by Michael Kanellos
Schneider Electric's (OTCPK:SBGSF) India subsidiary has bought the core business of SmartLink Network Systems, the latest in a series of transactions for Schneider and the electrical equipment world in general.
Schneider bought the cabling group inside of Mumbai-based SmartLink for $112 million, according to, among others, the Financial Times. The DigiLink cabling business accounts for around a total of 90 percent of SmartLink overall. The cash infusion will allow SmartLink to concentrate on its networking products.
Four years ago, most VCs and Silicon Valley execs didn't think much about Schneider or ABB and many probably didn't know what they did. Times have changed. The global emphasis on energy efficiency and bringing intelligence to the grid has set off an acquisition spree and multinationals like Schneider and ABB (NYSE:ABB)--along with General Electric (NYSE:GE), Siemens (SI), Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI) and Honeywell (NYSE:HON)--have become the most visible acquirers.
Acquisitions in this market have been predicted by many and make perfect sense. The vast majority of the equipment and service offerings in this area--transformers, efficiency services, building management equipment--get sold to utilities and large multinationals, and utilities and large multinationals are conservative. They want to deal with companies with extensive track records and worldwide offices for global support.
Age, depth and worldwide coverage is something all of those companies above understand: every one of the names above can trace back their roots to the 19th Century and the dawn of the electric age. One of the few major players in this acquisition race that doesn't go back centuries is EnerNoc.
Each company is pursuing an individual strategy. Some, like Johnson Controls, will emphasize end-user equipment like building management services. Others will focus more on infrastructure. But when you take a step back, the overall strategy of many is to build a comprehensive portfolio that can include nearly everything from demand response and home networking to pieces of industrial gear that cost millions. Look at Schneider: in the past year it has come out with home energy management systems (which will be sold through utilities) and car charging stations. Those are consumer-facing applications from a company largely unknown to consumers.
Last week, GE announced it would buy Converteam for $3.2 billion, which makes power conversion equipment. Earlier in January, GE bought Lineage Power Holdings, which makes efficient AC/DC equipment for large organizations, for $520 million. The two acquisitions are part of about $11 billion in purchases by GE Energy.
A few days ago, Schneider Electric bought Summit Energy for $268 million, and before that, it bought two building management companies. A few years back, the company bought APC, one of the leaders in power conversion and uniterruptible power supplies. We did an interview with the CEO of Schneider U.S. Chris Curtis. Take a read.
Meanwhile, ABB bought Baldor Electric (efficient motors) for $4.2 billion, virtual power plant developer Ventyx for $1 billion, and Insert Key Solutions, which specializes in asset management software. And Ventyx, as an independent ABB subsidiary, recently bought Obvient.
A few days before that, IBM (NYSE:IBM) --another company name that Rutherford B. Hayes would likely recognize--bought Tririga, which specializes in building management. Also this year, Johnson Controls bought EnergyConnect, which specializes in demand response services.
Startups are in the hunt too. Serious Materials got into building management last year by snapping up Valence Energy, which had just emerged out of Santa Clara University. EnerNoc (NASDAQ:ENOC), meanwhile, has bought ten companies as part of its expansion plan.