GE – Bringing good things to solar?

General Electric (GE) issued a white paper last week in conjunction with the Solar Power International trade show held in Las Vegas, on the theme of ongoing growth and innovation in the rapidly expanding utility-scale solar sector.

GE in its paper describes how their array of supportive technologies and services can optimize the performance, efficiency and cost effectiveness of utility-scale photovoltaic systems. It’s a recognition by the global company of the enormous growth of the solar market, its history of cost reduction and technology improvement, and its promise to be a mainstream power source.

GE does not manufacture PV panels, having sold its cadmium telluride thin film business in 2013 to First Solar. Rather, to paraphrase a different company’s slogan “we don’t make solar, we make solar better”. Solutions that come out of their Energy Connections and Lighting Division include upgrading inverters from 600V to 1.5 kV, as well as introducing inverters made of silicon carbide, for better performance and less maintenance.

Other power products from GE for PV projects include battery storage and hybrid integration systems with wind or natural gas. A further GE overlay is to integrate the PV project business into a digital cloud system that is monitored and operated in real time. The results of these products and services are improved yield, lower operations and maintenance costs and better integration with a grid. Funding and related assistance would be provided by GE’s financial division.

The paper demonstrates innovative strategies in upgrading large scale solar by the corporate behemoth which had over $113 billion of revenue in 2016, according to their annual report. The paper and annual report may provide insight into a company addressing how to plan and invest for a changing energy landscape in terms of technologies, economics and policies. In their annual report, GE has four entities involved in power and energy. Their Oil and Gas business showed a revenue decline from $15.4 billion in 2012 to $12.9 in 2016. The Renewable Energy unit, which includes wind power and hydro, reported an increase from $7.4 to $9.0 billion in the same time period.

The Power business includes the Hitachi Nuclear unit as well as steam power, the latter of which is working in concentrated solar power, rose from $20.6 billion in 2012 to $26.8 billion in 2016. The Energy Connections and Lighting unit, which is heavily involved in the white paper, was flat, going from $15.4 billion in 2012 to $15.1 billion in 2016. All told, these four GE units involved in power and energy showed modest revenue gains from $58.8 billion in 2012 to $63.8 billion in 2016, a little over 2% per year.

While GE navigates the currents of the changing energy and power landscapes, some financial sources wonder whether the company may get back into the solar manufacturing business, as has been suggested by The Motley Fool.