May 16, 2017, was a bright day for renewables in California. America’s most populous state hit a new renewable energy record, generating 42 percent of its electricity from wind and solar that day and peaking at 72 percent in the early afternoon. Wind farms alone produced more than 104 megawatt-hours, close to 18 percent of what the state needed.
The record was just another reminder that renewable energy has become mainstream. In fact, the total generating capacity of the world’s wind farms alone is now greater than all nuclear power plants combined—487 gigawatts versus 393 gigawatts—according to the Global Wind energy Council. Renewables also accounted for more than half of all new power generation capacity added to the grid and received $287 billion in investments in 2016, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Some of the money came from GE Energy Financial Services, the GE Capital arm financing power-generation projects. The company said it had invested more than $15 billion in global wind, solar and other renewables since 2004 — information it shared this week at the American Wind Energy Association’s Windpower 2017 conference, which is taking place — appropriately — in Anaheim, California.
The news came just days after Spanish developer Forestalia Group won a government auction to build a 1.2-gigawatt wind farm in northeastern Spain’s Aragon region. That’s enough to supply almost 1 million local homes. The farm will use GE wind turbines and blades made by LM Wind, the Danish company recently acquired by GE Renewable Energy, and will help Spain hit its target of generating 20 percent of its power from renewables by 2020.
The growth in renewables is partially driven by innovation. The investment bank Lazard reported that the “levelized cost of electricity (LCOE)” — a key number to measure the cost of electricity — has dropped 58 percent over the last six years. GE, for example, has connected some 13,500 wind turbines to Predix, its operating system for the Industrial Internet. The software allows operators to predict problems, lower maintenance costs and make wind farms more efficient. The company estimated the wind industry could save $10 billion per year by deploying its Digital Wind Farm technology across the entire installed base.
In total, there are some 30,000 GE wind turbines capable of generating more than 57 gigawatts of electricity around the world. Take a look at our photos and infographics.