Edison International has become the latest utility moving beyond selling electricity to customers, and getting into helping those customers manage that energy use.
On Tuesday, the parent company of regulated utility Southern California Edison unveiled its new energy consulting and project development arm, Edison Energy. The new company will work nationwide to “identify and execute opportunities to help them lower costs in managing their entire energy portfolio, reduce complexity, and deliver on increasingly important sustainability objectives,” according to Tuesday’s announcement.
Allan Schurr, the company’s president, described Edison Energy as “a consultancy and systems integration company that’s unbiased in relation to particular technology solutions. We’re trying to find what the largest energy users need, and identify the gaps in their strategy.”
That’s a similar pitch being brought to large commercial and industrial (C&I) energy customers by a lengthening list of competitors -- think GE Current or Duke Energy Renewables. And like many of its rivals, Edison Energy has put together a roster of acquisitions to get there.
This includes the commercial PV development business of SoCore Energy, acquired in 2013, which now has about 250 projects in 17 states, Schurr said. But it also includes three other startups acquired over the previous months at a combined price of about $100 million, according to Tuesday’s announcement.
The first, ENERActive Solutions, covers the energy-efficiency side of the equation. The Asbury Park, N.J.-based energy consulting, engineering, and project development firm works with clients like universities, schools, data centers, industrial sites and hospitals. This is a function provided by many energy services companies like Siemens, Schneider Electric, Honeywell and Johnson Controls, as well as a host of contractors and consultants.
On the high-end energy procurement and data analysis side, Edison acquired Delta Energy Services, which serves a typical customer base of “corporations with at least $1 billion in revenue.” This is the kind of work done by competitive energy providers like Constellation and Direct Energy, as well as competitors such as EnerNOC, Ecova and Schneider Electric via acquisition Summit Energy.
Boston-based acquisition Altenex brings renewables into the mix through its market access platform to connect renewable energy project developers with C&I customers seeking to buy wholesale renewable energy. So far, it’s negotiated long-term power-purchase agreements adding up to more than a gigawatt of wind andsolarpower. This is a similar function provided to Duke Energy Renewables with its acquisition of REC Solar.
Edison Energy isn’t naming its clients yet, but they include about one-quarter of the world’s Fortune 50 corporations, said Schurr. The company currently manages energy procurement for about 7,500 gas and electric customer sites across the country, and its efficiency arm has identified about $1 billion in energy savings measures on the demand side of the equation.
The Irvine, Calif.-based company now has about 200 employees, and runs completely separately from its parent company, he said. It can earn money from advisory services fees, management fees as a percentage of energy supplied, or project-based fees, working according to the custom needs of each client, Schurr explained. But it can also lean on Edison International’s deep pockets to secure financing for certain projects, or even own and operate projects where that makes sense, he said.
As for the types of technologies to be deployed, that’s up to each customer's needs, he added. In some cases that could include commercial solar, or even microgrids for customers seeking energy resiliency, Schurr said -- a field that giant utility Southern Company has recently jumped into through its acquisition of PowerSecure.
But on the other hand, “Edison International’s competitive generation business was sold off a couple of years ago, so there isn’t any financial interest in owning these large contracts,” he added. “We have a nice balance in the portfolio of services that range from upfront advisor services, consulting perhaps on an investment they’re going to make, all the way through [to owning and operating] the systems. We’re really covering the bases.”
More broadly speaking, Edison Energy and its competitors are seeking to make money by helping customers navigate the increasingly complex world of energy options, as the company laid out in a Tuesday white paper entitled “The New Energy Future.” According to the paper’s survey, most large corporate customers don’t have a grasp on where they’re wasting energy, let alone which efficiency or renewable opportunities to invest in: "Emerging technologies like solar, wind, storage, fuel cells, LED lighting systems and building controls, enabled by deeper understandings from new data streams, have become ever more competitive."
At the same time, Edison International and other utility owners are facing significant challenges from the same or similar trends that are now potentially empowering the customers of new companies like Edison Energy. "We certainly see our industry evolving," Ted Craver, chairman and chief executive of Edison International, said at a Tuesday event to unveil the new company. "There certainly are some threats to our corporation that come from that."