Last month, U.K.-based Centrica announced it was joining the ranks of European utilities like Enel, Engie and EDF in seeking a piece of the North American distributed energy market -- with a little help from the fact that it also owns one of the continent’s biggest retail energy providers.
The new company, Centrica Business Solutions, is actually a combination of acquired and home-built business units with significant existing market share in the U.S. and Canada. Backed by the promise of $910 million in investment through 2020 by its parent company, it’s selling combined heat and power (CHP),solar battery energy storage and standby generators, along with the software and services to put them to use.
This package will be marketed and managed by Direct Energy Business, the commercial services arm of Direct Energy, which is owned by Centrica as well. Direct Energy serves than 4 million customers in the 14 U.S. states and western Canadian provinces that allow for retail competition in energy markets, making it a significant channel partner for the new business.
In fact, Direct Energy is already operating some “significant” amounts of demand response with its customers in the Northeast U.S., Stephen Prince, senior vice president overseeing North America commercial operations for Centrica Business Solutions, said in a Wednesday interview. This portfolio, and the software behind it, will now be part of the new company, he said.
The company’s presence is heavily weighted toward the Northeast today, as well as Texas. “We’re expanding rapidly [and] organically” in those markets, he said. Centrica is also active in other states, through the customers of several companies acquired over the past few years, he added.
The first is Panoramic Power, which makes tiny wireless sensors that clip onto the circuits in a building’s circuit panel, along with the software to collect and analyze the data to provide energy efficiency and management insights. It was bought by Direct Energy for $60 million in late 2015, and has “a significant customer base in North America,” he said.
The second is ENER-G Combined Heat and Power and Rudox Power Generation, which provide CHP systems and backup generators, and were bought by Centrica for $212 million in May 2016. Rebranded as ENER-G Rudox last year, the business sells, rents and supports both CHP and standby generation, mainly natural-gas-powered units, in sizes from 30 kilowatts to 2 megawatts, he said. “We have units on top of the U.N. building -- we’re a very well-known brand in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts” and other Northeast competitive energy markets, said Prince.