Schneider Electric, Investors Push to Speed Up U.S. Microgrids
(Bloomberg) -- Betting on growing demand to finance and support mini power plants, Schneider Electric SE said on Friday that it was partnering with investors to launch a new company focused on microgrids for small and medium-sized U.S. businesses.
Investors led by Jeff Ubben’s new sustainable investment firm Inclusive Capital Partners and clean energy-focused Huck Capital, will back the partnership.
Having reliable, sustainable access to renewable power should be a top corporate priority for both small and large companies in the coming years. Local electric grids offer potential stability in both service and pricing, which are increasingly volatile amid the global push to electrify transport and blackouts related to climate change-driven storms and wildfires.
“In the next 20 years as a planet we’re going to use three times as much electricity as we do today — that’s the minimum,” Schneider Electric Chief Innovation Officer Emmanuel Lagarrigue said in a phone interview.
Large companies like Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have been able to access power purchase agreements that let them exclusively buy up electricity from solar or wind farms, but high upfront costs have proved a barrier for smaller companies, buildings and hospitals that might also want their own supplies.
Small and medium-sized structures represent 90% of the buildings in the U.S. and Canada, the companies said, and those firms are increasingly paying more for traditional electricity access in places like California and the U.S. Northeast, where Schneider’s new company plans to focus efforts. The new firm begins operation Friday and hopes to develop a minimum of $1 billion in clean renewable energy assets under long-term contracts.
According to government data compiled by Bloomberg, the average annual retail price of power for the commercial sector in California has risen about 30% over the past decade to to 16.34 cents a a kilowatt hour in 2018.
“What no one’s done yet is productize a behind-the-meter solution for smaller companies that want to be carbon free,” Ubben said. The partnership between the company and the investors will use investor-backed financing to let companies install so-called “energy-as-a-service” pre-engineered clean microgrids without paying for all the costs associated with installing and maintaining the systems up front.
The new company, which will target 1 to 5 megawatt projects, will sell unused power to the grid.
Amid the coronavirus, U.S. microgrid installations have slowed to just 129 in the first half of this year, compared to a total of 546 self-contained systems that were installed in all of 2019, according to Wood Mackenzie. But the new distributed nature of work and increasing awareness of climate change could accelerate the desire for companies to control their own energy needs, Lagarrigue said.
“The notion of the electric grid as we know it is probably going to fade away,” he said. “You can now imagine a world in the future where every home, hospital, shopping mall is purchasing its own energy, storing it and eventually exchanging it with others.”
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