General Electric has joined its energy-efficiency and distributed-power technologies with its industrial internet platform to create a new grid edge company, Current.
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, to provide one-stop shopping for customers looking to solve increasingly complex energy problems.
“Customers are asking for more help,” said Maryrose Sylvester, CEO of Current and former president and CEO of GE Lighting. “They’re looking for someone who can look horizontally across their business and can do the hard work for them.”
GE is pitching Current as a startup, but it brings together existing businesses that have more than $1 billion in revenue and is supported by one of the largest corporations in the world.
Yet Current is meant to have a startup mentality, and be more flexible and nimble than its parent company. At the same time, it is backed by deep pockets that can offer customers various financing options.
“It's a sign of the times that GE has created a specific focus on an integrated offering, one that has the ability to marry technology with digital analytics to engage end-use customers in actually becoming active grid participants at the grid edge," said Steve Propper, director of grid edge at GTM Research.
A large piece of the $90 billion left in GE Capital after it was dismantled earlier this year has migrated to Current. GE had been separately tweaking and incubating various technologies, such as its LED business, which was run separately within GE Lighting, and Predix, which was officially launched earlier this year. Now, these pieces will be merged to support customers looking to innovate at the grid edge, whether C&I customers, municipalities or utilities.
First focus on C&I
Early customers, including Walgreens, Simon Property Group, Hilton, JPMorgan Chase, Hospital Corporation of American and Intel, are mostly in the commercial sector.
"There's an increasing recognition in the market that large customers and other heavy consumers of energy can actually be leveraged as a grid asset, rather than a challenge, and create new revenue streams for themselves, utilities and grid operators," said Propper.
Walgreens had already worked with GE Lighting for years and was looking for more ways to incorporate clean energy and leverage lighting networks for advanced applications using lighting-as-a-service. Current and Walgreens will be testing applications such as pushing offers to customers in stores and keeping track of stock.
“It is important that we continue to find innovative, sustainable technology and explore ways to leverage software platforms like GE’s Predix to assess our energy needs and increase efficiency,” Matt Harris, divisional VP of facilities asset management for Walgreens, said in a statement.
The applications might be different for each customer, but the ultimate goal is to have something that looks like a Predix app store that can serve various sectors from healthcare to municipalities to retail.
The pilots have also produced varied flavors of financing, said Sylvester, adding that Current can “do it all.” For cash-strapped municipalities, that might be entire projects done turnkey with service models, or loans for companies that want to own energy assets and pay-as-you-go software licenses.
The challenge of cities
As Current looks to realize revenue from Predix, it will need customers that have “champions at every level” for this type of investment. Municipalities, for example, are a huge opportunity, but the company will have "to really help them be their dot-connectors,” said Sylvester.
At Lightfair earlier this year, GE was just one company pushing the city of the future with endless apps on top of LED networks. The problem is many cities have siloed budgets, and many municipal agencies are just trying to keep up with daily requirements and are not thinking about the potential cross-agency benefits of a networked city. GE hopes its pilot in San Diego, with thousands of LED streetlights and 50 intelligent nodes, will help to change that.
Many vendors are offering more layered services for cities, universities and large corporations. Silver Spring and Acuity have a partnership to bring networked streetlights to cities and utilities. There is overlap, as well: both Acuity and GE Ventures are investors in Sensity Systems, a smart-lighting platform that also works with Cisco.
GE is confident that Current can help cities navigate their energy future, and additional applications, in a way that other companies with less robust offerings cannot. “This is a new kind of energy company,” said Sylvester. “We can touch [our customers] at the highest level down to operations.”
Eventually, Current also expects to serve utilities, especially those that are trying to offer more robust energy services to their customers. "I think we have this real opportunity to partner with utilities in this period of great change and disruption to help them," said Sylvester. At the time of launch, however, Current was not working directly with any utilities.