Energy Giant GE is Here to Stay Whichever Way the Wind BlowsBy Cas Biekmann | Tue, 11/17/2020 - 11:01
Q: What is the history of GE Renewable Energy and what does Mexico represent in its vast global portfolio?
A: General Electric is one of the world’s largest industrial players in the wider energy sector. About one-third of the electricity in the world is produced and managed with the use of GE technology, electrifying and producing power is in our DNA. Within the energy sector, we have a broad renewable energy portfolio that consists of onshore and offshore wind, hydropower, grid solutions and our hybrids unit that integrates different power generation technologies (storage, solar, wind & conventional). In this regard, GE has over 400 GW of clean energy installed worldwide because moving into renewables is a fundamental part of a developing world. We consider Mexico to be a fantastic place to carry out this mission.
GE has been in Mexico for over 120 years and it employs over 1,800 engineers in the country. We hire local talent to deliver engineering services for our renewables, power generation and aviation businesses around the world. Within Mexico, we have over 35,000 MW of installed capacity across our businesses, which include nuclear, conventional power and wind energy. Our technology represents about one-third of Mexico’s electricity generation capacity. Mexico has an incredible potential for renewable energy. The country is blessed with solar, wind and hydro resources. In the wind sector, the company plays an ever-growing role and in the next few months, we will have five projects in operation in the country totaling 450 MW. Our plan remains to be an integral part of the future growth of renewables in Mexico.
Q: Which project does GE consider to be its main success story in the Mexican renewable sector?
A: Our first project in Mexico was the Santa Catarina wind farm, dating back several years ago. It is a small project just west of Monterrey. The biggest project we have had to date is El Mezquite, located in the state of Nuevo Leon as well. It is a 250 MW project, which has been operating for a couple of years now. It features 100 units of our 2.5MW 116 m-rotor turbines. The project is running very well. Cubico, our important customer, won that project in the second long-term energy auctions. Having the ability to compete on a lowest cost of energy basis and helping our customers deliver extremely cost-effective energy to Mexico is one of the reasons we are so proud of GE. This is a great example of being able to bring down costs by deploying our technology in Mexico.
Q: How does the company assess opportunities within Mexico’s renewable energy environment?
A: GE is aware of the situation regarding Mexico’s renewables sector. We truly believe in the country’s potential because of the superb natural resources. There is a need to be a part of the energy transition that takes us away from fossil fuels. Even if this transition does not accelerate in the short term, we believe it will happen in the medium term. We have been in Mexico for more than 120 years and expect to be here at least 120 years more. We are seeing cases around the world where renewable energy can offer the most cost-effective solutions for a clean energy transition, plus the incredibly positive impact it has on the environment and sustainability in general. This has taken place throughout Mexico’s auctions as well, and we believe there will be great returns in the future. All of this means that we remain committed in Mexico and will stay engaged with our customers and different stakeholders because there is still significant development happening now.
Q: How can GE provide value through its grid and storage solutions?
A: The company has solutions that can enable the grid system to operate more efficiently and to complement the construction of a wind farm for example. At the El Mezquite wind farm, GE supplied not only the technology but also took part in the construction of the farm’s substations, as well as some of the medium-voltage solutions that were needed on the turbine level. Storage is also becoming an increasingly viable business in the world. It will be a key enabler for the deployment and penetration of renewables in Mexico as well. Mexico already has some solar and wind projects that have incorporated battery storage technology. GE can offer this technology if clients wish to incorporate them.
Q: What does GE think about the viability of potential hybrid projects in Mexico?
A: The viability of this is assessed on a case by case basis. GE has a hybrid team, which specializes in understanding the proper combinations of hybrid technologies. This could be any combination between wind, solar and various storage types. We see potential in implementing this in Mexico, although it might be some time before we see a deployment of this type of solution in the country. To develop storage solutions, more robust investment in transmission and distribution, along with a robust regulatory framework, are needed. Once this happens, the market can start implementing more complex solutions in the country.
Q: How does GE approach R&D and what are some of the company’s recent key developments in this regard?
A: At its core, GE is a huge R&D company. As an example, one of our specialized research centers is located in upstate New York is dedicated exclusively to the development of these efforts. In renewables in particular, we have made significant commitments to R&D in the past few years. One key example is in offshore wind, especially with the development of the Haliade-X turbine. At the time it was launched, it was considered the largest offshore technology in the world by a long shot. The competition still found itself in single-digit MW capacity, whereas the Haliade-X offered double digits with its 12MW turbine. It has a massive rotor, north of 220m. Since then, GE has invested more in the technology to upgrade it to a 13MW turbine. We have seen many GWs of sales around the world for this development as a return on the US$400 million investment in the program. This took the offshore segment to another level, and we saw our competitors take similar strides in order to elevate their portfolio’s competitiveness.
In the area of onshore wind, we continue to invest every year in the development of our technology. The latest example of this is our Cypress platform, which is now in the 5.5MW nameplate capacity with 158m rotor turbines. It has a wide design envelope that fits in many different wind regimes. Many of these are highly suited for the Mexican wind profile. We will continue to increase the capacity and the rotor turbines in this platform. If you want to be competitive in the renewable market, you need to be committed to investing in R&D and introducing new technologies to reduce the cost of energy. This is the primary way to increase the penetration of renewables and allow it to compete with other forms of energy generation.
Q: What do you predict will be the future trends regarding platforms?
A: GE is the largest player in onshore wind in the Americas We will soon achieve around 450MW of the multiple GWs installed in Mexico. Nonetheless, the 2.5MW is our largest platform in Mexico. We are building a 50MW project in Baja California Sur which features 20 turbines of the 2.5MW 127m rotor, the next generation of the 2.5MW platform. However, we do envision a future where it is likely that the higher nameplate turbines will take precedent in the installed capacity of Mexico’s wind market. Ultimately, the selection of the right turbine model for each site depends on a number of factors in which the most important one ought to be levelized cost of electricity that each solution provides.
Q: What results is the company expecting for 2020-2021 and what are the direct goals it aims to achieve in Mexico during that time frame?
A: We continue to grow in our key markets. During GE’s reorganization process of the past few years, it has focused on power, renewables and aviation. Important business is happening in the healthcare sector as well but energy generation remains a core business. The company will do everything to have a sustainable and profitable business, both for us and for our customers, as they strive to be profitable and deliver low-cost energy solutions.
As for the objectives in Mexico, it has become difficult to pin down specific goals in the current environment. We are in the midst of the construction of a 50MW project, so we are looking forward to finalizing its construction and achieving commercial operation on the months ahead. GE continues to be fully committed to Mexico and we plan to work with our customers in the short term, since we believe the future lies in renewables.
Lastly, GE has set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality for our own operations by 2030. With over 1,000 facilities across the globe including factories, test sites, warehouses and offices the scale of our industrial manufacturing footprint means that achieving our new goal will represent a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. As global decarbonization efforts continue to shape energy production and consumption, we will be at the center of this transition in the industries we serve. We’ve been hard at work on this, and have exceeded our 2020GHG reduction goal early.
GE Renewable Energy is a US$10 billion company that brings together one of the broadest products and service portfolios in the renewable energy industry. It has over 22,000 employees in more than 80 countries.