How GE will super-charge clean energy innovation in the decade ahead.
The renewable energy era has begun. Today, when a new power plant is built somewhere in the world, it is just as likely to be renewable as it is fossil fuel or nuclear. Renewable energy currently accounts for 50 percent of new sources of global electricity supply and is the second largest source of electricity generation behind coal. And it is rising quickly. As we point out in recently released report, at GE we see this remarkable trend continuing through the end of the decade driven largely by further technology innovations by GE and others. We have published a new report that examines the renewable energy era, and outlines the future pathway for renewables.
The economic, environmental, and energy security benefits of accelerated renewable energy deployment are clear. GE estimates that electric sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have already been reduced by up to 8 percent as a result of the addition of non-hydro renewable power generation. We estimate that by 2020 CO2 emissions from electricity generation will be up to 13 percent lower than they would otherwise be without non-hydro renewable power technologies in the global electricity portfolio.
The business case is clear. As a result of technology innovation, renewable power technologies have become increasingly cost competitive over time and more “grid-friendly” or compatible with the electric power system. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), from 2010 to 2015, global average onshore wind generation costs fell by an estimated 30 percent, and the costs of new solar PV projects declined by a full two-thirds.[i] Continued innovation will continue to drive down renewable energy costs and improve customer economics. GE’s research partner, the Joint Institute of Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) has estimated that by 2025, innovation will enable wind costs will fall by another 29 percent and solar PV costs to fall by up to 44 percent.[ii]
Beyond economics and innovation, several additional trends have helped accelerate the rise of renewables around the world over the last decade:
- The rise of distributed power. The growth of renewable energy has occurred in both a centralized and decentralized manner, allowing them to be part of both existing and emerging business models. Wind, hydro and geothermal are being used primarily as centralized sources – while solar is being added at both utility scale and distributed rooftop applications.
- Integrated energy systems. Renewables are increasingly being added as part of integrated systems that can contain conventional and renewable energy technologies. Hybrid natural gas and solar PV systems are one example of this emerging trend.
- The digitization of energy. Thirdly, as in many other sectors, the renewable energy transition is occurring as physical and digital worlds merge.
Looking ahead, at GE, we are committed to renewable energy innovation in order to accelerate the renewable energy era. Here’s our plan:
- We will collaborate across global industries to leverage research synergies. At GE we call this using the “GE Store,” working across the various parts of our company to accelerate innovation. For example, we’ve accelerated wind turbine innovation in this manner. GE uses imaging algorithms designed for the healthcare system in sensors embedded in our wind turbine blades, we leveraged gearbox innovations from our transportation business for use in our wind turbines, we’re using control systems originally designed for airplanes in our wind turbines, and we’ve borrowed computational fluid dynamics models from gas turbines to better understand how wind turbines interact with the environment. To maintain the robust rate of renewable energy innovation, as an industry, we need to continue challenging ourselves to look for new ideas in unexpected places.
- We will continue to invest billions in clean technology innovation. At GE as part of our commitment to our Ecomagination strategy, we have invested over $2 billion over the last decade in wind power R&D. Overall, we’ve invested over $15 billion in clean technology research over the last ten years and have committed to invest and addition $10 billion by 2020. In offshore wind, we are developing floating turbine technology that will help deliver competitive energy costs in deeper waters where conventional fixed-bottom solutions are not viable. Our unique global network of R&D technology centers for hydro power has contributed to breakthroughs in the fields of oil-free turbine components, fish-friendly turbines, and variable speed pumped storage technologies used to improve reliability.
- We will partner to maximize our global impact. Through Ecomagination, GE’s business strategy for resource productivity, we are partnering with other like-minded firms to tackle challenges that could have a big impact. For example, we are partnering with Total to develop hybrid gas-solar solutions for industrial use in developing countries and remote regions.
- We will maintain our focus on digital. At GE we are harnessing the power of data analytics to drive efficiencies and greater output throughout the energy value. For example, GE’s Digital Wind Farm allows a customer to connect, monitor, predict, and optimize both unit and site performance. The technology can boost a wind farm’s energy production by up to 20 percent and could help generate up to an estimated $50 billion value for the wind industry.
Cost-competitive and environmentally sustainable power generation technologies are more than just an aspiration: they are now the reality. Over 100 years ago, GE imagined a world where humankind was able to successfully harness the sun, wind, and sea. Thanks to continuous technology innovation, this is the world that we live in today. Let’s seize the opportunity and work collaboratively to further accelerate renewable energy innovation, build new solutions, and create a truly sustainable electric power system for the planet, its people, and the world economy.
[i] IEA, “Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report 2015” (October 2015).
[ii] Camila Stark, Jacquelyn Pless, Jeffrey Logan, Ella Zhou, and Douglas J. Arent, “Renewable Electricity: Insights for the Coming Decade” (JISEA: Golden, Colorado, February 2015).
Read more on the renewable energy outlook in the white paper, The Renewable Energy Era — GE, Ecomagination and the Global Energy Transformation.
(Top GIF: Video courtesy of GE)
Debora Frodl is Global Executive Director at GE Ecomagination.