Many people have the misconception that the renewable energy field is comprised largely of little start-ups. In reality, many of the heavy hitters in the industry are large, established companies, such as General Electric, Google, and Waste Management.
Let’s examine the niches these organizations occupy in the emerging green energy economy.
2008 Revenue: $176.6 billion
GE’s energy division is a global leader in power generation technologies and the nation’s biggest provider of power plant turbines. With $29.3 billion in revenue last year, the firm is involved in many different types of energy, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind and biogas. GE has about 50 percent of the US wind turbine market share, totaling more than 12,000 MW of installed capacity.
The latest wind turbine models range from 1.5 to 3.6 megawatts of capacity. The 2.5 megawatt turbines are ideal for land-constrained markets such as Europe, while the 3.6 megawatt turbines are made for offshore use.
There are manufacturing centers located in Spain, China, Canada, the U.S. and Germany. The main facility is strategically located in Salzbergen, Germany, near the boarder with the Netherlands.
In February, John Rice, the vice chairman of GE’s infrastructure unit, said the firm’s wind turbine business was approaching $6 billion for 2008.
GE is also investing $100 million in a battery factory in upstate New York. These sodium-based batteries can be used in GE’s hybrid locomotives after they are commercialized next year and for wind power.
2008 Revenue: $16.6 billion
A talent that Google brings to the industry is the ability to think outside the box and create innovative approaches. For example, Google announced an ambitious plan last October to wean the U.S. off of coal and oil power by 2030 and to cut the use of cars by 40 percent.
Over the last several years, Google has invested heavily in solar power and launched a Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal campaign. Its philanthropic arm, Google.org, invested $45 million in wind, solar and geothermal start-ups in the first three quarters of 2008. Despite heavy investments in renewable energy, however, the company continues to receive the majority of its revenue from on-line advertisement.
The firm recently started branching out even further with the development of Google PowerMeter, which is a platform for home energy information. The program is to track energy use through the iGoogle homepage. This gadget will record historical trends and forecast future use. It is currently undergoing internal beta testing.
In what has been considered a smart strategic move, Google’s announcement came just before the stimulus package was passed. The firm is trying to become a new player in the power industry and is working on building key relationships to make the product successful and expand into a new market.
“We have been debating, ‘What are the business opportunities for Google in this area,’ ” Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said last fall. “And I think right now, we would answer the question that our primary mission is one of information.”
2008 Revenue: $13.3 billion
The company seeks to “reverse the way you think about waste.” WM has painted its garbage trucks green, launched the website ThinkGreen.com and spent tens of millions on television commercials about electricity generated from waste. Although this might sound like just a major PR campaign, there is substance behind to these initiatives.
Waste Management is the largest solid waste management company in North America and operates the largest US fleet of heavy-duty collection trucks. The company has a goal to reduce fleet emissions by 15 percent by 2020.
In California, 300 garbage collection trucks are fueled by the same trash that they haul. Landfill gas is purified and liquefied, producing up to 13,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) daily at a new company facility.
The new facility will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30,000 tons per year, according to Linde North America, Waste Management’s partner in the venture. LNG is a cleaner burning transportation fuel that emits less nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and particulates than diesel-fueled vehicles.
“This will be the largest plant of its kind and we hope to break new ground by producing commercial quantities,” said Duane Woods, senior vice president of Waste Management’s Western group. “Natural gas is already the cleanest burning fuel available for our collection trucks, and the opportunity to use recovered landfill gas offers enormous environmental benefits to the communities we serve.”
The company also boasts 69 landfill gas-to-energy facilities in 21 states and has been developing such projects for 15 years, according to the company’s environmental review. Landfill gas produces enough energy to power 160,000 homes. Waste Management has a goal to double the amount of renewable energy it produces by 2020.
A joint venture was recently announced between Waste Management and InEnTec to develop plasma gasification facilities to process waste. S4 Energy Solutions will use InEnTec’s Plasma Enhanced Melter technology, while Waste Management will provide a national infrastructure for waste. The technology can produce a variety of energy products, including liquid fuels and electricity and uses a wide variety of feedstock.
“It doesn’t matter what feedstock is used as long as there is carbon content or organic content such as paper, plastic, and wood, every one of those waste streams will be converted into syngas,” says Jeff Surma, president and CEO of S4 Energy Solutions.
Waste to energy technologies are a smart business move for Waste Management, because it allows revenue to be generated from waste.