In 2011, GE scientists, makers and business leaders created products, provided services and launched research projects that took on a wide range of global challenges. Here is our pick of the top five:
1. Reducing the High Cost of Solar Power: In April, GE announced that its thin film solar panels made from a crystalline compound of the elements cadmium and telluride achieved nearly 13 percent efficiency. Consider that a one percent increase in panel efficiency equals around a 10 percent decrease in system costs. The thin film panels will be manufactured at a new solar panel plant near Denver, Colorado. The factory, the country’s largest, will create 355 jobs and make enough solar panels per year to power 80,000 homes. It is scheduled to open in 2013.
In October, engineers at GE’s Global Research Center reported that they developed a system that aims to cut installation costs by half, from $6.50 per watt to just $3. At that price, the savings provided would more than offset the expense of mounting them on the roof.
2. Integrating Renewable Power into the Grid More Seamlessly: Solar and wind power provide clean, renewable energy. But how do utilities and power grid operators replace lost power when the sun stops shining or the wind stops blowing? Enter GE’s new flexible power technology, like the FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant. GE invested some $500 million in the R&D effort that led to the FlexEfficiency 50. The system can ramp up power production on a cloudy day in just minutes, twice the rate of today’s energy benchmarks. In November, GE announced that it would build the first FlexEfficiency 50 plant in northern France. It will produce 510 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 600,000 households. The plant is scheduled to come on line in late 2015.
3. Slashing Emissions and Fuel Costs for Jet Engines: The LEAP engine, short for Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion, is manufactured by CFM International, a joint company between GE Aviation and France’s Snecma. The engine can achieve double-digit improvements in fuel burn and emissions, and lower maintenance costs. In 2011, CFM received orders for over 2,830 engines. This brings total LEAP orders to 3,160 engines, valued at $38 billion (U.S. list price).
To explore how the innovative tech of the LEAP engine reduces costs and emissions, check out the infographic.
4. Connecting the World’s Machines: From enormous gas turbines to kitchen microwave ovens, machines are vast repositories of data. Harvesting and analyzing this information and then applying the insights can make the systems run smarter and more efficiently. That’s why in November GE announced that it would hire 400 software engineers and professionals and open a new software center in San Ramon in the Bay Area. They will be developing digital tools that gather and analyze the millions of gigabytes of data generated by controls, sensors, computers and other devices that together make the brains of industrial machines. These software tools will predict and respond to changes, and guide customers in how to best use their assets. GE already has some 5,000 software engineers on staff. GE’s software revenues are about $2.5 billion. The company expects double-digit growth in this segment from now until 2015.
5. Personalizing Medicine: GE has been focusing on technologies to help clinicians better personalize diagnoses and treatments. In short, GE provides tools that help physicians assess a disease in individual patients and pick the treatment that fits each best. For example, in 2010 GE Healthcare acquired Clarient, a California-based molecular diagnostics firm and the manufacturer laboratory tests such as Mammostrat. This test allows doctors assess the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence. “If her cancer does not have an aggressive profile, she may not need additional therapies,” said Gerard Brophy, head of new product development at GE Healthcare Medical Diagnostics.
In September 2011, GE announced that it would invest $1 billion in new cancer solutions and the company has also introduced a $100 million innovation challenge open to anyone to come up with new ideas to fight cancer. “Why?” asked GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt at a recent speech. “Because we’re a big innovator in healthcare and technology and because I know that in my lifetime we can treat major diseases, like cancer, more effectively at lower cost.”