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With Consert Acquisition, Toshiba Targets U.S. Utilities

Peter Asmus — February 20, 2013

Source: WikimediaJapanese electronics giant Toshiba has assembled a portfolio of solutions that positions it well for two of the hottest smart grid opportunities available right now: demand response (DR) and microgrids.  Now, if it can figure out a way to leverage the technology of recent acquisitions into a coherent integrated package, the company could make major inroads into new geographic markets, especially the United States.

The announced purchase last week of Consert is a case in point.  Consert’s current portfolio is minuscule when compared to other DR aggregators, such as EnerNOC (8,500 MW) and Comverge (5,500 MW), but the company focuses on providing the highest value DR from the most difficult places: the residential market.  The firm’s flagship project is a 250 MW “virtual peaking plant” for CSP, the municipal utility that serves San Antonio, which could achieve full build-out within the next 3 to 4 years.

General Electric, Constellation, and Qualcomm have all invested in Consert.  Its “software as a service” business model is gaining traction within smart grid software providers, too.  The company has been focusing on public power utilities – its low-cost solution is not the ideal fit for investor-owned utilities.

Toshiba apparently plans to marry Consert’s real-time DR capability with the data analytics enabled by its May 2011 acquisition of Swiss technology supplier Landis+Gyr (L+G).  L+G  is  the leading supplier of electrical meters in the world (as well as North America).  Think of the possibilities if one could link up L+G smart meters with Consert’s real-time, two-way communication down to each device-level offering? Toshiba might actually provide some of the elusive value for both utility and consumer that has escaped so many smart meter deployments in the United States.

Along with this DR capability from Consert, one must also consider the technology expertise of Toshiba itself.  Toshiba’s unique advantage over other grid infrastructure companies may be its ability to link home energy management (HEM) systems, as well as commercial smart building technology, with optimized microgrid functionality.  Toshiba already has deployed a 4 MW solar and wind microgrid on Japan’s Miyako Island.  The Japanese company is also providing DC/AC power conditioners and smart inverters with widespread applications in remote microgrids, as well as its rechargeable battery known as SCiB.

Toshiba was once so bullish on the overall smart grid market that it reported that it hoped to reach over $11 billion in revenue from this market by 2015, with over $1 billion in the United States alone.  The only way that’s going to happen is to integrate the company’s smart meter, microgrid controls, and DR capability in the United States, and make the business case for boosting reliability and revenues through its unique portfolio of products in the world’s leading markets for both DR and microgrids.

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