Grand Ridge, Illinois, population 550, is a small village in the Corn Belt flatlands stretching south and west of Chicago. The weather in Grand Ridge swings just outside of the American average. Winters are windy and mostly overcast, while the summer months tend to be calmer and sunnier.
All this makes Grand Ridge the perfect place for a new energy project that aligns wind and solar farms to generate a more reliable source of renewable power. The idea is that when the long nights set in and the breeze kicks up, wind power will replace idled solar capacity. The reverse will occur during long and radiant summer days. “We’ve built 30 gigawatts of wind farms so adding solar is a good utilization of assets,” Vic Abate, vice president of GE’s Renewable Energy business told Forbes last week.
GE technology has played a central role at Grand Ridge. In 2009, the company supplied 140 wind turbines to the farm’s operator, Invenergy. The 90-foot colossi reaching as high as a thirty-story building now generate some 210 megawatts of electricity. Last week, GE announced that it would supply the technology for Invenergy’s new solar farm, also in Grand Ridge.
GE’s next big push into solar is high-efficiency thin-film technology developed at the company’s Global Research Center in New York. As part of the company’s $600 million investment in solar energy, GE is building a new thin-film solar panel factory near Denver, in Aurora, Colorado. The plant will create 355 jobs and open next year. Abate told Bloomberg that adding solar to “just 10 percent of our installed wind capacity” would “sell out our new factory for the next six years.”