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Wind, Solar and Other Renewables Added 40 Percent of All New U.S. Power Capacity Last Year. Here’s What Greased the Wheels

Last spring, the global renewable energy company Invenergy announced that it would install the first three “intelligent” wind turbines equipped with storage batteries and connected to the Industrial Internet at the Goldthwaite wind farm in Central Texas.

Few people know it, but the grid can’t always swallow wind electricity as fast as it comes up. That’s why GE engineers developed a 2.5 megawatt wind turbine equipped with a system of sensors and algorithms that gather and analyze weather, turbine and grid data.

The machine, whose rotor sweeps a circle 120 meters in diameter – almost twice the wingspan of a Boeing 747, can forecast electricity production over the next hour and store excess power in the battery. “Turbines used to turn their blades out of the wind,” says Keith Longtin, general manager for wind products at GE’s renewable energy business. “That revenue was gone with the wind, but now we have predictable power.”

Longtin estimates that the sensors and software alone make this turbine 25 percent more efficient and 15 percent more productive than comparable GE models.

The Goldthwaite wind farm, which can generate nearly 150 megawatts, enough to power 68,000 homes, was financed in part by GE Energy Financial Services. The GE unit, which provides financing for energy projects, said today that it exceeded $10 billion in investment commitments to renewable energy projects.

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Bloomberg estimates that wind power alone is now a $14 billion business. GE Energy Financial Services plans to invest $1 billion annually in the sector in the future, which is producing more electricity at cheaper rates thanks to innovations like the “intelligent” GE wind turbine.

David Nason, CEO of the GE investing unit, said that the projects backed by his business now generate 17 gigawatts, enough to power a city twice the size of Los Angeles for a year. They also eliminate greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to what all cars in Massachusetts produce in one year and sustain an estimated 10,000 U.S. jobs.

Not all of the projects, which span wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, are in America. They cover 16 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe, as well as 28 U.S. states.

Renewable energy has been growing at a fast clip in the U.S. The sector accounted for nearly 40 percent of all new power capacity installed in 2013. Over the last six year, electricity generated by renewable sources grew by 55 percent, to nearly 13 percent of the total U.S. power load.

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