Early Days of Wind Power — Looking Through a GE Lens

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Since GE is a world leader in wind turbines and wind project investment, I thought I’d follow up on that GE data visualization I wrote about on Tuesday by digging into the annual reports app. I was interested in exploring GE’s role in wind power in the “early days” of this still rather nascent industry, while also using this opportunity to reflect on the birth and early growth of the industry overall. (To stroll through GE’s interactive timeline of wind power development or development in other sectors yourself, just go to the data visualization, click on the keyword/topic you want to explore, and then click on any of the colorful little squares).

Strolling through that early history, here are some of the interesting wind power milestones GE was involved in, with extra thoughts on the side:

energy efficient wind turbines ge

Early Contract with NASA to Design Wind Generator

In its first mention of wind (in an electricity context) in an annual report, GE noted in 1974 that it had a contract with NASA to design a wind generator. (It also mentioned early work on solar heating and converting geothermal heat to electricity in that section of the report.) Wind has “blown up” in recent years as technology has advanced, and I think it’s hard to imagine all the progress that has gone on since that time, but it’s also a reminder that you have to start somewhere. Imagine if that early work hadn’t occurred; if there wasn’t the forward-thinking and idealistic drive back then to capture the energy of the wind and turn it into electricity — where would we be today?

GE’s First 1.5-MW “Wind Turbine Electrical Generators”

A couple years later, in 1976, GE mentioned that it had been “selected by the Energy Research and Development Administration to build two wind turbine electrical generators of 1.5 megawatts each that will supply power directly to an electric utility system.” Interesting idea, eh? I imagine that early work and governmental collaboration was important to GE’s eventual dominance in the wind turbine sector. (Note: I’m glad we’ve switched to just calling them wind turbines — writing “wind turbine electrical generators” several times a day would get old fast.)

Stealth Mode… or Something

Then, for several decades, it seems GE’s wind turbine work went into stealth mode (or just wasn’t featured in annual reports). It wasn’t yet time for wind’s spot in the sun, apparently. After nearly three decades of hibernation, though, wind burst back into the picture with full force in 2002.

Wind Energy: Fastest-Growing Energy Sector, & Why

In the 2002 annual report, GE noted that wind energy was the “fastest-growing segment of the energy industry” and that it was “receiving strong public and regulatory support worldwide.” Reflecting the strong influence energy policies and public demand have on large corporations like GE, this line is a reminder to me of why it is so important to spread good, accurate news on our numerous energy options and push for strong political/policy support of our cleanest, cheapest sources of energy (which obviously includes wind). Without that governmental and public support for forward-looking technologies, we’d all be stuck with old, inefficient, and harmful options. We still need that support today, perhaps more than ever.

More Efficient Turbines

The image above is a screenshot I took from the GE viz app. On that page, also from the 2002 report, GE mentioned that its research team was working on developing the most energy-efficient wind turbines in the industry, while noting that the industry was growing 15.2% a year at that time.

GE also noted later in the report that it had bought Enron’s wind power assets for $180 million, and that it had used its expertise in other arenas to improve the performance of those wind turbines. I imagine GE looks back on that move with a smile on its face, given where wind energy (and its wind turbines) are today.

It’s fun having the opportunity to explore the history of wind a bit more through this interactive annual reports viz. Take a stroll yourself through 120 years of GE’s innovations and discoveries. Otherwise, I may yet be coming back to it again in the days or weeks ahead with more interesting historical data to surface.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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