This week, Hurricane Isaac delivered yet another lesson of wind’s wild ways. Properly employed, however, wind is a powerful aide. The American Wind Energy Association said this month that U.S. wind turbines can produce 50 gigawatts of electricity, the same amount as 11 nuclear power plants or 44 coal-fired plants. Wind energy now powers the equivalent of nearly 13 million American homes. States like South Dakota and Iowa get 20 percent of their electricity from wind. GE workers have designed and built many of the wind mills rising from fields, farms and seas in the U.S. and abroad.
Starting a decade ago, GE injected its nascent wind business with a heavy dose of engineering and manufacturing know-how, materials science, and advanced technologies from GE Global Research.
There are now 18,000 high-tech GE wind turbines installed around the world, generating 60 million megawatt-hours of renewable electricity every year, enough to power the equivalent of New York City. The wind energy unit has generated $30 billion in revenues. “The wind business might be one of the best investments we’ve made and Global Research has the technology and to keep it strong,” says Mark Vachon, GE’s vice president for ecomagination.
GE has many kinds of wind turbines in its portfolio, both on-shore and off-shore, some standing 40 stories tall. The company has spent $2 billion on wind innovation over the last decade. Last year, GE received 184 clean energy patents, the most among corporations in the United States. The wind business received the vast majority, 152 patents in total.
The benefits of wind power are obvious. Consider that just one coal plant emits roughly 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The offset CO2 emissions from U.S. wind is equivalent to taking 14 million gasoline-powered cars off the roads.
Switching to wind power also means saving water. Compared with thermal electric generation, wind power conserves 30 billion gallons of water a year.
By 2030, wind energy has the potential to meet up to 20 percent of energy needs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy. GE is already helping to improve wind integration and turbine monitoring to boost efficiency and cut downtime.
Reaching the 20 percent wind energy goal, the DOE estimates, would offset CO2 emissions by 626 million tons, save over 450 billion gallons of water, and create over two million U.S. jobs.
GE wind turbines at Invenergy’s Bishop Hill Wind Farm in Illinois.