Fluence Energy, Inc. (NASDAQ:FLNC) Q3 2023 Earnings Conference Call August 10, 2023 8:30 AM ET
Lexington May – VP, IR
Julian Nebreda – President and CEO
Manavendra Sial – SVP and CFO
Rebecca Boll – SVP and Chief Product Officer
Conference Call Participants
James West – Evercore ISI
Brian Lee – Goldman Sachs
Justin Clare – ROTH MKM
Julien Dumoulin-Smith – Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Benjamin Kallo – Baird
Pavel Molchanov – Raymond James
Tom Curran – Seaport Research
Craig Shere – Tuohy
Thank you for standing by and welcome to the Fluence Energy Inc. Q3 2023 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After the speakers’ presentation [Technical Difficulty] As a reminder today’s call is being recorded.
I would now like to turn the call over to your host, Mr. Lex May, Vice President of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.
Thank you. Good morning and welcome to Fluence Energy’s third quarter 2023 earnings conference call. A copy of our earnings presentation, press release, and supplementary metric sheet covering financial results along with supporting statements and schedules, including reconciliations and disclosures regarding non-GAAP financial measures are posted on the Investor Relations section of our website at fluenceenergy.com.
Joining me on this morning’s call are Julian Nebreda, our President and Chief Executive Officer; Manu Sial, our Chief Financial Officer; and Rebecca Boll, our Chief Products Officer.
During the course of this call, Fluence’s management may make certain forward-looking statements regarding various matters relating to our business and company that are not historical facts. Such statements are based upon the current expectations and certain assumptions and are therefore subject to certain risks and uncertainties. Many factors could cause actual results to differ materially. Please refer to our SEC filings for our forward-looking statements and for more information regarding certain risks and uncertainties that could impact our future results. You are cautioned to not place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of today. Also, please note that the company undertakes no duty to update or revise forward-looking statements for new information.
This call will also reference non-GAAP measures which we view as important in assessing the performance of our business. A reconciliation of these non-GAAP measures to the most comparable GAAP measure is available in our earnings materials on the company’s Investor Relations website.
Following our prepared comments, we will conduct a question-and-answer session with our team. During this time to give more participants an opportunity to speak on this call, please limit yourself to one initial question and one follow-up. Thank you very much.
I’ll now turn the call over to Julian.
Thank you, Lex. I would like to send a warm welcome to our investors, analysts, and employees who are participating on today’s call. This morning, I will provide a brief update on our business and then review our progress on our strategic objectives. Following my remarks, Manu will discuss our financial performance for the third quarter as well as our outlook for the rest of the fiscal year.
Starting on Slide 4 with the key highlights, I’m pleased to report that in the quarter we recognized $536 million of revenue. We continued to experience strong demand as new orders were approximately $565 million highlighted by our Solutions business contracting 1.4 GW hours and our Digital business adding nearly 1 GW of new contracts. Furthermore, our signed contract backlogs as of June 30, increased to $2.9 billion.
Turning to adjusted gross profit, we delivered $24 million or a margin of approximately 4.4% for the quarter. This is slightly lower than the Q2 level of 4.6%, primarily because of one project that experienced delay from a noncore supplier. This was an isolated incident which will not hinder us from our expectation of achieving double digit gross profit margins in Q4.
Lastly, our Services and Digital business, which represented some of our recurring businesses, continue to see traction. Our deployed service attachment rate which is based on our cumulative active service contract relative to our deployed storage remains above 90%. And we have noted previously, we typically see a lag between signing Solutions contracts and entering into a Service contract, which is why we believe the cumulative attachment rate is a varied metric.
Turning to our Digital business, we had a very strong quarter as we were able to contract nearly 1 GW. However, our digital assets under management at the end of the third quarter was slightly lower than the second quarter level as a result of a customer not renewing its contract with us. This slight decline will be more than offset as the new contracts not yet deployed move from our digital backlog to our digital assets under management.
While we don’t like losing customers, the nonrenewal is within our expected 5% rate for churn or customer attrition. Our low churn rates highlight the general stickiness of our customer base. Overall we still have a lot of work to do regarding our digital business, but we are on track to deliver on our commitments.
Turning to Slide 5, I’d like to discuss the five strategic objectives that we highlighted previously and provide you with an update on our progress. First, on delivering profitable growth. I’m pleased to report that we are raising our fiscal year 2023 guidance for both revenue and adjusted gross profit. As my note will discuss in more detail, we’re able to raise our guidance due to better project execution, thanks in a large part to our supply chain improvement. Additionally, we are reaffirming our expectations that we will be close to adjusted EBITDA breakeven in our fiscal fourth quarter.
Second, we will continue to develop products and solutions that our customers need. As such I’m pleased to report that we signed a 400 MWh contract that will utilize Northvolt’s batteries. This is a significant milestone and this will mark our first major project that will utilize European manufacturer batteries and illustrates our commitment to diversifying our supply chain.
Third, we will convert our supply chains into our competitive advantage. I’m pleased to say that we have signed a U.S. cell supply agreement with AESC under which we will procure U.S. manufactured battery cell. This is a tremendous achievement for us as we believe this will position Fluence to be one of the first companies to provide customers with a storage product that qualifies for the 10% investment tax credit bonus under the IRA domestic content rules. This contract provides us access to the limited early U.S. cell supply and give us a first mover advantage which position us to potentially increase our existing market share.
As I mentioned previously, this agreement supports our domestic module manufacturing for which we expect we will capture the incentive of $10 per kWh, which I will touch on more shortly.
Four, we will use Fluence Digital as a competitive differentiator and a margin driver. I’m pleased to report that we continue to make progress on our Nispera product road map. This quarter we launched an artificial intelligence based predictive maintenance tool, our first artificial intelligence tool for battery storage on the Nispera platform. I will also discuss this in more detail momentarily.
And finally, our fifth objective is to work better. I’m proud to say that Fluence has increased its total gas position by more than $30 million from the second quarter level, further bolstering our liquidity. Our total cash includes cash, cash equivalents, restricted cash and short-term investments.
Turning to Slide 6, demand for energy storage continues to accelerate. In fact, our pipeline now sits at $12.4 billion, which is an increase of more than $1 billion from last quarter. Additionally, as I mentioned, we saw our backlog increased to approximately $2.9 billion. We expect to see some initial project awards in the second half of this calendar year that are directly attributed to the Inflation Reduction Act. As such, we reaffirm our belief that consolidated revenue growth will be between 35% to 40% in fiscal year 2024 relative to our increased revenue guidance for fiscal year 2023.
Turning to Slide 7, as I mentioned earlier, we have secured an off take agreement with AESC for U.S. made battery cells. This agreement strengthens our capacity to offer customers a storage product that we expect to qualify for the additional 10% investment tax credit, a bonus granted to products complying with the prescribed criteria for domestic content under the IRA. We expect the first U.S. sales to be delivered in calendar Q4 of 2024.
Additionally, we’re still on track to begin manufacturing our battery modules at our facility in Utah in the summer of 2024. We know that the battery modules will produce starting in the summer of 2024 to qualify for the $10 per kWh incentive and we’ll support the offering of a product compliant with the IRA domestic content requirements upon the integration of U.S. manufactured cells in Q4 of 2024 [ph].
In regard to our U.S. module manufacturing, we do not expect that we will capture incremental margin as a result of manufacturing our own modules in the U.S. Instead, we expect the $10 per kWh incentive will go towards offsetting the cost of reaching economies of scale. From an accounting standpoint, our current expectation is that we will account for the $10 per kWh incentive on our income statement as a reduction to cost of goods and services.
Furthermore, we expect to elect direct pay provision for the first five years of the credit. The exact timing of the cash payment is expected to lag our accounted recognition. Thus we expect it to be in conjunction with our federal income tax reform.
With respect to the U.S. manufactured product we’re exploring whether our first mover advantage will allow us to share some of the benefits our customers will enjoy from our offering and thus provide us with incremental margin. It is too early to define a concrete view, but as the situation evolves, we will provide more color on this potential upside.
As you may have seen earlier this summer, the U.S. Treasury Department released its domestic content regulation. Overall, we’re pleased to see the regulations. However, there are still outstanding questions that we’re hoping the areas will clarify by the end of the calendar year.
Turning to Slide 8, I’m pleased to announce we recently launched an artificial intelligence based predictive maintenance feature for battery and storage as part of our Nispera offering. This is our first Nispera artificial intelligence based feature following the success of the AI capabilities on our Mosaic bidding application. Nispera AI based predictive maintenance feature is an advanced solution designed to upgrade the performance and reliability of any storage system. By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence models, these coordinates technology prioritizes and acts upon the storage performance issues, thereby significantly reducing downtime and ensuring uninterrupted power supply.
From a customer standpoint, the AI based predictive maintenance feature offered by Nispera will provide numerous benefits including minimized downtime, significant maintenance cost savings, enhanced asset reliability, optimized maintenance scheduling and improved safety. I’m pleased to say that we’ve deployed this solution onto its first project in California. More importantly, this feature provides another tangible proof point that we’re on track with our digital business commitments, which we say will not be meaningful before 2025.
In conclusion, I am pleased with the achievement of the third quarter. Although we’re mindful there’s still work to be done, we will look to continue this momentum as we progress through the remainder of the year.
I will now turn the call over to Manu.
Thank you, Julian. I will begin by reviewing our financial performance for the third quarter and then discuss our guidance for fiscal year 2023. Please turn to slide 10. Our third quarter revenue was $536 million, a 124% above prior year. We continue to execute well as we work through our legacy backlog, which accounted for more than half of our revenue in the third quarter.
As we alluded to on our last call, third quarter had a larger impact from the roll off of our remaining legacy contracts than we expect to occur in the fourth quarter. We continue to anticipate majority of our low margin legacy backlog will be turned over by the end of this fiscal year, though as I’ve indicated previously, a small portion will bleed into fiscal year 2024.
We generated approximately $24 million of adjusted gross profit in the third quarter which was an adjusted gross margin of 4.4%, slightly lower than the second quarter level. As Julian mentioned, the driver of the decline was one specific legacy project that incurred delays driven by a noncore supplier. More importantly for the fourth quarter, we expect our margin to be about 10% which reflects an increased weighting of the higher quality, higher margin orders that we have recently signed relative to prior years and expect this to be a good proxy for the expected margins in fiscal 2024.
Third quarter operating expense excluding stock compensation was $54 million or approximately 10% of revenue, which is lower than prior quarter in absolute term, though up just slightly as a percentage of revenue. We remain disciplined about holding our operating expense growth to less than 50% of revenue growth and expect this model to create operating leverage in 2023 and beyond. This is also reflected in the year-to-date third quarter operating expense as a percentage of revenue which was 10.9%, down from 17.2% in year-to-date third quarter 2022.
Turning to our cash balance, I’m pleased to report we ended the third quarter with $416 million of total cash, including short-term investments and restricted cash. This represents an increase of more than $30 million from the second quarter. Rounding out the balance sheet discussion and in line with previous communication, we saw a decrease in inventory of approximately $250 million in the third quarter relative to the second and continue to see improvements in inventory turns. This coupled with improved collections drove the increase in our cash balance. In addition, we ended the third quarter with $165 million of undrawn revolver capacity and $80 million of unused supply chain financing providing us additional sources of liquidity.
Please turn to Slide 11. I’m pleased to report we have increased and narrowed our fiscal year 2023 guidance ranges for both revenue and adjusted gross profit. We now expect our total revenue to be between $2 billion and $2.1 billion, which is up from our previous revenue guidance of $1.85 billion to $2 billion.
As Julian indicated, we are maintaining our outlook for 35% to 40% revenue growth in 2024 despite the higher 2023 revenue guide as we continue to benefit from growing demand and strong supply chain assurance, though, we expect roughly 75% of 2024 revenue to be generated in the second half of the fiscal year based on the current contract schedules we are seeing.
We have all of 2024 battery supply secured and the continued improvements in our supply chain position also helped support incremental increase in 2023 revenue guidance compared to prior estimate. We have also narrowed our guidance for adjusted gross profit to be between $117 million and $132 million, which implies a slight increase at the midpoint from our previous guidance of $110 million to $135 million.
As we have indicated on our second quarter conference call, we expect to be close to adjusted EBITDA breakeven in the fourth quarter 2023. As we focus on achieving adjusted EBITDA profitability for fiscal year 2024 and beyond, we intend to provide formal guidance for fiscal 2024 for both revenue and adjusted EBITDA on our next earnings call, while continuing to provide transparency of other key operating and modeling assumptions.
From a cash standpoint, we expect our fourth quarter total cash levels to be near breakeven and we believe we have ample liquidity to meet our 2024 revenue targets. Please note that our U.S. battery cell supply agreement currently calls for a down payment of $150 million to reserve this capacity, which will be paid in installments over fiscal year 2024 and fiscal year 2025 and will be funded by our liquidity and customer deposits for these batteries. The first $35 million will be paid in the first quarter of fiscal year 2024 and another $35 million will be paid in the second quarter of fiscal year 2024.
Before I turn the call back to Julian for final comments, I would like to reiterate that we continue to see strong demand which is reflected in the significant growth of our pipeline, which gives us confidence that we will be close to adjusted EBITDA breakeven in the fourth quarter and generate positive adjusted EBITDA in 2024.
With that, I will turn the call back to Julian.
Thank you, Manu. In closing, I would like to reiterate what I consider to be the key takeaway from this quarter results. First, we had a solid quarter in terms of our financial performance, clearing out much of our legacy low margin contracts while generating cash and raising our guidance yet again. We have also reiterated our expectations that we will be close to adjusted EBITDA breakeven in our fourth quarter.
Second, we have taken steps to secure our future by locking up our fiscal year 2024 battery supply as well as locking up early domestic battery cell production, providing us a clear first mover advantage. Third, we launched our new AI based feature for Nispera to help provide our customers with additional tools necessary to lower the total cost of ownership.
This concludes my prepared remarks. Operator, we’re now ready to take questions.
Thank you. [Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from the line of James West of Evercore ISI. Your line is open.
Good morning, James. How are you?
Good morning, I’m doing well. Very happy today. I’m sure you are as a good quarter and the outlook looks very strong. I’m curious as we’ve had IRA guidance provided now and we obviously know, you and I know kind of the demand drivers here for energy storage. Has there been any net change in that demand either upper or probably, up or down, but probably up with pure guidance out there for the for the U.S.? And then how are you guys thinking about also the the European markets as they start to figure out the green industrial plan that they’ve put out there?
People in the U.S., I don’t think we have seen a major movement since the guidelines came out. So it’s in line with what we said, no that that for a total demand 35 to 40 and that’s what we’re guiding revenue for next year and the U.S. a little bit higher than that. For Europeans we do, we are seeing some, a little of the markets being a lot more I would say moving a lot. So where are — first Germany, I think Germany was a market where it was in shipment. Now we see a lot more, more activity and then the Nordic countries are there another global wins seeing now a lot more demand. I don’t think there’s enough today to call for a review in our 35 to 40, but good signs. Especially Germany being such a big economy, I’m sure it’s going to be a competitive market. So it will be a fun ride for us, but that might be a meaningful no, but that’s kind of where we are. I think we feel very confident about 35 to 40 for next year and positive that we will see demand getting better.
The other one we’re seeing that I maybe is Canada which was something that I think I talked about with some of you before. These days we start seeing demand in Canada mostly, mostly in Ontario, and that has been very, very, that’s also very I think meaningful and it could be a huge mark. And that proves a point I think that if I can make maybe a little bit of add, as you know the kind of electricity has a lot of hydropower and a lot of people when they see hydropower they don’t see a need for battery storage And our view is that reservoirs do their jobs. Our job is completely different. We provide services to the grid to ensure stability, to move capacity faster or faster response to provide black, Black Stars. These are things that you know not necessarily reservoirs can do. So, it really proves a point that even hydro systems or systems that have a lot of hydro capacity need our battery storage to ensure that they can adapt to a new power sector landscape.
Okay, that’s very interesting. Thanks for that Julian. And then a question on Nispera, the adoption of Nispera, how was that, you put much more emphasis last couple of quarters on that, the adoption rate on the software side of the business, how is that progressing?
We signed like around 1 Giga, it was mostly Nispera. We have some Mosaic there and it’s doing very well. I think the fact that we have the first integrated portfolio management, asset performance management tool that covers all the renewal technology, storage, wind, solar. It really makes a difference and it has really been helpful. So we’re very, very happy for the, we — I think this new tool that we just announced the maintenance tool is just a beginning. This one is based on temperature readings, but there’s multiple charts they don’t charge, there’s a lot more. The batteries are very, very rich in data. So there’s a lot of value we will create by harnessing that data and convert it into information that our customers can use to manage it. Our systems a lot better.
Got it. Thanks, Julian.
Great. Great. Thanks, James.
Thank you. One moment please. Our next question comes from the line of Brian Lee of Goldman Sachs. Your line is open.
Hey guys, good morning. Thanks for taking the questions. Kudos on the solid execution here again.
Yes, good morning Brian. How are you?
Good, good, thank you. Question I guess on margins, it’s a high quality from that, but you seem to have gotten through a lot of the backlog that had some of the lower margin, less profitable projects. Q4 guide or I guess the annual guide here for the rest of the year implies Q4 is going to be somewhere in the, like 11% range if my math is right. So I know you’re talking more about like 10% for 2024 and you’re going to give us more of an official view here in the next quarter. But what are kind of some of the puts and takes between the 10% and 15% long-term guide? And then mapping that to 2024 given you are sort of at a good exit rate here for 2023 and it seems like a lot of those legacy projects are now off the books, they’re mostly off the books. Thanks a lot.
Yes, so Brian, there’s a lot to unpack in your questions, so let me go take it piece by piece. So I think just from how to think about the 2024 margins, we are signing contracts in the 10% to 15% margin range and that is still the case. And but the Q4 margin is a good proxy for how to think about 2024 margins, right? And as we have a little bit more contribution from our services business and our digital business maybe takes up a little bit, but Q4 is a good proxy for 2024 and that will continue to increase as we go from 2024 to 2025, so that’s one.
In terms of legacy, you’re right, we are done with most of our legacy projects. I think there’s about $100 million to $150 million that trickles into 2024, mostly done in the first half of the year. So as you do the quarterly profiling and the calculus of 2024 margins, keep that in mind. And then you’re right, the business is performing really well. I would want to point out the fact that, one, we’ve been fairly disciplined from an overhead perspective and that’s important because as we turn the page to 2024, the focus is going to be a lot on EBITDA dollars, right? And that is a better measure of profitability than gross margin or gross margin percent and I think that’s what we want the investor community to be focused on. And that’s reflected in our comments that we get close to EBITDA breakeven in the current quarter or in the fourth quarter.
And then I’ll round up my comments from a cash perspective. We generated cash in the third quarter. My comments talk about cash breakeven in the fourth quarter, which means we’ll generate cash in the back half of the year. So that is another area we are focused on. So EBITDA and cash becomes much more relevant than gross margin or gross margin percent.
My last comment before I pass it on back to you is, we’ve been very pleased with the performance of the business and what that’s got us is, it’s got us to be WKSI enabled. So WKSI is well known seasoned issuer and we intend to file a universal shelf tomorrow after the market for good housekeeping and that’s really reflective of the confidence that shareholders have placed in our business that allows us to be WKSI enabled.
My only comment on the on the filing is that we do not intend to raise. We have no plans to raise capital in any way during — for 2024. We don’t need it and but I think this is just for housekeeping.
And that’s consistent with the comment though that we had in my script.
Okay, yes, fair enough, I appreciate all that additional color. I guess second question shifting to maybe the top line here, I know even with the pull forward it seems like you had here and being able to raise the 2023 guidance, you’re comfortable with the 35% to 40% growth trajectory into 2024. Can you maybe give us a sense of how much of that is just additional demand bookings activity you are comfortable with heading into next year and how much of that is maybe conversion timelines. It seems like some of those are maybe pulling in a little bit. If you can provide a little bit more color around that. And then I’ll pass it on. Thanks guys.
Yes, we are kind of the way I will maybe phrase it is that when you looked at our backlog and you looked at our 2024 revenue, we’re covered right in line with where we were last year. So we feel very, very confident that the backlog that we will convert in 2024 is what we will do in this quarter and next, that we will be more than enough to meet the 35% to 40%. So we feel very, very confident about it. So we will provide you exactly how much of our 2024 of our revenue is covered by backlog in our next earnings call we will provide guidance on 2024. So we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but we are in a similar position to where we were last year, no, when we were doing this year’s planning process.
And our idea was great.
Sounds great. I appreciate it.
Our plan is to provide guidance on 2024 in the next earnings call in late November.
Thank you. One moment please. Our next question comes from the line of Justin Clare of ROTH. Your line is open.
Yes. Hi everyone. Thanks for taking the questions.
Hey, Justin, how are you?
I’m doing well. I wanted to ask you about project timeline. So this quarter you increased the revenue guide again here and so I was wondering if you’re seeing project timelines further compressed. I think you were at around 18 months a little while back here, but things have been trending lower. So where are timelines today? And do you see a path to continuing to shorten the timelines potentially to a time frame of 12 months, say?
In general we don’t see timelines compressing. So we’re — I think that as we looked at our financial planning we see still projects around the 18 months that we saw that we told you. Hey this is a line that we want to work on and I think this is something there is work to be done. It clearly, there are two drivers for this, one is supply chain and the lead times we need for our supply chains to deliver the product sometime and the other one is ensuring that our customers are ready for their, with their infrastructure. So between the two I think that today I think we can, I think we can work with the supply chains to accelerate it. There are customers we can also help them to stand, but there’s a limit to that. But today what we have is an 18-month plan. I mean I think it hasn’t gotten any better.
Got it, okay. And then just want to ask also about your U.S. manufacturing, you signed an agreement here with AESC. How much of that agreement really covers your need for U.S. cells? Does that cover all of your anticipated U.S. cell supply or are you looking for additional suppliers potentially?
And then also may be if you could just speak more broadly about the plan for potentially expanding your capacity footprints in the U.S.? I think you’re plan is 6 GW hours in fiscal 2024. How should we think about potentially moving above that?
Yes, I think that in terms of we believe this deal with [indiscernible] will essentially cover or had large amount of our U.S. demand. We believe that the U.S. market will, there will be a competition between U.S. manufactured sales and imported sales and we will be working on both sides of that fence. And so, but we believe that what we have is enough for our expected demand for the next years. Sorry your second question if you don’t mind repeating yourself now, I don’t know if I got it, sorry on module manufacturing, sorry.
On module manufacturing we are — we built this plant with the ability to increase the output if we want to, for the module manufacturing we put most likely depends on how it goes, we can very, very quickly, this is a, we can double the production very, very quickly and maybe triple it. So we are, but we will see how it goes and then make the decisions at that time. That’s what we’re looking at that.
Okay, thanks very much.
Thank you. One moment please. Our next question comes from the line of Julien Dumoulin-Smith of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Your line is open.
Good morning, Julian, how are you?
Hey, Julian, It’s actually Alex [indiscernible] for Julian. Thanks for taking the question.
Hey Alex, how are you?
I am all right, thank you. Listen, keeping on the theme on sort of the U.S. piece here, congrats on the AESC I guess announcement. Let me ask you this, how sustainable of an advantage do you think that this is? Is there any sort of I guess value wedge that you think you can create there relative to pricing and where you’re able to get those batteries? And then I’m not sure if you mentioned it, but are those raw material indexed? I know that you have some sort of indexation on some of the other contracts. Just curious as far as you guys having an early mover advantage, if you could elaborate on that a little bit?
Yes, I mean, I’ll tell you, talking to customers, what I hear from them is that we are the only ones offering this, that we’re the only ones talking to them about this. So that’s my view. How long of an advantage, how far away are the other suppliers? I don’t know. We — you’ll hear different things from different people. Some people say that they do not believe that the U.S. battery manufacturer will be competitive. I disagree and we disagree and we think we’ll show it to them. And we’ll see how long, how long, how far away, how far away are they? And I think that it will be my opinion. It will be very simple. Once they see that we’re here that we can do that we can offer a project that’s very competitive, that we can put the U.S. flag on top of it, that it really it — they can see that, I’ll see them trying to copy it and they’ll probably be a few years. They are a couple of years behind. It’s difficult to know. Clearly people don’t announce. They — I haven’t seen any announcements and what I hear from my customers that nobody is talking about this, but you know.
That’s what I got — how much A, I guess your second question goes like, can we capture higher margin on this, your second part of question. Well, we believe that you can. We have to, but we just started doing these conversations with our customers and this is a plan that is a little bit complex. It is very difficult to give a concrete view of where we see that happen, but we will see that our customers are going to get a significant upside and that we should share part of it with them as we are delivering this to them. It will also for sure whatever like we said, for sure we will convert it to higher volume and that because largely as you as I said earlier, we will work on both offering imported sales and the U.S. content sales. So we will be playing on both sides of the fence and that’s what I think will be the trick here. We’re not going only — we’re not only riding one horse. We will work so customers who have, the customers have different preference. The customers who do not prefer our U.S. content, U.S. domestic content compliant solution, we will offer them also a solution that does not mean that so. So really, you know, we’re really excited about this prospect and I think that it will solidify our position in the U.S. market, you know with you know.
Yes, no, no, fair enough. Just two quick follow-ups sort of clean up questions if you will from me, maybe for Manu. Just on the delays in in 2Q, should we expect any deferred flowback of LDC? I know you guys have some — seen that in some historical examples? And then on the deposits piece, I mean do you expect that to be entirely fronted by customers or is there some sort of working capital dynamics between cash in from them versus cash from you guys on the deposits piece, you can clarify? Thanks.
Yes. So I think let me take the two questions in order. From a margins perspective, I think any potential LDC kind of boxed it in really well in our third quarter actuals and our fourth quarter guidance. So I think that kind of clears that.
In terms of how to finance the $70 million of deposits for the first half of ’24, I think a good assumption from a modeling perspective is a little over half funded by the customers and the rest funded by our liquidity or any working capital lines that we have.
Got it. I appreciate the clarifications. Thanks guys.
Thank you. One moment please. Our next question comes from the line of Ben Kallo of Baird. Your line is open.
Great. Good morning, guys. Thanks for taking my questions.
Good morning Ben. How are you?
Good morning. Good, thank you. So sticking on to AESC, could you guys talk a little bit about your due diligence with them and how you chose them? And then I think they have one plant that’s operating and one under construction, but where you would begin the cell from — with them? And then I have a follow-up on a different topic.
Yes. We don’t want to disclose too much, but I’ll tell you is the reason — one of the main reasons why we picked them and decided to work with them because we are — these batteries will come out of our reconverted plan, a plan that’s just going through. It is producing and it will reconvert to produce battery cells for the stationary start. So we believe that in the current environment that they were further ahead than anybody else in offering this, and they already have employees already have, as you know, which is a major issue for some of these plants, they already have the technology. They have the supply chains working very, very well. So they are very, very good. And clearly, also AESC is one of the Tier 1 battery manufacturers. They have been working globally or in the U.S. for some time. So that’s the reason why we think that they’re a good partner. They are in a very, very good position to offer these batteries today.
And my follow-up question on a different topic is just market dynamics. And I’m thinking about Tesla talking about having pricing power in the market for their storage business. I just wanted to understand if you guys are seeing that and what’s causing that? And just the competitive dynamics and how it’s changed, either some of your competitors are not as financially strong as you guys or new competitors or anything like that, but then more so on the pricing power? Thanks
I don’t think that the competitive landscape has improved to our advantage. Let me put it that way. I think this is a very competitive market. Tesla is a very, very strong competitor and there are others, as you said, there are a lot of small players who might not — do not have the capacity to the stuff we can offer. But I think we’re far away still. I think we are far.
I’m going to say far away but far from the point where the industry consolidates in a way that we are a limited number of players that I don’t say we’re there, too. So for us, competitiveness is a driver internally to ensure that we did everybody on price, but not only on price, prices, a driver — is not the main driver on ensuring our customers have a product that meets their needs. Price being one, our performance, what we do, how they can bank or finance our investments, the type of guarantees we provide them to ensure that they feel comfortable on in our assets going forward. And I think that we work very, very hard, and we work out every day and we have everybody looking internally. I don’t ensure we’ll be Tesla and any other one that’s around.
All right congrats on the results guys. Thank you.
Thank you. One moment please. Our next question comes from the line of Pavel Molchanov of Raymond James. Your line is open.
Hey Pavel, good morning. How are you?
Good morning. 2024, so recognizing you’re going to give kind of more detailed guidance a bit later by much more backend weighted revenue picture compared to this year and I’m just kind of curious why the difference in sequencing?
So I think the way to think about ’24 from a first half, second half perspective is as follows, right? If you look at how the ’23 guidance has evolved, as we have gone about from our original guidance, which I think the midpoint was 1.55 or 1.6 to where we are, which is closer to 2.05, we’ve kept the growth rate the same, roughly at 35% to 40%, right? And that adds incremental between $600 million and $700 million of margin and — sorry, of revenue. And given the cycle times of our projects, that’s more back-end loaded compared to the first half, right? So I think the split between first half and second half it is largely driven by the strength of our order book. As we’ve gone through ’23, that has resulted in a higher revenue for ’24, but it’s coming in the back half of the year. We feel really confident, and I’ll point to the fact that we have $2.9 billion in backlog as we enter the fourth quarter. And more importantly, we have close to $12.5 billion in pipeline. So we feel very good about where we sit for ’24.
Okay. Let me follow up on the digital AUM kind of coming down in the quarter. You mentioned there was a nonrenewal by a particular customer. Is there a certain churn rate or some other way to just think about digital AUM more broadly?
I mean our churn rate is fairly low, about 5%. So and this customer that didn’t renew essentially is an asset that was sold. They were part of — they were sold to another company. The company had their own system, and they decided to which, in a way, makes sense, they decided to use the system and used further assets. I think that this was within our 5% churn. It’s very, very low. And we are only, I just raised it because it appeared in the numbers. So I wanted you to be aware of what happened, but we signed more than 1, almost 1 giga.
And so we did very well. I think it was a good quarter for our digital business, in general. And these things will happen from time to time and as long as they’re within the end they are, we have no indications that we will end the year within the 5% churn rate that we usually have — which you have for this business.
Understood. Thanks very much.
Thank you. One moment please. Our next question comes from the line of Kashy Harrison of Piper Sandler. Your line is open.
Thanks guys. Hell good morning.
Hey good morning. How are you?
Doing well, thank you. So I wanted to go back to just this discussion on cell sourcing. You’re highlighting U.S. health capacity from AESC. You’re highlighting Northvolt as well, but obviously, you still have a lot of Chinese cell exposure today. And so — maybe if you look out a few years from now, is your expectation that your U.S. that you will sign enough U.S. cell capacity just for U.S. projects and then European sales solely support European projects? And then what does that mean for your Chinese exposure again a few years out from where we are today?
This is my — I think that, a, I will see today — in our planning scenario, we don’t see a world where the U.S. will be fully supplied by U.S. manufactured cells nor in Europe. So that will take some time. The Chinese manufacturers are — they do invest indeed. They have invested [indiscernible]. They started earlier. They have invested a lot in technology. It will take a long time for European and U.S. manufacturers to get there. So that’s the way I see it and that’s the way we know working with our Chinese suppliers, and hope to continue working with them for some time. They provide us with very, very good product. That they have good product road map, and we work with them well. And so we want to continue working with them. So that’s the reality.
The other point I will say is that, hey, I want a world where there’s free trade. So I want a world where we can buy batteries for many places because I think that’s a world that’s better for all of us, a world where our technology will continue evolving, where we’ll have the ingenuity and the capacity of the U.S. engineers coming up with new ideas and making, but also competing with what Chinese and Europeans are doing. So that’s the world I hope that we will have for our industry. So a little bit our planning reflects that concept. We want that world. That’s a world we think that is a world that is better for our technology and better for our standard of living. We will be able to properly address the challenges of climate change. If we try to do each region or each country apart, we need to cooperate and work together. And that’s what — so that’s the way we see it.
Thanks for the thoughts there Julian. And then maybe a follow-up question for Manu. I appreciate the commentary on cash for Q4. But maybe just on a multiyear basis or maybe have been a target basis, can you just help us think through what the — what you think the cash conversion of this business is? Once you hit your targeted long-term margins, do you think this is a 50% EBITDA to free cash flow business? Is it 60%, 70%? Just some thoughts on how you expect EBITDA to convert to free cash long-term.
So Koshi [ph] I think we laid out a cash model maybe two earnings calls back. And I think that’s a good way to think about the model going forward, right? And the model goes something like this, right? We have our EBITDA. We have some amount of CapEx. And in the last few years, it’s been high single digit, low double digit. That will opiate a little bit depending on specific needs of the business.
And then from a working capital piece, which is the heart of your question, I think what we’ve said is take the revenue growth year-on-year and take 10% of that as a proxy for the working capital usage. And I think that’s a pretty good model to think about as you plot out the next couple of years when we get to positive EBITDA territory and beyond.
Thank you. One moment please. Our next question comes from the line of Tom Curran of Seaport Research. Your line is open.
Good morning Tom. How are you?
Good, Julian, good. Over in the EU, when it comes to this churning SKU of policy proposals, initiatives, regulatory changes, that the European Commission has been cooking up in Brussels, whether it’s the green industrial plan, repower EU or this just past renewable energy directive, is there anything in there that’s specifically targeted towards the stores transmission market and expect it to expand and/or accelerate your set of storage as transmission opportunities?
That — the transformation rules are very, very local. So we have to work market-by-market. As you know, there is a transmission systems for all of Europe. But we had work — the work we’re doing today is market by market, what we have done in Germany, what we have done in Lithuania. We have not engaged from a pan-European type of process. I think that will take us time. The — generally, the way you should think about Europeans is that the way they regulate the transmission system is free access and — essentially free access, let’s put it that way. And that means that it allows for — you need to allow energy coming from third parties.
In terms of what we are trying to do, a regulatory challenge when we go into this asset, it’s a simple one. It’s the following, is that most regulatory systems, restrict transmission operators from dispatching assets. However, when you put the battery support the transmission line, the system operator or the transmission owner needs to dispatch assets, needs to use the battery storage as a demand or a dispatch or charge it. And that has created some sort of a legal question for — that we were able to refer in Lithuania. We were able to resolve in Germany and that we’re working to resolve in other places, the U.K. and in Ireland.
But it is a challenge for some of the regulators because, in a way, it questions the segmentation of our industry. Our industry segment, as you know, in demand or distribution, transmission and generation and the views that the treat should be very, very separated, the way to create values by having them be very, very independent. So demand cannot on transmit distribution. Transmission cannot dispatch generation, all these things that all these rules. I think as our technology goes into the grid, that segmentation blurs. And that’s what — that’s the challenge we have. And the challenge we have in the U.S., and that’s a challenge we have to call.
I think that this will happen, and they will have to be a regulatory — and we have been able to successfully resolve it in Germany and in Europe, but it is something that we need to work with all the regulatory players as we move forward. But I don’t — the — I don’t see a pan-European solution for this. This is more of a local issue where we need to work with the local system operators and system regulators.
That’s very helpful clarification, thank you for that. And then Manu, in the quarter, you incurred CapEx of $7.3 million related to software investments. Would you expound upon the nature of that spending and provide us with an estimate of software CapEx for fiscal ’24?
Yes. So let me help start with your ’24 question first and then kind of bring it back, because I think it goes to our long-term view on how we think about software and as a key driver of the business. right? So I think we’ve talked about, call it, double digits, low double digits type of CapEx spend. That includes capitalized software as well. And I think it’s both our own parties, our employees as well as any third parties that kind of help develop from a software perspective. It covers both our operating system projects that we are doing as well as the digital initiatives to advance both Nispera and Mosaic and that adds more capabilities to our current functionality. So that kind of encapsulates where we’ve been spending money for this quarter and going forward. But I think the overall capitalized software is part of our $10 million, $15 million.
Yes, sure. So this is Rebecca. And I’ll tell you from my perspective of leading the technology team, we have a large group of people who create the operating system software platform and we’re actually reinvigorating that platform right now. And that’s a big part of how we see the money — the estimates in for capitalization.
We follow along our product development plans to create new functionality on that software for the different markets, and that mostly is labor, and that labor turns into an opportunity to capitalize it.
As Manu mentioned, that’s also paired with the investment that we make in our cloud-based software. And again, mostly, that’s labor and delivering some of the new functionality, as discussed today, some of that artificial intelligence-based functionality. But all that labor that goes into creating the different software offerings and leads into a capitalization effort.
Got it. Thanks Manu, thanks for that additional color Rebecca.
Thank you. On moment please. Our last question comes from the line of Craig Shere of Tuohy. Your line is open.
Hey Craig, how are you?
Hi, thanks for squeezing me in. So first, I wanted to dig in a little bit on the European transmission answer to Tom’s question. I did notice the New York ISO was studying energy storage as transmission. And I think you’ll find a little bit on the last earnings call about other markets having to address this and having issues. I believe you’re mentioning Latin America at the time. Could you opine on the prospects of working through the system by system issue worldwide and being one of the top three or four companies in the world that can even do this? How big a market this could be in five years?
Let’s start with the last part of your questions. This, we believe, could be a material driver for our performance. We have the Standard & Poor’s analysis, it’s a little bit still to go 30 gigs by 2030, I think it fell when you really look at the challenges that transmission has globally. The — in terms of our — I understood the first part of your questions, how’s our [indiscernible] effort? And are we making progress?
This is — as I said earlier, this has to be — I don’t think we need to do this regulator by regulator and one by one. And our team identifies where we believe we have the highest chances of the highest chance of success and then that’s what we work for our team in — and this is what we did this with AESC. As a partner with AESC, we have been very successful in Chile [indiscernible].
We’re working some a jurisdictions in the U.S. and we have success depending on where we are. But I think after this over, and all the transmission challenges that we have seen, this is going to become a more urgent matter. And as people will see our projects coming online in Germany, I think we’re going to see the U.S. system operators. I can on what they can see and work and they see all the value you can create. I think that we will see a major, major acceleration of this. That’s the way — so we’re very happy.
Unfortunately, today, I cannot announce anything yet, but we’re working on a few concepts that hopefully will be come into reality soon. When Standard & Poor’s takes another look at this market, it will significantly increase from what they were expecting. I think that analysis that is a couple of years back, it’s a little bit stale.
Thank you. And I want to dig in a little more on the answer to Pavel’s digital question. Is there a trend of customers increasing or decreasing their use of internal systems or is the market kind of deciding that specialized third-party digital services is the way to go or is it still kind of case by case?
So when we talk to customers, we hear the need state for us to provide digital solutions that help them operate these battery systems better. So that’s an open space in the market, and that’s the 1 that we’re focused on. When you talk about third-party software systems, usually that’s related to people that have decided to self-integrate and that’s a very specific section of the market.
The — we’re really not competing with that. So we’re playing with customers, developers and IPPs that are consuming our products, and they’re asking us to provide these digital solutions to help them operate the batteries over the long term. So if your question is, are we competing with self-provided software? I would say not really.
If I can add one thing. From a product road map view, our concept is to integrate our software solutions into our hardware solutions in a way that there’s significant value by having the two to really create that additional concept. You know, we sell our Mosaic technology to third parties. We sell our portfolio — asset performance management system to third parties, but we really think that fully integrated into our assets makes will create the ownership of our assets a lot more. It will help our customers reduce the total cost of ownership and make our assets more competitive in the market as that’s conceptually what we’re doing.
But I would say that today, clearly, our system, everybody from us, our battery management system as we deploy it, it will come from us. where you see that people might have different systems are in the bidding application because there are other places, even though our integrates, as I said, very, very well with our infrastructure and in performance management tools that there are not that many players who can offer what we do, which is integrating your solar, your renewables and your battery store systems into one system. That’s one way.
As you — just a quick follow-up. So like two, three, four years out, as you morph this into a more fully integrated business line that historically wasn’t necessarily, do you see the churn that you experienced in this last quarter kind of reducing or going away?
No, I think that the 5% a year is kind of the way we go. Remember, the bidding — because this applies to our whole offering. — reading applications are competitive market. There will be some people will do it, and then there is also the asset — the performance management tools also you have third-party competitor. I think 5% is a good number and for digital applications, it’s fairly, fairly low.
Great. Thank you.
I think that this ends for today. So maybe I can just a parting remarks. So we’re very, very proud of the work that our team has done here. The turnaround, Manu was asking me earlier today. It’s been almost a year since we arrived here. We’re very, very happy for the turnaround that our team has done here. Really their eye on the ball on all the drivers that we needed to bring this company to where we are we are in the brink of getting to our double-digit gross margin and our breakeven point in the fourth quarter of ’24, so very, very happy with the progress. And this is an industry that is evolving. It’s a competitive industry, but we have the desire, the capacity and the ambition to make this great.
And I really thank all of you for your questions, your support and the insights you provide us every time we engage with you because that helps us to do our jobs here every day. Thank you very much, and talk to you soon.
Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, this does conclude today’s conference. Thank you all for participating. You may now disconnect. Have a great day.