BLOOMBERG - Engie SA is seeking to become a player in the off-grid solar industry, one of the first major utilities to work directly in that niche of the energy system.

“It could be a sizable part of the market,” Bruno Bensasson, chief executive officer of Engie’s Africa business unit, said in an interview in London. “Solar home systems are part of an energy proposal for countries, as well as national grids. We want to be part of it.”

About 60 percent of the African continent lives in rural areas, according to data from GeoHive, making up 695 million people. Electrical grids are largely non-existent in these areas. Small solar panel systems that can generate enough power for a few lights, a mobile phone charger and an energy-efficient TV are growing in popularity in Africa and parts of developing Asia. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that one in three energy-lacking households will have some kind of solar-powered device by 2020.

The French utility formerly known as GDF Suez has signed an agreement with Orange SA, the French telecom company, to jointly develop off-grid products that would be paid for through mobile phone credit. They are working on pilot projects in West Africa, Bensasson said, declining to give more details.

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