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Unstoppable: Why The Next Decade Belongs To Renewable Energy

Mar 13, 2017 by Yves Rannou, President and CEO, Hydro, GE Renewable Energy & Debora Frodl, Global Executive Director, GE Ecomagination

If last year is any indication, the next decade belongs to renewable energy. Debora Frodl, Global Executive Director at GE Ecomagination, and Yves Rannou, President and CEO for GE Renewable Energy, Hydro, share three reasons that propel the business case for renewable energy.

The greatest challenge for mankind in the 21st century is powering the planet, while at the same time drastically reducing carbon emissions and continuing to lower the cost of energy. One year ago, GE published a Ecomagination report that examined the incredible acceleration of renewable energy development across the globe. We called upon businesses, investors and governments to further accelerate renewable energy innovation, build new solutions and create a truly sustainable energy ecosystem for the planet, its people and the world economy. Over the course of the year we learned that our optimism was well-grounded.

Some striking facts and figures — In 2016, wind and solar beat investment in fossil fuels by 2-to-1. Global capacity additions increased again in 2016; in the United States, renewable energy accounted for 60 percent of these additions. In 2016, Portugal powered the country with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days, clean power supplied Germany’s power demand for a full day, and Denmark could produce enough wind power to meet its domestic electricity demand and have enough to export power to Norway, Germany and Sweden. The U.K. generated more electricity by wind than coal – the first-time wind has outperformed coal for an entire year. In 2016, Hydro became visible as a storage solution and as an integrator of wind and solar. Small Hydro solutions grow as a source of electricity production close to the users. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy published a report stating that U.S. hydropower could grow from 101 gigawatts (GW) of capacity to nearly 150 GW by 2050.

We believe the business case for renewable energy remains strong today for several reasons:

First, the demand for new energy supplies around the world keeps growing at a significant pace. During the first half of 2016, clean energy investments reached $116.4 billion, and approximately $2 trillion is invested in the global energy sector per year.

Second, in many countries renewables can meet or even beat the cost of generation from conventional options. For example, in the United States onshore wind power is competitive with new natural gas-fired generation. Moving forward, GE’s research partner, the Joint Institute of Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) has estimated that by 2025, innovation will enable wind costs to fall by another 29 percent and solar PV costs to fall by up to 44 percent. Worldwide, Hydro is among the most competitive.

Third, the renewable energy industry is a global jobs growth engine. Global renewable energy employment has reached 9.5 million and is increasing at a rate of 5 percent anually, which means that roughly 475,000 new jobs are created every year. The greatest number of jobs are being created in the United States, China, Brazil, India, Japan and Germany.

There is scope for even more optimism. Technology innovation and policy commitments could lead to a world where wind energy accounts for one-third of electricity generation by the middle of the century. These are not “pie in the sky” estimates. Rather, they represent the range of what’s feasible given the current pace of innovation across the industry. Scientists at GE’s Global Research Center have developed innovations that place wind power on a pathway to produce power at 3 cents/kWh. Innovation is not confined to wind and solar power– innovations in hydropower promise to increase efficiencies in hydropower plants across the globe.

Innovations in hydropower efficiency are benefitting from the digital revolution. For example, GE’s Digital Hydro Plant is a unique blend of hydropower software and hardware, well-grounded in data analytics, and improving the performance of hydro plants across the globe. Data analytics provide greater accuracy about the performance of hydropower turbines, plants and equipment, which is helping control expenses and energy production.

The rapid pace of change in renewable energy is an exhilarating journey. We are seeing the evolution of new business models and power players. There are new investment opportunities – we can combine wind, solar and hydropower to change traditional energy models. Innovation in wind, solar, hydro, storage, hybrid technology, energy efficiency and digitization enable us to run the biggest economies and reach the most remote communities.

Just over 100 years ago, in a Scientific American advertisement, GE imagined a world where humankind could successfully harness the power of the sun, the wind and the sea. That vision, along with our relentless investment in technology innovation, has helped shape the renewable energy world that we live in today – imagine what the next 10 years will bring!

(Top photo: Block Island Wind Farm, off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S.)

A Massive Wind Investment Restores Spain’s Standing As A Leader In Renewable Energy

Aug 23, 2017 by Maggie Sieger

The dry “cierzo” that blows through Aragón, Spain, is so strong that one ancient Roman scholar warned that the wind — which regularly reaches more than 100 miles per hour — could upend armies. Now Spain will use its power to fight climate change with what will be one of Europe’s highest-capacity wind farms.

The country recently awarded contracts to energy developer Forestalia Group to build 30 wind farm installations around Aragón by the end of 2019. Together, they will have enough capacity to generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity, sufficient to power nearly a million homes and businesses. GE Renewable Energy will supply nearly 320 of its 3-megawatt turbines, as well as the blades.

The project helps return Spain to its position as a leader in renewable energy. The country has been developing wind and solar power plants since the early 1990s, years before other European countries jumped into renewables with both feet. Abundant sun and wind made up for Spain’s lack of coal and oil and helped Spain become more energy-independent and less vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices.

But budget setbacks following the global financial crisis stalled those developments. Spain has added virtually no wind capacity since 2011, when it ranked fourth in the world with over 21 gigawatts of installed capacity. But that’s about to change. The new wind farms will make Spain one of the biggest users of wind energy in Europe and will put Spain on a path to meet the European Union requirement for 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

“This is a growing region that needs more energy,” says Daniel Carreño, CEO of GE Iberia. “It’s exciting to see Spain adding capacity using wind power again.”

The project is a true European one. The tower of the GE 3.8-130 and 85-meter hub-height wind turbines will be made predominately in Spanish manufacturing plants, while the nacelles (turbine covers) will be manufactured at GE’s wind energy factory in Salzbergen, Germany.

LM Wind Power will manufacture the blades. The company is a new GE Renewable Energy acquisition and has plants in Ponferrada and Castellón, Spain. GE’s service center in Spain will support the project. GE estimates the entire project, including construction and support, will create hundreds of new jobs.

“This is a massive project, and it will take all of our efforts and expertise to deliver,” says Jérôme Pécresse, president and CEO of GE Renewable Energy"

(Top photo: Block Island Wind Farm, off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S.)

This Idea Holds Water: A Rural Montana Town Is About To Make A Splash In Renewable Energy

Apr 5, 2017 by Mark Egan & Tomas Kellner

The town of Martinsdale in central Montana is a sleepy enclave of unpaved streets lined with a handful of homes and businesses. Once a stop on a busy Chicago-to-Seattle railroad, the place fell quiet when the line went out of business decades ago. But don’t count it out yet. Over the next four years, Montana’s Absaroka Energy is set to turn Martinsdale into a showpiece for renewable energy management in America.

That’s because Absaroka is building a large pumped storage hydro power plant on a nearby butte. It will feed 400 megawatts to a grid linked to cities as far away as Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

The plant is essentially a large water-based battery. It will store water — and its energy — by pumping it through a giant man-made tunnel from a low-lying lake holding more than 1.3 billion gallons of water to an equally sized reservoir built some 1,000 feet above, on top of Gordon Butte. Reversing the flow will quickly generate electricity when it is needed, like when demand grows and the prices are high or when weather-dependent sources of renewable energy such as solar or wind farms suddenly stop supplying power to the grid.

The Montana project will use giant turbines built by GE Renewable Energy. Each machine can behave both as a pump and as a generator. “To be sure, pumped hydro storage has been around for a while,” says Matt Pevarnik, managing director for U.S. Hydro at GE Renewable Energy. “But the technology keeps getting better. The Gordon Butte site will become one of the most advanced pumped storage installations in the U.S.” Pevarnik says that the facility’s overall cycle efficiency — the average difference between energy from the electric grid used for pumping water to the upper reservoir and electricity generated by “turbining” it when the water runs downhill — is as high as 80 percent.

Modern utility-scale pumped storage hydro is a new spin on an older version of the technology, which supported the nuclear and coal-fired power plants in the ‘70s and ‘80s. (Back then, the hydro plants soaked up excess electricity at night when demand dropped by powering pumps that filled up the upper lakes.)

In the U.S., the technology is already in use in hilly places like the mountains of California. A large pumped storage plant in the Sierra Nevada, for example, captures the excess power from solar farms to pump the water uphill. At night, the water flows back downhill and powers customers in nearby Fresno with consistent renewable energy. Gordon Butte will use a newer version of the technology. It will be able to move very quickly from pumping to generating and back again, which provides additional flexibility and reduces the response time to changes in the grid.

There are other benefits. Traditional hydro projects can take a decade or more to get licensed. But closed-loop projects like Gordon Butte that are built “off-stream” — they don’t use natural waterways — are easier to get approved. The Montana project was licensed in just three and a half years.

In the absence of grid-scale batteries, installations like Gordon Butte will be required to resolve the integration and reliability issues that go along with using more intermittent renewable power like wind and solar. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that planned projects could almost triple pumped storage capacity from 22 gigawatts to 62 gigawatts when they are finished in the coming years but that the U.S. will need 100 gigawatts of stored power by 2050, when renewables could generate as much as 80 percent of our electricity.

With Gordon Butte, Montana will be at the forefront of that change. The site is already home to six GE wind turbines on the back of the butte, where wind speeds average an incredibly strong 20 miles per hour, producing 9.6 MW of electricity. Once the new pumped storage plant comes online, it can store some of that power and provide enough steady electricity to feed the ever-growing demand for green energy on the West Coast. Renewables could also stimulate rural Montana’s economy.

When that happens, sleepy Martinsdale will be writing the future of American energy.