Feature Image for Engie Is on a Distributed-Energy Acquisition Spree. How’s It Going?

Engie Is on a Distributed-Energy Acquisition Spree. How’s It Going?

November 7, 2018

Engie keeps buying companies to build its North American energy vision. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com


By Emma Foehringer Merchant


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Several months after Engie rebranded a handful of its recent acquisitions, Greentech Media checks in on the changes.

It’s been over nine months since Engie North America acquired three companies in succession — turning Green Charge Networks into Engie Storage, OpTerra Energy Services into Engie Services U.S., and Ecova to Engie Insight.

At the time, the French energy company said the rebrand would broaden the portfolio of options available to its growing customer base in the U.S. and Canada.

“At Engie, we are not a technology producer, we are not a battery producer; we are an integrator,” said Engie’s CEO Isabelle Kocher last week at a Stanford University event on the future of energy. “We are trying to analyze the situation of the client…to understand the needs for energy. The main space in which we invest is to assemble this kind of holistic solution.”

Several months since this brand change, Greentech Media spoke with the new slate of Engie companies to assess the impact.

Many of them said working under Engie has offered new credibility.

“From an external point of view, being able to signify and highlight to everyone that we’re part of Engie — a blue-chip, reputable energy company that’s going to be around for a long time — is very helpful for a company like us in a new and emerging market,” said Chris Tilley, CEO of Engie Storage, formerly Green Charge.

Engie acquired Green Charge in 2016. The company focuses on commercial storage installations, mostly in California and Massachusetts. It has about 78 megawatt-hours deployed or under construction at 167 U.S. sites.

Tilley said that reputation helps internally as well. The global reach of the larger brand, he said, gives Engie Storage more motivation to expand its mission.

While Engie Storage maintains a tight focus on its key markets of California and Massachusetts, Tilley said Engie’s global focus will help the company expand when ready.

That global scale helped Engie Services, formerly OpTerra, according to CEO John Mahoney.

“We’re looking at solutions for cities and universities, for example, that we never would have looked at if we were just OpTerra,” he said. “We have this global company, Engie, that has all these broad capabilities — and now we can tap in to those.”

Engie also bought OpTerra in 2016. Mahoney said the company has always had strong business in the West, the Northeast and the upper Midwest. Since becoming part of Engie, the company has laid out more specific geographic focuses: from Boston to Washington, D.C., from Vancouver to San Diego, from Montreal to Chicago and Texas.

Mahoney said Engie’s build-out in North America is designed to give the company a platform of “broad, comprehensive solutions” for its customers. Part of that vision means linking the work of newly acquired businesses. OpTerra used to work with a third party to offer power-purchase agreements to customers. Now, Engie Storage has Engie Resources to facilitate PPA financing.

Mathias Lelievre, CEO of Engie Insight and chair of Engie business EV Box, said the firm now has access to a wider range of expertise.

“We see a lot of clients developing solar; we see a lot of clients wanting to develop electric vehicle infrastructure or [being] interested in some innovative solutions around the way they procure their energy,” said Lelievre. “Being part of the Engie family, we are able to make those links much more easily.”

The new sister companies are also learning how to juggle partnerships that might be competitive with Engie.

Engie Insight, for instance, helps over 1,000 clients chart their sustainability plans. Sometimes that means a corporate client wants to acquire solar and wind, which Engie can provide. But Lelievre said Engie Insight will continue to consider whether competitors, like Constellation and Direct Energy, provide the best option in certain circumstances.

“Sometimes we are going to work with Engie as the provider to address the needs of the client, and sometimes we are going to work with competitors,” he said.

Tilley said the suite of companies are still navigating the best ways to collaborate. “It’s a work in progress figuring out how we all work together,” said Lelievre.

Engie has specific support staff in its North American headquarters in Houston to aid new businesses with financial advisory and communications associated with integration. Mahoney said he appreciated the “breathing room” Engie offered when transitioning OpTerra to Engie Services.

“All the companies we’ve acquired are tier 1 companies, leaders in their industry, have great customer bases, have great leadership. What we’ve definitely learned is that it’s really important to hold on to the leadership team. It’s really important to communicate early and often to the customers about what’s going on, as well as [to] the employees,” said Mahoney. “You want to transform the organization as quickly as possible and integrate it as quickly as possible, but at the same time, you have to bring customers and employees along in a very thoughtful manner…so they don’t get swamped by the big Engie mothership.”

All of Engie’s acquisition companies have maintained their business — while being offered opportunities for expansion — under that “mothership.”

Mahoney said Engie Services continues to focus on efficiency upgrades for public buildings and facilities in the commercial and industrial sector.

“Those were the customers and…the offerings we had before being part of Engie. Those are still our products and services, we just have a deeper bench to do it with,” said Mahoney. “We also have more capabilities to actually self-perform some of the work now with our sister companies. We also have access to more sophisticated financial solutions in being part of Engie.”

Since its January rebrand of its American acquisitions, Engie’s North American arm has also acquired solar developer SoCore Energy, wind developer Infinity Renewables, electrical construction company Unity International and energy services contractor Donnelly Mechanical Corporation. Those companies have so far retained their brand names.

Kocher said changes to Engie’s portfolio will reflect its philosophy about how the industry is changing.

“It is clear that we are moving from something that was relatively simple, with big plants fueling networks and clients very far, to something that is in fact fully distributed,” said Kocher at the recent Stanford event. “At Engie, we have decided to really push…to fully align [the] portfolio of our company with the energy transition.”

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