Navigant Research Blog

What GE’s LM Wind Power Acquisition Means for the Wind Industry

— October 13, 2016

TurbineThe wind power markets awoke to the surprise news on Tuesday morning that US industrial conglomerate GE had inked a $1.65 billion deal to acquire LM Wind Power, the world’s largest independent wind blade manufacturer.

This acquisition represents a major shake-up in the global wind market on a number of levels, primarily because Denmark-based LM has more blade capacity installed and turbine supplier relationships than any other blade vendor. LM has the capability to produce almost 10,000 blades annually from 13 factories, representing around 6.3 GW of capacity. This is approximately a 17% market share among 18 global independent wind blade manufacturers, as assessed by Navigant Research for the upcoming Wind Turbine Blade Technology & Supply Chain Assessment report. The company’s blades are installed on over 77 GW of the world’s 432 GW of wind turbine capacity globally.

Up until now, GE has outsourced 100% of its blade capacity, with LM as its largest supplier. Most turbine OEMs favor a blade sourcing strategy of make-and-buy, which blends in-house supply with outsourcing to guarantee supply while maintaining better flexibility. Bringing production in-house is a strategy for GE to ensure critical blade supply with a make-and-buy sourcing strategy.

GE also says that with blades and rotors being such a critical part of the wind turbine, this is the ideal time to fully bring blade manufacturing capabilities in-house where GE can leverage its skills in system design, materials science, and analytics skills to better optimize blades with a whole turbine approach.

M&A Continues to Shake Up Market

Leveraging GE’s manufacturing aptitude is one part of this deal, but so too is its competitive strategy. The wind turbine market is in a phase of consolidation, with a number of other high-profile M&A deals inked over the past few years. Notable examples include Siemens and Gamesa, GE and Alstom, Nordex and Acciona, Vestas and Mitsubishi, ZF and Bosch Rexroth, Vestas’ acquisitions of UpWind and Availon, and Siemens and Adwen.

Interestingly, Siemens recently announced for the first time since it entered the wind business in 2005 that it would partner with LM to have LM build blades for its new low-wind 3.15-142 turbine. This is purely speculation, but GE’s acquisition of LM could be a preemptive move on GE’s part to prevent Siemens from acquiring LM. Following Siemens’ acquisition of Gamesa this year, the German conglomerate needs to harmonize its blade manufacturing strategy since Siemens manufactures blades differently than Gamesa.

Siemens produces all of its blades in-house with a unique one-piece molding process, while Gamesa builds 2-piece bonded shell designs and also outsources, with LM as one of its largest suppliers. The Siemens manufacturing process is reportedly more expensive than the process built by Gamesa. Siemens would likely have benefited from the acquisition of LM in order to reduce its blade manufacturing costs and harmonize its blade sourcing strategy.

How GE’s acquisition of LM will affect other players depends partly on how much of LM’s manufacturing capacity will be allocated to GE’s needs. GE says it will operate LM as a standalone company that will retain all of its previous turbine customer relationships. But the wind blade market is a highly competitive landscape, rife with intellectual property concerns. Would other turbine OEMs truly consider LM independent and feel they are getting the same value as LM’s parent GE, their competitor?

Conversely, is a blade company under GE’s control likely to sell blades to GE’s competitors at the same capacity levels, especially if GE increases its in-house sourcing from LM for its own needs? In general, there still is an oversupply globally of wind blade manufacturing capacity, but this move by GE could tighten supply among the Western wind turbine OEMs and shift capacity around among other independent blade suppliers.

 

EnerNOC Restructures: Is It Back to Basics for the Demand Response Company?

— October 13, 2016

AnalyticsA couple of weeks ago, EnerNOC announced a restructuring, a move which included laying off 200 employees, about 15% of the demand response leader’s workforce. Many of these positions were at its corporate headquarters in Boston. I didn’t want write on the topic until I had a chance to talk directly with the company and get its side of the story, which took a week or so of phone tag to complete. Here’s what I heard and my reaction.

I spoke with Sarah McAuley, senior director of marketing at EnerNOC. She explained that the layoffs were focused on the enterprise software side of the business, and they were cross-functional across sales, operations, and other functions. I have since learned that employees in other parts of the organization that dealt with the software business tangentially were also affected by the restructuring. There were no changes to the senior management team, but changes did extend up to the vice president level. McAuley said that there is nothing else at this scale planned in the near future, but that EnerNOC is taking a close look at how it is operating the business and will continue to optimize resources and shift personnel around the edges.

McAuley also stated that EnerNOC is not retreating from the software business, and the company’s core strategy hasn’t changed. However, its go-to-market path and operational delivery models will be different, focusing on becoming more targeted and lean rather than wide and broad.

Pivot to Software

I remember first hearing about the company’s pivot to software at EnerNOC’s Analyst Day in 2013. At the time, it seemed to me like a risky proposition; EnerNOC is not a software company at heart, and it was an uphill battle against the incumbents to carve out its space in that field.

A similar experience appears to have occurred in the energy efficiency space. EnerNOC made a series of acquisitions over a span of 5 years or so, trying to parlay its demand response position into that adjacent space. All of those deals have since been unwound, presumably at a loss.

It’s important to remember that public companies need to take risks to show constant growth for shareholders. Not all of these are expected to completely succeed, but it appears that few have worked outside of EnerNOC’s core competencies.

Potential Paths Forward

So what’s next? Being the only publicly traded demand response/energy efficiency company left, there are a couple examples of previous outcomes. Comverge, EnerNOC’s closest peer, also went public in the heyday of the economy during the last decade. It only lasted a few years before being bought out and brought private, and it has continued to operate steadily since that time. Opower is the most recent case, having tried the public life for a few years before being acquired by Oracle earlier this year—time will tell how that situation will play out. One of those two scenarios seems plausible for EnerNOC at this point, either going private or being swallowed by a larger corporation (though I am not a financial professional, so don’t take this as investing advice).

In any case, I hope EnerNOC’s passion for and leadership in the demand response field will not be lost. Its tide has truly lifted all boats in the sector, and there is a lot of work left to be done to ensure that it keeps its place in the world’s future low-carbon resource mix.

 

Is the Smart City Market Entering an Acquisition Phase?

— September 19, 2016

Intelligent BuildingIn my last blog, I wrote about how the smart city market is at an important point in its evolution. In that blog, I focused on the changing priorities for smart city projects. Another side to this evolution is the changing market dynamics as suppliers refine their approach to the market and look to extend their capabilities. The most recent Navigant Research Leaderboard Report on smart city suppliers shows the continuing evolution in strategy and offerings among key players in the market.

One important indicator of the maturity of any technology market is the level and focus of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. It is a sign of the relative immaturity and uncertainty associated with smart cities as a market that there has been little activity in recent years. But there are indications this is changing.

Internet of Things Focus

The acquisition of sensor network company Sensity by telecoms giant Verizon is the latest example—and one of the most significant. Sensity provides sensors and network controls for street lighting systems and has been targeting the emerging market for city platforms. For Verizon, the move marks a step up in its Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities strategy and gives it the ability to offer a range of city solutions beyond intelligent street lighting, such as traffic management, smart parking, security, and air quality monitoring. It also increases Verizon’s attractiveness as a partner in the complex ecosystem of smart city and IoT suppliers. The alignment with the company’s broader IoT strategy is important to this acquisition, as well. Indeed, the growing focus on IoT capabilities across the technology industry is one of the main reasons why the smart city acquisition picture is changing. Cisco’s $1.4 billion acquisition of IoT platform provider Jasper Technologies in early 2016 can be seen as part of the same pattern. While enhancing their ability to play a bigger role in the IoT space, Verizon and Cisco are also developing strong smart city platforms. Moves from other big players for sensor technology and IoT platform providers are likely to be on the cards.

Analytics Companies

It is not only IoT technologies that are being acquired; analytics companies are also on the shopping list. Urban Engines, a specialist in the use of advanced analytics for the Internet of Moving Things, has announced that it is to become part of Google Maps. Founded by former Google employees, this may be more of a homecoming than an acquisition. However, it suggests that some of the more niche analytics providers in the smart city space will eventually find their home as part of a broader platform offering from bigger players.

Application-Specific Solutions

The third area of the market that we can expect to see more M&A activity is in application-specific solutions. This is an area with a greater history of activity. IBM, for example, has been adding to its roster of government solutions for a number of years in areas like intelligence and social care. But there has been less activity in new application areas. One exception is Silver Springs Networks’ move to strengthen its hand with the acquisition of street lighting software specialist Streetlight.Vision. If acquisition activity is stepping up across the market, the next phase could see more activity in other emerging solution areas such as smart parking and smart waste, for example.

These important developments will add spice to the conversation at Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC next week. I will be attending with other colleagues from Navigant Research and look forward to discussing these and other issues. Let me know if you would like to meet up at the event.

 

Meters Are Sensors and Sensors Are Meters—and It’s All IoT

— August 30, 2016

Power Line Test EquipmentOn August 11, Hazelwood, Missouri-based smart metering system vendor Aclara announced it acquired the smart grid business of Tollgrade, a provider of distribution grid sensors and software for monitoring and analytics. The deal comes just 8 months after Aclara acquired GE’s electric metering business, and all of this in the wake of its own sale to Sun Capital Partners in 2014.

It’s no surprise that Aclara is broadening its portfolio horizons. Upside potential for Aclara’s legacy technology—power line carrier (PLC) communications for smart meter data transfer—is on the wane. While still popular with low density utilities such as rural cooperatives, PLC isn’t as strong a platform for some of the newer smart grid applications that utilities want their advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) networks to support. Aclara has more than 14 million meters in the field and has been looking for growth opportunities since before its sale to Sun Capital.

Aclara has ventured into software, including solutions in the customer engagement and asset planning realms. It also offers several wireless communications solutions as an alternative to its enhanced Two-Way Automatic Communications System (eTWACS) PLC offering. These include cellular solutions and its Synergize RF point-to-multipoint system for utilities. But with the addition of GE’s meter business and now a leading line sensor/grid monitoring solution provider, Aclara has (or will have, presumably) a far more integrated set of products to offer. That means greater customer retainment.

The LightHouse product line also provides Aclara with an entry into the investor-owned utility (IOU) market where it has concentrated its efforts—Tollgrade has deployed its LightHouse system with DTE, Duke Energy, Toronto Hydro, and Western Power in the United Kingdom. In theory, Aclara can now better promote its various AMI solution sets to electric IOUs while marketing the LightHouse distribution monitoring solution to its sizable installed base of cooperatives and munis. Aclara historically has had a sizeable presence in the IOU marketplace with its gas and water AMI systems, with millions of endpoint systems deployed with customers in states including California and New York.

It’s All About the Smart

What makes a grid smart is the overlay of communications and software solutions that allow formerly manual controls to be automated. While Aclara was offering a piece of that smart equation with its legacy communications system, it now offers a broader array of solutions to smarten up not only the meters at the very edge of the grid, but also feeders throughout a distribution network.

The line sensor market hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm in the last few years, but it has shown promising traction more recently. Where the devices used to be expensive and analytics solutions (from which the return on sensor investments really come) were nascent, today’s costs are lower and the ways that real-time operational data can be used are growing exponentially. Navigant Research expects the global installed base of overhead line monitors to grow from a couple hundred thousand in 2016 to around 1.7 million by 2025.

Installed Base Overhead Line Monitors by Region, Worldwide: 2016-2025

Aclara Smart Meters

(Source: Navigant Research)

Generally, we don’t expect the overhead line monitor business to reach the same levels of penetration as, say, smart meters. They’ll be used on particularly troublesome feeders or where there are high levels of distributed solar wreaking havoc at the grid edge.

The Internet of Energy

What Aclara is doing by consolidating various sensors types—and a meter is just another sensor in the grid—into its product line is demonstrating its commitment to going beyond meter reading and boldly into the broader Internet of Things—or Energy—to make its platform more valuable and deepen its reach with utility decision makers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more announcements from Aclara, perhaps related to software or analytics that leverage the underlying network and devices now incorporated in the company’s stable of products.

 

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