General Electric’s Current has just made its first acquisition, purchasing networked building startup Daintree Networks for a reported $77 million (AUD$100 million). GE is not disclosing the purchase price and would not comment on figures reported in the press.

Current, which calls itself a startup, is really a $1 billion company backed by global giant GE that is trying to position itself as the energy services company of the future.

Those deep pockets will help Current with acquisitions such as this one, as it builds out an ecosystem to meet customers' evolving needs. Many of its initial projects revolve around LED lighting retrofits, as it is doing with JPMorgan. Daintree began as a networked lighting company, but it now focuses on other assets in the building as well.

Current combines GE’s commercial and industrial LED lighting, solar, energy storage and electric-vehicle businesses with the predictive analytics of its industrial internet platform, Predix.

Daintree’s open-standard wireless network will be integrated with Predix to offer a layer of smart building services that are currently unavailable to most small- and medium-sized buildings that cannot justify the cost of a traditional building management system. Current describes it as a "strategic race to intelligent environments," a race that puts it in competition not only with other lighting companies but also with building control giants such as Johnson Controls and Honeywell. 

Current was drawn to Daintree’s open-standard ZigBee technology, ControlScope, because it does not rely on the type of proprietary technology used by many other lighting network companies.

“We'll deliver the industry's first next-generation, scalable cloud-based energy management and facilities optimization platform for every building type and size," Maryrose Sylvester, CEO of Current, said in a statement. 

Although GE’s Current will own the technology, many other lighting vendors are already working with Daintree. As recently as this month, Daintree announced it is partnering with Osram Sylvania for wirelessly controlled LED fixtures.

In the past few years, Daintree has also announced partnerships with Philips and LG. Daintree has said nothing will change with those partnerships, as its commitment to open standards and an open ecosystem is core to the company’s mission. Daintree had raised $12 million from Lend Lease and Jolimont Capital.

Daintree’s network will help pull in data not only from lighting, but also from HVAC and other sensors, which can then be crunched by Current’s Predix. The goal is to help customers better evaluate energy-efficiency upgrades and execute more tailored operational efficiency. Daintree says its customers save an average of 60 percent in lighting and HVAC costs.

There is increasing pressure for lighting companies to boost their networking capabilities and provide deeper analytics. Cisco and Cree recently announced a partnership to bring Cree’s SmartCast LED lighting platform over Cisco’s digital ceiling framework that operates over Ethernet.

Silver Spring Networks also recently announced it is developing a networked LED streetlight solution for Philips Lighting that could be the basis of a smart cities infrastructure. Current, which is also seeking municipal clients, announced an agreement with Intel for smart cities proposals.

Although cities are a potential market, the near-term opportunity is with corporations. Current already has some big-name customers in the commercial market, such as JPMorgan and Hilton, but Daintree also has a roster of Fortune 500 companies in North America that will help Current, only six months old, scale even faster.

Many of the corporate customers are large, but their buildings are relatively small, such as JPMorgan’s 5,000 branches that are being retrofitted with LEDs by Current.

A wireless open-standard solution should be appealing to companies with large portfolios of smaller properties that are looking for a fast return on efficiency upgrades. Eventually, grocery stores or retail chains may want to use the networks to gain insight into how people are shopping, for example, but for now, it’s all about return on investment and cutting carbon footprints to meet corporate goals.

Although Daintree is based in Silicon Valley in the U.S., CEO Derek Proudian credited the company's Australian roots and continued presence there for research and development as a key element in its growth, especially when it comes to recruiting top engineering talent.

“The problem with Silicon Valley is it’s an overheated economy, so you just can’t get the talent because all the engineers are being sucked up by the Googles, Apples and Facebooks,” Proudian told The Australian. “We’ve been able to find very good talent in Australia, and they’re not job-hopping every six months.”