Aclara – from smart metering to smart grid company

Aclara’s acquisition of Tollgrade’s smart grid business will expand its smart device offerings.
Published: Fri 12 Aug 2016

In what seems to be a quiet market for mergers and acquisitions in the smart grid sector, Aclara Technologies continues its growth and expansion with the acquisition of the smart grid business of Tollgrade Communications.

Aclara is a well established player in the industry, providing primarily smart metering solutions to electric, gas and water utilities worldwide. Its TWACS PLC communication technology has become well known, in use at more than 300 utilities. In 2014 a customer engagement platform was introduced. Last year, the smart metering capability was expanded with the acquisition of GE Grid Solutions’ electricity meter business.

However, with the smart meter market limited, what Aclara has lacked for its future growth is a portfolio of grid management devices – and this is where Tollgrade comes in.

Smart grid sensors and real-time monitoring

Tollgrade, with a background in telecoms, is a relative newcomer to the smart grid sector. Its LightHouse distribution monitoring platform comprising MV sensors and predictive grid analytics that provide real-time grid visibility, and thus for example improved fault and outage detection, has proved a winner. [Engerati-Transitioning From A Reactive To A Predictive Grid and Anne-Laure Leroyer interview] The ‘reference implementation’ at DTE Energy was supported by the Clinton Global Initiative. There are deployments in the US and UK and in other countries such as Brazil, and it has several industry awards to its name. [Engerati-DTE Energy Improves Power Outage Management With Smart Grid Sensors and Outages - Prevention Better Than Cure]

“The addition of LightHouse’s game-changing platform allows Aclara to provide utilities with an economical alternative to other systems,” commented Allan Connolly, president and CEO of Aclara, in a statement.

He adds that it expands the market potential for these products in the electric utility industry by “combining Tollgrade’s strong, established relationships in the investor owned utility market with Aclara’s leadership in the cooperative and municipal electric markets.”

According to the statement in addition to the expansion of Aclara’s capabilities in distribution grid monitoring, the transaction – the financial terms of which haven’t been disclosed – strengthens Tollgrade’s focus on its traditional Broadband business.

“Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for our smart grid business and LightHouse solution,” says Erik Christian, VP of Smart Grid. “Joining Allan and the fantastic organization he’s built will strengthen our technology platform and ability to service our customers, and will enhance our capabilities to reach new markets.”

A smart infrastructure business

In a December 2014 interview with St. Louis Post-Dispatch following his appointment as CEO, Connolly said he had come with a clear mandate: to transform Aclara from a smart meter company to a smart infrastructure business.

“Our goal is to rapidly expand both the market sectors we play in today, but more importantly, broaden the product solutions we offer to utilities. We’ll always have that AMI piece as a core part of the business, but we’re looking for a lot more,” he said in the interview.

The acquisitions of the GE meter business and now of Tollgrade have achieved that goal. There can always be further broadening of products but whether there will be further acquisitions remains to be seen. As of now Aclara can look to the future as a burgeoning smart infrastructure company.