Did GE Just Save the Solar Industry?

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Microsoft's Bill Gates may think solar and wind power are "cute" technologies, but at least one other industrial stalwart is taking them quite seriously.

This morning, General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) announced the release of a new product that's generating a lot of buzz in renewable energy circles. The so-called "FlexEfficiency" power plant is said to be based on the jet engines GE designs for Airbus and Boeing, but instead of burning jet fuel, it runs on "clean natural gas." In addition to being environmentally friendly, the company also boasts that the FlexEfficiency plant is more fuel-efficient than any other gas turbine on the planet.

So why advertise its "born from jets" lineage at all? Because the name of the game here is speed. GE unveiled the new power plant in Europe, where investments in solar and wind power have been all the rage. Europeans are intimately familiar with the downside to these technologies -- namely, that the weather isn't always windy, the sun doesn't always shine, and to paraphrase: "Ain't no [solar power,] when she's gone."

Foolish takeaway
FlexEfficiency can solve this problem by quickly kicking in to supply the grid when skies are grey and doldrums dominate. It's bound to be popular in the European market -- and as a side benefit, just might boost solar power shops like First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR  ) , whose stock has been suffering from fears of subsidy cuts. The more GE boosts the case for solar, the more willing Euro-governments may be to loosen the purse strings -- for GE and First Solar both.

Is this better news for GE or for First Solar? Add both stocks to your Fool Watchlist, and watch how the stories play out.

Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft and First Solar. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (15)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 28, 2011, at 2:24 PM, rocketman67 wrote:

    We, the US, have so much natural gas that the industry doesn't know what to do with it. Methane is another abundant fuel yet to be tapped. But as long as Big Oil has our politicians in their pockets nothing will ever change until "they" want it to change.

  • Report this Comment On May 28, 2011, at 3:56 PM, redhead77 wrote:

    Two thoughts and a clarification:

    1) GE has had the fastest starting gas turbine peakers for a while. This one should fix a few issues with the older model and be even more efficient (they add a sort of intercooler to get the boost). Not a huge game changer, though.

    2) The thing that saves solar is increasing efficiency and lowering cost. Big gains are coming that way. For now, the cost to plant a photovoltaic solar plant is twice that of a wind plant. Both have free fuel, but the sun is more predictable.

    Clarifying @rocketman67:

    Natural gas is 90% methane. There are other huge sources of methane, the biggest being methane hydrates in the arctic and at depths of around 1,000 feet or more in the ocean. The US Geological Survey says methane hydrates "conservatively estimate[s] to total twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth." We just have to be very careful in grabbing it -- it is a very powerful greenhouse gas and we don't know how to safely work with them yet.

  • Report this Comment On May 28, 2011, at 3:58 PM, PRODOD wrote:

    Solar only works with substantial subsidy; effective 'back up' generators have been readily available for the past 50 years --don't understand why you are touting the latest GE model-- but solar plus 'back up' or solar plus grid connecion is just not an economic package. So the answer to your question is NO, GE's latest generator will not save solar from its fatal flaw: namely, solar just costs too much.

  • Report this Comment On May 28, 2011, at 4:46 PM, mountain8 wrote:

    Hey Rocketman,

    there are 535 federal congressmen. Add in the Pres and a few judges and pay them $100,000 each that makes less than 60 MILLION Dollars Big oil needs to offer each year to keep congress on their side. Do you think they can afford it?

    Do you think the Columbian Drug Lords might also look at that $60 mill as necessary overhead in order to keep drugs legal? (Marijuana specifically) So only they make money and not the American Tax system.

    At a million each/year (10 times that) it still comes up to only about half a billion $. Cheap bribes at twice the price To own the United States.

    So what part of many billions/or trillions of dollars drug trade/oil companies make each year is a lousy 500 Mill?

    And we all know congress can be bought for a lot less.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2011, at 2:41 PM, AntB77 wrote:

    Maybe that's why they don't secure the border. Lot's of drug money at stake.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2011, at 6:01 PM, plange01 wrote:

    the solar industry is dead and so is ge!

  • Report this Comment On May 31, 2011, at 10:55 AM, ej20krs wrote:

    Solar isn't dead, it's just too expensive...When someone invents a way to drive down the cost of buying/installing solar power, then I'll actually consider it alive and it will then have a chance to die!

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