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Digital Energy

The Electron’s Digital Journey: Do You Know Where Your Power Comes From?

Tomas Kellner
February 22, 2016
The electrons that brew your first cup of coffee in the morning have many different parents. Some were born on a wind farm, while others came from a gas-fired power plant or a water turbine buried deep inside a massive dam. Some even took a brief vacation in a battery.
As different as their sources are, they are starting to get connected to a giant virtual power reservoir that will always keep your home supplied with the right amount of the cheapest electricity generated in the most efficient manner.

The idea of such "intelligent" energy is sorely needed. Today, there are wind farms that must shut down their turbines when it is windy because the grid is too full to take their power, as well as power plants that sit idle and only crank up their turbines to meet peak demand during summer heat waves. There are more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable ways to run the energy system.

But things are changing. GE has been making and shipping electrons for more than a century, ever since GE founder Thomas Edison opened the first central power plant in Manhattan. Today, GE technology captures energy from wind, oil, gas and other resources, converts it into electricity in turbines and generators and sends it to customers over electrical grid on every populated continent. The company also helps energy businesses get fuel like natural gas efficiently out of the ground and deliver it to power plants.

But GE now also makes software and analytics tools. Predix, the cloud-based platform for the Industrial Internet, is the connective tissue designed to keep the intelligent power reservoir always connected to the right energy sources and filled with the right amount of electricity. Predix is beginning to allow utilities to reduce power output from natural gas when the wind starts blowing and store solar energy in batteries and release it when it’s needed the most. GE software also helps energy companies and utilities maximize their efficiency in everything from wind farms and gas turbines to subsea blowout preventers.

There’s more. Once the power gets to customers, efficient LED lights and other connected systems made by Current, a GE startup developing a holistic energy-as-a-service product, can help them optimize their power consumption. They are already working in Jacksonville, Fla., and San Diego, and customers like Chase bank will soon start using them all over the United States. In Germany, a “hybrid” GE factory is using a combination of software, gas engines, solar panels and batteries to produce and manage its own electricity and sell some of it back into the grid. EV and homeowners with the right technology might be soon able do the same thing.

The energy ecosystem is getting smarter. This should give you a jolt if your coffee won’t. Take a look at our infographic.