Navigant Research Blog

Ecova Buy Builds GDF Suez’s Demand-Side Business

— June 6, 2014

On May 30, French energy giant GDF Suez acquired energy management company Ecova for $335 million through its energy services unit, Cofely. Founded in 1995 as WWP Energy Solutions, Ecova started out as a utility bill management company that helped customers better understand their energy bills.  Over time, the company expanded into adjacent businesses such as energy procurement, waste management, and telecom.

As demand for energy management and sustainability tools grew in the late 2000s, the company acquired other specialist firms, such as Ecos Consulting, The Loyalton Group, and Prenova, a building energy management systems (BEMS) company.  This organic growth enabled Ecova to get an early lead in terms of acquiring Fortune 500 customers focused on energy management, such as Shell and Starwood Hotels.

GDF Suez, though perhaps known best as a power supplier with operations primarily in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, has diversified its portfolio over time and, through its suite of subsidiaries, is now a major energy services provider.  Of its €17 billion ($23.2 billion) in total annual revenue, 6% – or €1.0 billion, is in energy services, including facility construction, operations & maintenance, and energy efficiency retrofit services.  The company is also more international today than in the past, with 25% of its revenue coming from outside Europe.

Blurred Lines

The Ecova acquisition propels GDF Suez forward in its pursuit of broad energy efficiency services.  In addition, Ecova’s intelligent, software-based platform complements Cofely’s more traditional approach to energy efficiency via HVAC, lighting, and building automation system (BAS) retrofits, allowing it to provide enterprise-level energy management for GDF Suez’s global customers.

From a geographical point of view, the acquisition provides GDF Suez a platform for engaging a broader set of energy service customers in North America while accomplishing largely the same for Ecova, as it aims to expand beyond North America.  It also brings GDF Suez in closer competition with French rivals such as Schneider Electric, which acquired a close Ecova competitor, Summit Energy, in 2011.

By bringing more intelligent building capabilities in-house, GDF Suez is positioning itself as a broad energy services provider for buildings, and this acquisition symbolizes the continuing blurring of the lines between the energy and buildings industries.

 

ESCOs Start to Recover from the Recovery Act

— December 13, 2013

By many accounts, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was a boon for the American economy in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008.  The availability of $25 billion in federal funds for energy efficiency measures sent the building industry into action at a time when sluggishness in new construction was shifting attention to existing buildings, and concepts such as corporate sustainability and carbon regulation were in their infancy.  Leading energy service companies (ESCOs) such as Johnson Controls and Ameresco, which use a financing structure known as energy performance contracting (EPC) to guarantee energy savings for customers in long-term contracts, scaled up their energy efficiency capabilities to benefit from these generous incentives.

Briefly, it seemed that ARRA would be a net positive for the ESCO market.  From a base of $3.9 billion in annual revenues in 2008, the market peaked in 2011 with annual revenues of $5.6 billion.  Interestingly, ARRA actually had a negative impact in 2009, when many would-be ESCO customers deferred plans to hire ESCOs while awaiting the distribution of stimulus funds for 2010 and 2011.

And that was the first of several unforeseen consequences of ARRA for the ESCO market.  In 2012, the market underwent a painful contraction, with annual revenues shrinking to $4.8 billion – a 13% decline.  The causes of this decline were diverse, and include a range of factors such as the federal sequester and pervasive concerns among municipalities about ESCO-related debt (as EPCs typically show up on customer balance sheets as debt service obligations).  A more insidious cause of the decline was the fact that ARRA funds, which were largely exhausted by the end of 2011, created an expectation of low-interest financing and widespread rebates for energy efficiency measures among municipal customers, the core market for ESCOs.  As those financing facilities evaporated, so did many customers’ willingness to take on long-term EPCs characterized by pre-ARRA interest rates.  As a result, many municipalities now view the extended payback periods of EPCs (which are, in reality, consistent with the payback periods in the pre-ARRA period) as unacceptably long.

ESCO Revenue, United States: 2010-2020

 

(Source: Navigant Research)

Even in the post-ARRA era, though, EPCs represent a low-risk way for cash-strapped customers to reduce their long-term facility operating costs and finance other non-energy-related infrastructural improvements.  Changing the mindset in the municipal sector will be critical in resuscitating the ESCO market in the United States and placing it on a pathway for strong growth.

The good news for ESCOs is that the federal government has been aggressively promoting EPCs through the $2 billion Better Buildings Initiative and other policies, which will lead activity in that sector to grow considerably in 2014.  In our recent report, The U.S. Energy Service  Market, Navigant Research forecasted that the market will grow from $4.9 billion in 2013 to $8.2 billion by 2020.  The municipal sector will only recover to pre-ARRA levels of EPC activity, though, when municipal decision-makers recall the diverse cost reduction benefits afforded by ESCOs that they once enjoyed.

 

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