Centrica is centered on integrated energy operations in the UK and North America through four major brands -- British Gas, Centrica Energy, Centrica Storage, and Direct Energy. The UK's largest gas supplier, British Gas serves about 12 million homes and 1 million businesses with electricity, gas, and energy-related services in the UK. Through its Direct Energy unit, Centrica supplies gas and power to residential customers in Canada and the US. Centrica is also engaged in gas exploration and production and storage operations. Other activities include gas and electricity production, wholesale energy marketing, international retail energy marketing, drain cleaning services (the Dyno Group), and appliance sales.
Through Centrica Energy, Centrica held proved and probable reserves of about 440 million barrels of oil equivalent in 2011. Centrica Storage handles the company's gas storage operations. Its Rough storage facility under the North Sea accounts for 70% of the UK's natural gas storage.
A major aspect of the company's strategy includes growing its core British Gas business and upstream operations (including gas supply, storage, and renewables) while establishing a leadership position as an integrated North American energy business. Centrica also intends to increase its gas production by 50% -- to around 75 million barrels of oil equivalent over the next three to five years -- by extending its geographic reach. The company also looks to investing in power generation using offshore wind, nuclear, and biomass technologies to supply its customers' needs. It plans to double the profitability of its business by 2014 through targeted acquisitions, both upstream and downstream.
Centrica began in 2012 a program to save £500 million ($788 million) in costs over the next two years by identifying efficiencies. Although the company plans to continue investing for further growth, it has already started cutting 2,300 positions company-wide, as well as implementing a pay freeze across much of the group. It set out to develop a better relationship with its customers by simplifying the purchase of gas and electricity. It also decided to make the cost of delivery more transparent by giving its customers a breakdown on their bill of the actual costs of providing the energy.
Through its aggressive acquisition strategy in North America, the company has gained more than 6 million retail power and gas supply customers in less than a decade as part of its Direct Energy operations. Building on its portfolio of offerings, in 2011 it acquired Illinois-based Home Warranty of America (HWA) for £30 million ($48 million). HWA provides whole home warranty plans to more than 70,000 customers through a network of 4,000 contractors.
Direct Energy also made three acquisitions in 2011 for its residential energy supply business in North America: Gateway Energy Services, First Choice Power, and Vectren Retail. The deals, part of the company's strategy of acquiring smaller suppliers and buying in deregulated markets, added more than 750,000 customers.
In a major move to grow its upstream business and its Norwegian operations, Centrica completed a £936 million ($1.5 billion) deal in 2012 to acquire Norwegian assets from Statoil and ConocoPhillips. Combined, the new assets will increase the company's reserves by almost 40% and its production by more than 30%. The acquisition includes proved and probable reserves of 117 million barrels of oil equivalent and production of 34,000 barrels of oil evalent per day. The buy also makes Centrica one of Norway's fastest growing companies, with a third of its gas and oil production originating from that region. The company's upstream operations also have a presence in Trinidad and the Netherlands.
In spite of the growth of Centrica's gas assets, the company decided to raise its gas and electricity prices by 17% in late 2011 to cover the rising wholesale commodity prices in the first half of the year. Mild weather that year led to a decline per household averaging 21% less in gas and 4% less in electricity consumption. With lower residential demand, customer bills were 4% lower on average in 2011. Consumer complaints over higher prices for heating homes in the UK led to protests at the offices of utility companies and at town halls early in 2012.
The company's upstream businesses in the UK produced higher profits in 2011, especially the company's nuclear assets. Market conditions remained difficult for the gas-fired generation and gas storage businesses. An increase in taxation in the UK on upstream operations reduced the company's earnings in that segment. However, in North America the company's Direct Energy unit showed a strong performance in 2011.
Centrica posted revenues of £22.8 billion ($36 billion) in 2011, a 2% hike over 2010 revenues, primarily because of higher upstream revenue that year due to higher prices. The company also recorded earnings that year of £421 million ($662 million), plunging about 78% from the previous year due to a large one-off charge, mild weather, higher wholesale gas prices, and a weak economy. The charge included costs for the revaluation of contracts, pension changes, and losses on the company's disposals.