General Electric has refined its strategy at its Energy Storage business.

Four years after GE opened the $170 million Durathon battery manufacturing plant in Schenectady, New York, the company has switched gears and is now focused creating a consulting and services business to help customers determine which batteries or technology they should use to solve their energy demands.

GE officials said in January they were scaling back Durathon battery production. The majority of the 450 workers at the plant were reassigned to other parts of GE or offered buyouts, raising questions about the future of the Energy Storage business that CEO Jeff Immelt tasked with becoming a $1 billion business within the next decade.

"We are still 100 percent committed to this business," said Rick Cutright, director of product management.

When the Energy Storage business started, GE marketed its Durathon battery to cell tower operators in remote areas. Applications expanded to include utilities, manufacturers and others, but production was scaled back after the pace of sales was slower than projected.

Manufacturers of lithium ion batteries were considered competitors.

Not any more.

GE has diversified the Energy Storage business by becoming resellers of other batteries and storage options.

Cutright talked about GE's role in energy storage during a conference Thursday focused on the future of battery and energy storage in New York state. The two-day event, organized by the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium, attracted representatives of utilities, energy technology companies and policymakers.

"I think GE is getting smart," said Allen Goodman, president of ECG Consulting Group Inc., a Latham energy strategy and consulting firm.

GE appears to be moving toward a model that the company has adopted across several businesses, such as turbines, where manufacturing and service are key parts of the business model.

"They are focused on trying to solve the customers' problems," Goodman said.

His firm conduct a study showing how important the energy storage industry is in New York. Across the state, the industry employs about 3,000 people and accounts for more than $600 million in annual sales. By 2020, employment is expected to grow to between 10,000 and 14,400 workers, and total revenue is projected to climb to at least $2.5 billion.

(This news story is from ALBANY BUSINESS REVIEW)