The world of globe-spanning grid giants may be about to get a little bit smaller. That’s according to Bloomberg, which reported Wednesday that General Electric is in talks to acquire French power, transportation and grid powerhouse Alstom for about $13 billion.
The deal could be announced as early as next week, according to Bloomberg, which cited unidentified sources with knowledge of the discussions. But the news agency also reported that GE declined to comment, and that an Alstom spokeswoman called the report “groundless rumors.”
Still, as what would amount to GE’s biggest-ever acquisition, the news is likely to send waves through the energy and utilities sectors. Alstom is the world’s third-biggest maker of gas turbines behind GE and Siemens, and the third-biggest transmission grid equipment maker behind Siemens and ABB.
Alongside the above-mentioned competitors, as well as the likes of Schneider Electric, Hitachi and Toshiba, Alstom is also a major player in grid technology, ranging from substation automation systems to distribution grid control and asset management software.
In some ways, Alstom has been pushing the envelope compared to these competitors, in terms of opening up its technology to new uses at the edges of the grid. For example, Alstom is working with Cisco and Itron to network its substation systems via wireless IPv6 technology. It’s also one of Duke Energy’s “Coalition of the Willing” grid vendor partners, opening its systems up to open-standards-based integration.
But Alstom’s power business has struggled in the past few years, amidst Europe’s economic slowdown and tough competition from the likes of GE and Siemens abroad. The reported $13 billion price GE plans to bid for Alstom is about 25 percent less than its current market value.
GE, meanwhile, has seen increasing profits from its industrial lines of business, as part of CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s refocusing on manufacturing and away from GE Finance. GE had about $89 billion in cash as of the end of 2013, $57 billion of that held outside the United States, Bloomberg reported.
GE owns a former piece of Alstom, in the form of power conversion company Converteam, which was sold by Alstom in 2006 and bought by GE for $3.2 billion in 2011. Alstom actually sold its transmission and distribution grid business to French nuclear powerhouse Areva in 2004, but bought back the transmission grid business in 2010, while Schneider Electric purchased the distribution grid portion.