British energy supplier Ovo buys U.S. smart grid startup in first ever acquisition

LONDON (Reuters) - Ovo Energy, one of Britain’s fast-growing independent energy suppliers, said it has bought U.S. smart grid startup VCharge, its first acquisition since it was set up in 2009.

It joins peers in investing in new energy technologies as the market moves away from its decades-old model of centralised generation and supply to a distributed energy system.

Ovo did not disclose the value of the acquisition but said it would help with the challenge of connecting more renewable energy resources - which are typically intermittent - to electricity networks.

VCharge has developed algorithms calibrated to better manage households’ use of electric storage heaters, which typically heat up bricks during the night and then store heat for release when needed during the day.

“We believe this platform will harness the potential of energy storage in reducing dependency on fossil fuels,” said Ovo’s Chief Executive Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Independent energy suppliers like Ovo have poached millions of customers from incumbent players by offering lower priced deals and more efficient services.

Ovo now counts nearly 700,000 customers in Britain and made a profit for the first time last year. It wants to reach the one-million customer mark this or next year.

VCharge’s electricity heating systems were recently tested in British social housing buildings, allowing residents to control electric heaters via smartphones and save money by using electricity when it is cheapest.

Ovo said it would use VCharge’s technology to offer free heating control upgrades to customers using electric storage heating in combination with a new energy tariff tailored to customers’ usage.

Peers that have invested in new energy technologies include Britain’s largest energy supplier, Centrica, which last year acquired Neas Energy, a Danish company that manages power supply for distributed energy customers, for 170 million pounds.

($1 = 0.7983 pounds)

Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Editing by Susan Fenton