Private equity fund Blackstone Energy Partners has bought its way into the commercial and industrial energy storage market by acquiring Toronto-based NRStor C&I.
The deal, announced Wednesday, gives Blackstone a portfolio of 200 megawatt-hours of customer-sited storage in operation, under construction or under contract. It marks a particular vote of confidence in the Ontario market, which has become one of the most dynamic regions in North America for large behind-the-meter storage.
The province's Global Adjustment demand charge provides a hefty price signal for large industrial facilities to cut their demand during system peak hours throughout the year. This rule has precipitated some of the largest behind-the-meter battery installations on the continent, with the record held by two 10-megawatt/20-megawatt-hour systems by Convergent Energy + Power.
That market has stimulated growth as the commercial demand-charge management business model faced headwinds in the U.S. After several years of development in the subsidized California market, commercial storage has had trouble expanding into other states. Many of the venture-backed pioneers of the business model have shifted gears in the last year or two, to focus on software, solar-plus-storage or larger front-of-meter battery development.
Part of the challenge was the time and money required to sign up businesses for a relatively newfangled service as well as to carry out the permitting and construction. Storage providers typically offer zero-money-down service agreements rather than selling systems outright. That means the storage provider must find capital or a project finance partner to pay for the systems.
In the company's own words, “NRStor C&I provides its services under a turnkey build, own and operate business model where no capital outlay or operational expertise is required from the customer.”
Given that model, NRStor C&I stands to benefit from cheap and abundant capital. That’s what it found in Blackstone Energy Partners, which has allocated $16 billion in energy investments globally.
That’s a different level of wealth compared to NRStor C&I’s previous backer. After splitting off from utility-scale storage developer NRStor, the C&I division won investment from Canadian private equity firm Fengate, which manages $4 billion. Fengate and co-investor Lake Bridge Capital had been overseeing the investment for LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada.
The deal provides NRStor with “access to capital, credibility, expansion to new geographies and market segments, as well as expediting our growth plans,” CEO Moe Hajabed told Greentech Media in an email Friday.
That growth includes expansion into utility-scale development across North America, though Hajabed declined to reveal much more about what that will entail.
Access to ample cash on the balance sheet allows storage developers to move faster and bid more competitively than companies that have to raise money project-by-project or share a cut with project finance investors. This same logic fueled a similar transaction last year, when private equity firm Energy Capital Partners bought Convergent, providing several hundred million dollars for the developer to self-finance and own industrial storage projects.