Beyond Coverage: The opportunity for mobile operators to improve access to energy in Latin America
This blog is co-written by Zachary Levey, Associate, Multilateral Investment Fund of the IDB Group.
Across Latin America and the Caribbean, millions of people live in energy poverty without access to lighting, clean cooking solutions or connection to the electricity grid. Reaching these last-mile consumers demands a new look at an old problem and partnerships with some non-conventional players to promote social innovation in the energy sector.
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about the opportunity that the mobile industry can play in providing energy to off-grid areas and families at the base of the economic pyramid. But what does this business opportunity look like in the Latin American context?
In 2012, the GSMA’s Mobile Enabled Community Services Programme with the support of the Multilateral Investment Fund of the IDB Group set out to evaluate the opportunity for Latin American mobile operators to improve access to energy.
Today the GSMA and MIF are pleased to launch a new report that provides a case study and on-the-ground look at opportunities in the Nicaraguan market, based on the network of Telefónica Movistar Nicaragua, a subsidiary of the Spanish-based global operator Telefónica.
The conclusions of our study include:
- There are approximately 31 Million people in Latin America and the Caribbean without access to the commercial electricity grid, yet we estimate there are 11 million mobile subscribers that live off-grid.
- The mobile industry can support access to energy by leveraging their mobile tower infrastructure, retail and distribution channels and mobile payment technologies.
- In Nicaragua, as in much of Latin America, the mobile network has not expanded beyond the electricity grid which means off-grid subscribers need to travel to areas of mobile coverage to use their mobile phones.
- As mobile operators look to expand mobile coverage beyond the electricity grid, there is a need to develop innovative business models that consider off-grid power generation for mobile towers and the energy needs of their customers.
In the short time since this study was conducted we have seen an increased level of interest in the use of mobile technology and infrastructure to improve access to energy in Latin America. Looking to the future we foresee the need to road-test models that take into account the particular conditions of the regions.
What opportunities do you see for the mobile industry to expand energy access in Latin America? Let us know here in the comments.