? MTN was the first operator in Nigeria to see the potential in the product and to join forces with us. It is far and away the biggest and best mobile provider in Nigeria, so this was the best way for Lumos to reach as many people as possible. They have a fantastic reach right across the country, and an excellent relationship with their customers. With around 60 million subscribers, we knew we had found the right partner. In addition, we hope that we will be able to add more networks to our payment methods.
What are your expansion plans to make the product available in all parts of the country? What are the considerations in terms of other demography – income, occupation, location etc?
Mobile Electricity is currently available in over 300 stores across Nigeria, we should complete the expansion by end of year, but already you can join our service in almost every state. We do not target our systems at specific demographics, we target it based on energy need. We have found a demand for affordable, reliable and clean electricity in every part of Nigeria.
Finally, are there any after sales service programme in Nigeria, in case the need arises?
Of course, we need to make sure our customers are happy, this is one of the things I like about our business – as a pay as you go business we are tied down to our customer satisfaction. We have full after sales service, five-year warranty for our customers and a commitment to the best customer experience.