General Electric announced on Tuesday that it will acquire about 90 percent of Converteam, which makes power conversion equipment used by various industrial sectors.

GE will pay $3.2 billion for the company that helps customers replace mechanical equipment with more efficient electrical options. The products, which include drives and other power electronics, advanced rotating machines, generators and controls, have applications in various energy industries, including offshore and onshore oil and gas, power generation, and wind and solar renewables.

In renewables, for example, the French company’s power electronics help turn mechanical hydro or wind turbine power into reliable electricity that can be used on the grid. For oil and gas, electrification of compression applications in the gas industry has been growing at a rate of 15 percent annually, according to GE.

Industrial equipment uses more than 25 percent of all the energy in the U.S. and various techniques are being employed to reduce that number. Some companies are focusing on recycling waste heat into electricity, employing demand response more aggressively at industrial sites, reducing the number of AC/DC conversions or just simply making industrial equipment more efficient. Startup EPS, for instance, has been working with dairies and food producers to slash energy consumption. Industrial dynamic pricing also continues to grow, making it imperative for companies to find more efficient ways of using energy.

Earlier in January, GE bought Lineage Power Holdings, which makes efficient AC/DC equipment for large organizations, for $520 million. The two acquisitions are part of about $11 billion in purchases by GE Energy. 

Competitors have been active, too. A few days ago, Schneider Electric bought Summit Energy for $268 million, and before that, it bought two building management companies. Meanwhile, ABB bought Baldor Electric (efficient motors) for $4.2 billion, virtual power plant developer Ventyx for $1 billion, and Insert Key Solutions, which specializes in asset management software. And Ventyx, as an independent subsidiary, recently bought Obvient. All of them are U.S. companies.

In the case of this acquisition, the appeal of the global market is certainly calling. Converteam sees its high growth markets in Brazil, China, Russia, India and the Middle East -- which are all either mining for natural resources, pushing for renewables, or both. For GE, it’s a chance to take a larger chunk of the electrification market, which was valued at more than $30 billion in 2010, according to the company.

The deal is expected to close during the third quarter of 2011 and Converteam’s senior management will retain about a 10 percent stake in the company, which will be purchased in the coming years to the tune of approximately $480 million.

Tags: converteam, energy efficiency, ge, general electric, industrial engineering, power conversion electronics, power electronics, renewables