Published on March 20th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan4
GE Data Visualization: Solar Power, Wind Power, & More
GE is one of the largest companies in the world. It’s the sixth largest corporation in the U.S. and, as Chris Varrone noted last year, it has its hands in nearly every energy sector (perhaps every energy sector) and numerous non-energy sectors, as well.
Now, the good news is that GE has put an increasing amount of money and focus into cleantech. GE has just released a rather interesting data visualization tool and I thought it would be fun to compare a few snapshots from that to some of the GE news we’ve covered in the past couple years or so.
Data Visualization of GE Annual Reports
First of all, a quick run-down of what the images are that we’re going to be looking at: GE went through 6,000 pages of its annual reports from 1892 to 2011. It then created an interactive image (or visualization tool) that has little squares representing keywords from the reports. If you go to the data viz tool, you can click on any of those 21 keywords and see how many times they appeared in each year’s annual report. I’ve done this for three terms and discuss them a bit below.
It was interesting to see that GE actually mentioned solar in annual reports way back in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, but looking into that more closely, I noticed that two of those three mentions were regarding solar in a space-exploration context. It’s not surprising to see that there was a burst of solar discussion and activity in the 1970s, mostly discussing demonstration projects, nascent solar technology, and researching possibilities for the distant future. But probably more important is the consistent mention of solar in recent years, which is focused around deployment of large solar projects and advancing commercially viable solar technology. This is reflective of changes in the solar energy sector as a whole, but it also indicates that GE is putting its big foot forward to help advance and capitalize on this promising sector.
And GE isn’t just dipping its toes in solar power now — it’s doubled its solar power investments in the past year. It invested $1.4 billion (yes, ‘billion’ with a ‘b’) in solar in 2011. That includes investment in Australia’s largest solar power farm to date, as well as a $600-million solar cell manufacturing plant in the U.S. (the largest of its type in the U.S.),.. and much more. It’s no surprise that it’s getting more mention in the company’s annual reports, and I imagine that’s only going to increase in the years to come.
Now, here’s an interesting thing GE writes on the data viz page for this visualization app: “Not only does this provide a rich history of how GE has always been at work building, moving, powering and curing the world, but it is a true reflection of how the economy, U.S. and the world as a whole has progressed from 1892 until 2011.” Probably true. Thinking about that, take a look at this next screenshot of the Wind keyword:
Now, wind power doesn’t have the history solar has, but it has been quicker to grow in recent years. It holds a much higher percentage of U.S. and global power supply at the moment, and it has been the leading source of new electricity in some places in the past several years. This image above reflects that rather well.
Additionally, it indicates that GE has put a lot of attention on wind power. Again, not a big surprise to anyone who follows the wind industry. Many of the wind power projects I read and write about are using GE wind turbines. GE also invests in large wind power projects, such as a 150-MW Kenyan wind power project, Mongolia’s first wind farm, and a whopping 662.5-MW wind farm in West Texas. Wind power is now an important segment of GE’s businesses, as we can see above.
Now, you’ve probably already noticed the keyword that falls under ‘Wind’ on the data viz app — ‘Renewable’. Let’s take a quick look at what shows up for that (of course, for a larger version, you can visit the app itself):
Similar to the above topics, mention of renewable energy, renewable resources, and related terms started popping up in the 2000s and has been pretty consistent since then. Not being necessary for discussion of specific technologies (i.e. wind turbines and solar panels), it’s not used more than the terms above, but this image makes clear that GE is stepping back, looking at, and talking about the importance of renewables, in general, and GE’s role in pushing this sector along.
Now, if you actually click on those little colorful squares when on GE’s annual reports visualization page, you can see where and how these terms were mentioned. I might dive into these reports a bit more in the coming days and see if I can find some more interesting information worth sharing with you all.