How do you stop a lion from attacking your farm animals? If this isn’t a problem you encounter often, then you probably weren’t aware that bright lights help keep the predatory animals away at night. But it is a problem for farmers in rural Africa – and so is getting electricity to their homes.
Until recently, one of the only solutions to this problem was to use old-fashioned kerosene lamps. These lamps use expensive fossil fuel and emit poisonous fumes when burned.
But now there’s a company working on a better, greener solution. M-KOPA Solar  is a company based in Nairobi, Kenya that’s backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The company offers a portable solar powered lighting system that it says can ward off lions at night.
M-KOPA offers a pay-as-you-go system for customers. So instead of buying the lighting system, which would be much too expensive for most households that need this technology, they make daily payments to use it. The system costs the equivalent of about 45 US cents per day to use, along with an initial deposit.
But that’s still a big investment for a lot of people who would like to use the lighting system. Kim Lachance Shandrow of Entrepreneur put the cost in perspective :
“M-KOPA customers pay 40 Kenyan shillings (about 45 cents) per day to use it, after making a 2,500-shilling ($28.38) deposit. That’s relatively steep, considering that most households in Kenya earn less than $2 per day, according to  M-KOPA.”
Payments are processed using an embedded mobile SIM card. So if a customer falls behind, M-KOPA can use the SIM card to turn out the lights remotely.
Right now, only a select few who can afford it are able to get the benefits of these solar powered lights. So in order for the M-KOPA lighting system to be widely adopted in East Africa, the company will have to find a way to bring the price down.
But it’s a good first step in introducing a more innovative way of solving a problem. Solar powered technology is still a relatively new field and people are coming up with new uses for it all the time.
Warding off lions is probably not the first application that comes to mind when you think about solar power. But someone did think of it – and now they’re finding a way to benefit a community that really needs it.
Images: M-KOPA Solar