Cello is looking to sell 100,000 solar powered televisions a year into Africa and sees huge long-term potential

13 February 2020

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Solar powered TVs are slowly creating a whole new category of rural TV viewers in Africa. Russell Southwood spoke to Brian Palmer, CEO, Cello about its own solar powered TV and the prospects for the market.

Cello is the last remaining UK manufacturer of televisions. It started 15 years ago when it “saw value as TVs changed from analog to digital. In the beginning we concentrated on small screen products for UK supermarkets (M&S). It was mot the easiest business to deal with. We’ve reached the end of DTT in the UK so we knew we had to spread our wings”.

The idea for the solar powered TV business came out of a holiday Palmer made to Africa and it started selling its products there in 2017. The business was sufficiently advanced that it was able to announce that it had sold 20,000 of its solar powered TVs in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda through a partnership with German solar company Mobisol. The latter offers Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) solutions to its customer:”We are looking for distributors who can finance the cost of the TV.” It has also made sales into DRC, South Africa and Senegal and will be selling into a few West African countries shortly.

On a cash sale basis, Cello’s 22” TV would cost US$200 and its 32” TV would cost US$350. They include a built-in Lithium ion battery and a built-in solar controller and comes with their own solar panel, which generates enough electricity for more than twelve hours of viewing on its 22” model, based on a single four-hour charge of sunlight. It has both a satellite and a DTT tuner and two light sockets and two USB ports to allow owners to charge their mobiles.

“We wanted to do a TV with a built in battery attached to a solar panel. It needed to be a standalone so you could walk away with it under your arm. The problem is that people don’t have money”. It has no plans to produce a PVR but has looked producing a TV with a PC.

So what is the potential for sales from Cello’s point of view?:”We think we can reach 100,000 sales a year and we’d like to see that sort of growth. The long-term market is huge.”

Solar powered TV is slowly taking off with a variety of players including Azuri Technologies (another UK company) and Trend Solar (in Tanzania). Increasingly companies selling solar products (like Angaza and M-Kopa) are adding TVs to their product portfolios. There is a real chance that solar powered TV will begin to create a whole new category or rural TV viewers.

“We’ve had fantastic feedback from users. They’ve suddenly got lighting, their children can do their homework and they can charge their mobile phones. You have women seeing the outside world for the first time (on TV) and it makes a big difference.”