EDF-RE targets corporate buyers in US with groSolar acquisition

EDF Renewable Energy’s acquisition of groSolar will allow it to offer a “multi-dimensional” suite of products – including distributed solar and storage – to corporate buyers of renewable power in the US, says chief executive Tristan Grimbert.

Announced this week, the acquisition of commercial and industrial (C&I) PV specialist groSolar represents EDF-RE’s largest-ever push into distributed generation. The move reflects corporate customers’ growing demand for renewable power both from large, often-distant plants as well as from smaller, more locally sited ones. 

San Diego-based EDF-RE, the US subsidiary of France’s EDF Energies Nouvelles, is already a leading player in the booming market for selling wind power directly to corporate US buyers, with a list of customers that includes Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Procter & Gamble.

Three-quarters of the projects EDF-RE will build this year have a corporate buyer lined up, Grimbert tells Recharge.

“We provide wind and solar power through PPAs, but we also recognise the need for distributed solar and storage,” he says. “We want to have a multi-dimensional offering.”

EDF-RE is a top 10 owner of US wind capacity, and has been deepening its exposure to utility-scale solar, including its late 2015 acquisition of the 500MW Palen project in California from Abengoa.  

But while the company has built distributed solar assets in the past, it came to the realisation that developing and building a steady flow of smaller PV projects “requires a different structure than the one we have”, Grimbert says.

“We’re a company that’s mostly organised around large projects, with longer lead times, more investment, maybe a slower pace,” he says.

There can be synergies between utility-scale and distributed solar, including equipment procurement and financing, Grimbert says. “But in terms of the development and implementation of projects, we’ve recognised the need to have two separate teams.”

Maryland-based groSolar, which builds and maintains PV systems for C&I clients – typically a megawatt or two in size – will be managed as an independent business within EDF-RE.

Within the broader renewables market, distributed generation is “becoming more and more important”, Grimbert says.

“I think the utility-scale market will remain slightly bigger … but we want to be positioned in both,” he says. “I’m going to try to grow both [sides of the business] as big as possible.”

Throughout its nearly 20-year history, groSolar has built more than 2,000 PV systems totaling 150MW. While the company has done “a fair amount” of work with corporate clients, it has focused more on municipal customers in recent years, says chief executive Jamie Resor.

Municipalities tend to be more creditworthy than smaller companies, which makes it easier to finance and build PV systems for them. But the fast-growing corporate PPA market takes on a new light as part of the EDF family, Resor says.

“If you look at the caliber of some of EDF’s corporate clients, credit isn’t really an issue,” he says.

With groSolar in its stable, EDF-RE can offer corporate customers everything from on-site solar and storage to electricity generated at some of the country’s largest wind and solar projects.

“We’ve run into situations in the past where the customer wants solar but they really want it as part of a broader package,” Resor says.

“Now we’ve got a platform where we can sit down with truly national corporations or municipalities and not be perceived as a good partner for one project here and one there, but [one that can] take a more holistic approach.”

EDF-RE has no intention of entering the residential solar market, although it will pursue the growing market for community solar projects, Resor says.

EDF-RE may be placing a heavier emphasis on solar than it has in the past, but it’s in no way backing away from wind. The company recently announced that it was the single largest wind developer in the US in 2015, bringing 1,055MW of capacity online – equivalent to 12% of the total market.

“We don’t intend to diminish our wind presence,” Grimbert says. “We just want to grow our solar business as well.”