Clean Power

Published on March 20th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


GE Data Visualization: Solar Power, Wind Power, & More

March 20th, 2012 by  

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.

Solar Power

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.

Wind Power

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.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

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  • All well and good, but not as meaningful as if they’d done a similar analysis and visualization of actual investments or revenues. As a shareholder, I’m pretty glad that GE has got a diversified portfolio, and as a lay-advocate for wind technology, I’m pretty happy about GE being in the renewables game.

    But the absence of the word ‘nuclear’ from the choices is striking. Given all of the other sectors including oil, this isn’t particularly a greenwashing exercise, so it’s unclear to me why nuclear was excluded. It’s a little too obvious and makes me question the rest of the material a bit.

  • Hi everyone, honestly, I think that’s a natural path for a big company like GE. There is no way to ignore the fact that right now the whole world is more concerned with the environment. So OK. Good for GE! They are doing the right thing now by investing in solar and wind power, but I’d like to see a more clear position about the real purpose of this investments.

  • Anumakonda Jagadeesh

    The pictures are too dark and letters small. Sometimes High tech may not work and I might have understood if the presentation was simple.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

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