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Total’s billion-dollar acquisition will allow it to compete with Tesla-SolarCity, says Lux Research

French oil company Total, with energy storage firm Saft and SunPower in its portfolio, is the first oil “supermajor” entering new areas of business including solar plus storage and distributed generation, Lux Research says.

 Amid falling profits and long-term questions, global oil “supermajors” must follow in the footsteps of Total – which recently bought energy storage company Saft for $1 billion – and explore opportunities not only in battery but also solar and distributed generation, according to Lux Research.

“As Darwinism looms for the future of power, oil supermajors looking to evolve must choose among more expensive, broader battery players. But they should still act, as waiting longer or doing nothing, would be an even worse outcome,” said Cosmin Laslau, Lux Research Senior Analyst and lead author of the report titled, “Superpower Darwinism: What Big Oil Can and Cannot Do About Total’s Billion-Dollar Battery Move.”

“Worthwhile battery companies continue to gain value and build momentum with each passing day, as do other opportunities toward a distributed generation future,” he added. “Indeed, the recent Tesla-SolarCity merger highlights the increasingly high-stakes race to integrate the future pieces of power, which are underpinned by distributed solar and advanced energy storage.”

Lux Research analysts evaluated potential acquisitions for oil supermajors in the light of Total’s acquisition of Saft. Among their findings:

  • Samsung SDI, Toshiba, NEC are potential targets. Top battery-makers such as Panasonic, Hitachi and China’s BYD might be out of reach for most oil supermajors, given that each is a larger conglomerate valued in excess of $20 billion. But Samsung SDI, Toshiba and NEC are affordable targets, and more focused businesses too. Still, each will cost way more than the $1 billion Total paid for Saft – a transaction that today looks like a positive bargain.

  •  Asia challenges loom for battery acquirers. Even though the battery business is a truly global one, most battery companies remain Asia-based, posing potential integration challenges for a major acquirer. Still, Korea’s LG Chem, for example, has a factory in the U.S., and NEC has a U.S. presence via its acquisition of A123 Systems’ energy storage division.

  • It’s not just the battery anymore. Total’s moves are not about the battery but also about solar and distributed generation. It bought a controlling stake in SunPower in 2011, years before it bought battery-maker Saft. It also has made smaller plays in distributed generation through Stem, Sunverge, Powerhive and Off-Grid Electric. Total’s approach has important lessons for other oil supermajors, and suggests it is no longer enough to buy a battery company. To make the most of the emerging opportunities, solar or wind is also key, as is being active in connective software and hardware.

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