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Electrified - Issue 44
What's old is new again
Fall is in full swing. I hope you’re enjoying some much needed time outdoors while the weather is cooperating.
Let’s get to this week’s energy news.
$12 billion. That’s the investment amount potentially earmarked for companies labeled ESG by the end of the year. For comparison, that’s more than the total amount invested into cleantech companies over the last 5 years.
A good part, if not the majority, of this capital, is flowing from firms active in the oil and gas sector. The reasons are obvious - no one wants to spend money getting oil out of the ground.
It’s way too early to know how these SPACs will play out for investors. But, if these firms are truly interested in joining the energy transition with an alternative to their current strategy in search of differentiated returns, there’s a different one they should be contemplating.
What’s old is new again
Industrial giants have long relied on growth and/or pivot through mergers and acquisitions not related to the core business.
The last qualifier is very important here. This strategy is not to acquire businesses that when combined with existing assets create operating efficiencies.
Instead, I'm suggesting a strategy like the one used by Roper and Danaher. Both of these industrial giants re-made their businesses over the last two decades via M&A but did so in very different ways.
Roper focused on adding asset-light, capital-efficient businesses to its portfolio. The goal was to create a flywheel where each dollar of growth drove returns for further acquisition of increasingly capital-efficient businesses.
Danaher had the same strategy but deployed different tactics. They were one of the first industrial companies to master the lean manufacturing philosophy.
Instead of acquiring cash efficiency, they acquired companies where they could add margins by implementing their operational system. They went after solid assets with the same razor/razorblade model of their core businesses and executed with precision.
These acquisitions took Danaher from a company focused on siding and rubber to one focused on healthcare, dental supplies, and tools. If you look at it through this lens, any pivot to a new industry seems trivial.
Today, Danaher has a market cap near $115B and has spun out Fortive ($25B) and Enivsta ($5B).
How would this work in energy?
Rather than speculate which type of strategy would work (hard asset v. technology), the firms that could execute it, or the potential acquisition targets, we should focus on why now is the time to try something different to ensure future viability.
The cost-of-capital spread between technology and energy is wide, meaning the strategy is harder to execute financially but the rewards are larger.
The total market value of oil and gas has peaked. We may see the price per barrel come back, but the total volume will not return.
The opportunity cost is low - even the best oil and gas companies will be capped on their returns over the next 20 years. Margins will be captured by the biggest firms through consolidation.
The worst-case scenarios are the same, assets that go to near zero if not operated correctly.
Danaher and Roper prove that tactics within this strategy can be different and still produce massively positive outcomes.
However, the businesses did have three commonalities that must be true here as well:
A world-class CFO
A repeatable operating philosophy
Deal-terms that are simple and mandatory
Here are the 8 criteria that each potential acquisition target should meet regardless of post-acquisition tactics:
Non-cyclical business - oil and gas operators and investors have felt the pain of the boom and bust cycle for too long. Instead, focus on investing in stable, predictable assets like electricity or software.
Solid, but not exponential growth. We're looking for deals that are not splashy enough for most acquirers, likely in the range of 10-15% annually.
The gross margin to operating margin spread is wide. We want businesses that have room for improvement with capital investment and structure.
Small, niche assets regardless of a hardware or software strategy - sub $250M acquisition price. The acquisition can be a combination of debt and cash.
Lower asset intensity than E&P or midstream
Good business within niche parts of energy and excellent management
Assets that can be operated autonomously and will not be integrated. This lowers the risk of culture clash between, tech and/or renewables and oil+gas.
Prioritize top-line growth and align management incentives accordingly. The goal is to lock in talented teams for the long haul.
What would I do?
The strategy I would employ given this environment would be similar to Taleb’s barbell framework. I would seek out cash-flowing, non-cyclical assets that enable the acquisition of technological long-shots where my assets are the first and best customer.
For me, technology equals software because it’s where I am most comfortable. But, it’s plausible a great oil and gas firm could continue operating a select few assets that are cash flow accretive while working on complex technologies like carbon capture.
Some of you reading this will undoubtedly think I’m completely crazy and this could never work. But, now is the time for oil and gas firms to take a chance and position themselves for the future.
Our guest this week is Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, the largest climatetech startup incubator in North America.
Earlier this year, Greentown Labs announced its expansion to Houston, TX. We talk with Emily about that announcement and the similarities between Boston and Houston. Emily shares her background with us and discusses how her background working with large corporations has shaped Greentown’s role in the climatetech ecosystem. 🎙Apple 🎙Spotify 🎙Feed
Jonathan joins Power Down to discuss the California EV order, he has a take you might not expect.
Through an analysis of state tax documents and discussions with developers, landowners, and energy-focused lawyers the report found that, over their lifetime, the current fleet of utility-scale wind and solar projects in Texas, inclusive of all tax abatements, will generate between $4.7 billion and $5.7 billion in new tax revenue to local communities. And, if all projects with interconnection agreements are built, existing and planned utility-scale wind and solar projects will pay between $8.1 billion and $10 billion in total tax revenue over their lifetimes.
It’s one of several changes that the city is making to reach an ambitious goal: By 2030, the city’s government plans for it to be essentially a zero-emissions city, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 95% compared to 2009, something that city leaders see as necessary to meet the world’s climate goals.
We had really hoped that if we just tell people how bad it is, how much we’re screwing things up, they will change their behavior, but it doesn’t work that way,” says Kevin Green, the senior director at the Center for Behavior and the Environment at Rare, a conservation organization. Instead, psychologists and behavioral economists have shown that people are not only less rational than policymakers presume but also uniquely ill-suited to addressing environmental problems.
Recent Investment Activity
Rhombus Energy, a San Diego, Calif.-based maker of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding led by Emerald Technology Ventures, with Cycle Capital Management, Inci Holding, Nabtesco Technology Ventures, Greenhouse Capital Partners and earlier shareholders also participating.
GoExpedi, a Houston-based supply chain and analytics company for industrials and energy companies, raised $25M in Series C funding led by Top Tier Capital Partners along with participation from Crosslink Capital, San Jose Pension Fund, CSL Ventures, Bowery Capital, and Hack VC.
Overstory, a European player that uses machine learning to interpret satellite imagery and climate data to monitor the risk and impact of vegetation on power lines, raised a seed round from Pale Blue Dot and Powerhouse Ventures, alongside Techstars and Futuristic VC.
Data Gumbo, a Houston-based maker of an industrial blockchain network, raised $4 million in Series B funding. L37led the round and was joined by investors including Equinor Ventures and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures.
Turntide Technologies, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based developer of “sustainable” electric motors, raised $33 million. Backers include Amazon Climate Fund, Meson Capital, BMW iVentures, JLL Spark, Wind Ventures, and Future Shape.
Nori, a Seattle-based marketplace for carbon removal, raised $4 million. Placeholder led, and was joined by North Island Ventures and Tenacious Ventures.
What I’m thinking about
If you prioritize for maximum risk reduction, you typically end up choosing a path where the consequences of success become inconsequential...
See you next weekend,