BARCELONA, Oct 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - French utilities company ENGIE has agreed to acquire Uganda-based Fenix International, a provider of solar home systems in Africa, in a deal the two firms said would help boost access to electricity on the continent.
About 600 million Africans still live without electric power. But that can be cut to zero by extending national grids, building local micro-grids and installing solar home systems, the companies said on Thursday in a statement about the first-of-its-kind transaction.
Founded in 2009, Fenix employs more than 350 people and is Uganda's leading provider of home-scale solar power systems. It recently expanded into Zambia and plans to roll out its service to at least 10 other African countries over the next five years.
Its main product, ReadyPay Power, provides solar lighting, phone-charging and power for televisions and radios on a lease-to-own basis.
Off-grid customers finance their power system by paying small instalments via their mobile phones, earning a credit score that enables them to get power upgrades and loans.
Fenix said it had delivered solar power to more than 900,000 people in East Africa, and, as part of ENGIE’s solar home system business in Africa, it aims to reach millions of customers with off-grid services by 2020.
“Fenix and ENGIE share the belief that universal access to energy is possible and paramount," said Lyndsay Handler, CEO of Fenix International.
"By joining forces with ENGIE - one of the world’s largest independent utility companies with a firm commitment to a decentralised, decarbonised and digital energy revolution - we will greatly accelerate the path to our vision,” she added.
ENGIE, headquartered in Paris, has already online or is building about 3,000 megawatts of grid power capacity in Africa. It is also developing decentralised electricity production for rural businesses and villages.
It is a member of the recently launched Africa Mini-grid Developers Association (AMDA), which has 10 members in Kenya and Tanzania, and plans to go pan-African.
The association aims to shape policies that will foster the development of the sector and promote its growth.
A September report from international body Sustainable Energy for All said that in 2013 and 2014 just 1 percent of money committed to improve access to electricity in the 20 countries that need it most went to "decentralised" solutions.
Those solutions include things such as household solar systems and mini-grids, it said. In total, they received only $200 million in each of those years, it said.
The rest went to grid electricity, with two-thirds spent on renewable energy and one-third on fossil fuels, it added.
ENGIE has not disclosed the amount it is paying to buy Fenix.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.