Total Continues to Diversify, Takes Strategic Stake in AutoGrid

French multinational oil major Total continues to diversify and adapt to changing market, industry and political conditions by making strategic investments across the renewable energy value chain. Total Energy Ventures (TEV), the corporation’s venture capital (VC) arm, joined AutoGrid’s Series C-2 funding round as a strategic investor, the Redwood City, Calif.-based developer of distributed energy resource management systems, announced Sept. 16.

TEV joins a group of VC and private equity firms that invested $20 million in AutoGrid in May. Others included Energy Impact Partners, a private equity firm created by U.S. and U.K. utilities, and Envision Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based private equity firm focused on big data and industrial internet software.

Total has been assembling the pieces of what is shaping up to be a horizontally and vertically integrated distributed renewable energy group. Total has established a market leading presence in solar energy manufacturing and project development by taking a majority equity stake in SunPower. In May, Total acquired Saft, a leading player in the battery-based energy storage market, in a deal valued at around $1 billion.

Strategic Investments

Becoming a strategic investor in AutoGrid isn’t TEV’s first foray into distributed energy resource management systems. In February, TEV participated in Sunverge Energy’s $36.5 Series C funding round.

AutoGrid is the developer of IP-based information and communications technology platforms that aggregate and manage electricity generation, storage and distribution across fleets of grid assets distributed both behind and in front of utility meters.

“TEV’s investment in AutoGrid extends our firm’s involvement in digital energy solutions that enable increased use of solar, wind, battery storage and other clean energy technologies,” Christophe Tonion, CFO and senior investment manager, said in a Sept. 16 statement. “AutoGrid’s flexibility management applications empower the energy industry to use the Energy Internet to transform the traditional centralized one-way electric grid into a modern distributed bi-directional grid that is more efficient and extends the benefits of affordable, reliable energy to millions of more people around the world.”

A “Killer App” for Distributed Energy Resources

AutoGrid has raised $41.75 million in capital to date, AutoGrid CEO Amit Narayan told Renewable Energy World. TEV’s latest investment in the company highlights that flexibility management is the DER market’s “killer app,” he said.

“The additional funding from [TEV] will support further development of our AutoGrid Flex suite of flexibility management applications for predicting, controlling and optimizing distributed energy resources via the Energy Internet,” Narayan said.

Geographically, AutoGrid is focusing its attention and resources in Europe and North America, where it’s working with a large number of utilities and energy service providers. Management also views Asia as an important growth region and expects to expand its presence in the region rapidly leading into 2017.

“In North America, we are working with major utilities, such as [Bonneville Power Administration; energy service providers, such as NextEra Energy Services; and small electric co-ops, such as [New Hampshire Electric Cooperative],” Narayan said. “In Europe, we are seeing huge growth and demand for our technology, and we are working with some of the largest and most innovative energy service providers, such as Eneco and E.ON.”

AutoGrid is seeing growing customer interest across three main types of technology: demand response management systems and distributed energy resource management systems, primarily in North America, and virtual power plants, primarily in Europe, Narayan said.

Within the distributed energy resource market, demand for battery storage system deployment is growing rapidly. A growing number of distributed energy resource project developers, utilities and energy service providers have expressed interest in working with the company to monetize the various services and flexible capacity of their battery storage systems in order to maximize returns on their projects, Narayan said.

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