As the world develops, it needs more renewable power.
But look at the numbers. Global population will swell to eight billion and electricity demand will double by 2030. Yet even the most advanced power grids can’t rely on renewables for more than 20 percent of the electricity they send to customers, or risk failure. That’s because alternative energy sources like solar farms don’t always work. At night their output drops and the electricity they produce must be replaced or homes and businesses will go dark. “The grid has to be able to deal with that,” says GE Chief Technology Officer Mark Little who discussed the topic this week at EmTech India, an annual event focused on innovation and emerging technologies and organized by MIT’s Technology Review.
Energy: you can’t destroy it, but you can certainly waste it. That’s what most motorized vehicles do, including trains. Usually, the energy generated when you stop a moving vehicle is dissipated as heat, and is lost to the atmosphere. With GE’s ecomagination we’ve discovered that you can capture and store that energy, then reuse it – that’s how our hybrid systems work. Watch the video to see a simple illustration of the physics behind dynamic braking. Keep in mind an object’s force is measured in Newtons, using the equation “force = mass * acceleration.”
GE has built up an arsenal of solutions to tackle these problems. The company’s flexible power plants like FlexEfficiency 50 or jet-fired aeroderivative systems can ramp up and replace lost electricity in just minutes. GE engineers and researches have also developed efficient solar technologies like thin film panels, advanced batteries, smart grid and other high-tech tools that smooth the ebb and flow of electricity and make it reliable.
GE has been spending heavily and hiring new workers to build these systems. The company invested $500 million in the R&D effort that led to the FlexEfficiency plant. The first one will come online in France in 2015 and generate enough electricity for 600,000 households.
The company is also building a new thin film factory in Colorado that will create 355 jobs at the plant and another 100 at Little’s GE Global Research in New York. The factory will open in 2013 and make enough panels per year to power 80,000 homes.
GE has also invested more than $160 million to develop advanced battery technologies such as high-energy density batteries. This cool technology will capture and store as electricity some of the kinetic energy that GE’s hybrid locomotives lose during breaking. The batteries can also serve as backup storage and load leveling systems for the smart grid.
This effort is receiving recognition. This March, EmTech’s sponsor Technology Review published its TR50 list of the 50 most innovative companies in 2012 and recognized GE and its aeroderivative gas turbines as a “key innovation” for building flexible power plants. “The TR50 companies are leaders,” said Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of the magazine. “They are setting the agenda in their markets and prompting other companies to follow them.”