Engie Looking for More US Clean Energy Acquisitions: North America CEO

Engie is on the lookout for more clean energy acquisitions in the U.S., where the company plans to ramp up its investments into grid-scale batteries, hybrid renewables projects and offshore wind, says North America chief Gwenaelle Avice-Huet.

With a long history in fossil fuels and nuclear energy, Engie has pivoted dramatically toward renewables over the past few years — a strategy that included the U.S. acquisitions of wind developer Infinity Renewables, solar installer SoCore Energy, and battery storage company Green Charge Networks.

“Do we want to continue with acquisitions? I would say yes, because we want to be big in the U.S.,” said Avice-Huet, who moved from France to Texas a year ago to oversee Engie’s 6,300-person North America division. “This is a huge playground, and a core geography for us strategically.”

No new U.S. gas plants

It’s been a tumultuous few years for Engie, which traces its corporate history back to the construction of the Suez Canal. The company’s stock trades publicly but the French government is its largest shareholder.

In 2015 the company changed its name from GDF Suez to Engie to reflect its new clean-energy focus. It set ambitious targets for renewables, decarbonization and gender diversity in its management, and in 2016 named Isabelle Kocher its CEO, the first woman to lead a blue-chip French company.

It hasn’t always gone smoothly. In February Engie’s board of directors ousted Kocher ; last month the company scrapped its dividend and withdrew its 2020 guidance amid the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday the company announced it would exit more than two dozen countries , with its energy services business hit hard by coronavirus.

Engie was slower than some European peers like EDF and Iberdrola in pressing into the U.S. renewables market, but it’s taken up the strategy with vigor. Through its acquisitions, the company now holds a leading position in the corporate renewables market — a market Avice-Huet expects to sustain itself through the pandemic and any downturn.

Last year Engie signed more U.S. corporate wind deals than any other developer, according to the American Wind Energy Association, with a list of renewables customers that includes Microsoft, Walmart and Target.

Engie installed 500 megawatts of U.S. renewables last year and it’s building another 2 gigawatts this year, equivalent to two-thirds of its planned global additions. 

Engie claims to be the world's largest independent power producer, with nearly 100 gigawatts of generating capacity globally, including substantial amounts of gas-fired and nuclear plants.

Despite Henry Hub natural gas spot prices below $2 per MMBtu, Avice-Huet said Engie is not investing in new U.S. gas plants — no small thing for a company once known as Gaz de France (GDF).

"My journey in the U.S. is very much focused on the acceleration of...