GE Is in the News for the Wrong Reasons

General Electric is in the news for corporate actions, but it should be in the news for its research and development -- that's what's going to help the U.S. reach its green goals.

Jul 6, 2014 at 5:53PM

General Electric (NYSE:GE) is an industrial giant with an incredible legacy. However, corporate actions like mergers and acquisitions often overshadow the company's real gift to the world: research and development. The company's work on refrigeration is a great example, and Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED) shows why.

Power demand is huge
Consolidated Edison operates in and around New York. Manhattan alone accounts for roughly 90% of the utility's business, so it's really a utility play on New York City. That's both good and bad, particularly in light of the newly proposed government regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

While Consolidated Edison is largely a distribution and transmission company on the electric side, states will have broad leeway in meeting the targeted 30% CO2 reduction. And that will include the demand side as well as the supply side. But being in Manhattan, Consolidated Edison is at something of a disadvantage on the demand side. The city is a leading location for jobs and entertainment.

Source: By geographicus.com, via Wikimedia Commons.

For example, New York City ranks second in jobs recovered since the nadir of the 2007 to 2009 recession. It is also seeing record numbers of tourists. And building permits are on the rise again, too. All of this suggests there's going to be lots of demand for electricity.

When Consolidated Edison is asked to do its part, it might be harder than expected. For example, even though electricity use per customer has trended lower since the recession, peak demand has recovered and is heading higher again. Essentially, overall use is driven by both individual use and the total customer base. Conservation in New York City could be hard to achieve on an aggregate level.

Mixed blessing
It's difficult to suggest that Consolidated Edison would complain if aggregate demand keeps heading higher. The more energy its power lines carry, the more money it makes. However, that doesn't mean it won't be pushed for improvements. And that's where such things as advanced lighting come into play. General Electric is in that market.

However, LED bulbs are old tech these days. General Electric just announced a truly exciting opportunity. And no, it isn't the potential acquisition of a 20% stake in France's Alstom for $17 billion. Although that's nifty, General Electric has made a key advance in the use of magnetic refrigeration. Although the technology is complex, the big picture is that it could reduce the cost of refrigeration by as much as 20%. Oh, and it would eliminate the need for environmentally dangerous refrigerants, too.

Source: Bretwa, via Wikimedia Commons.

This is big news, because cooling our foods and cooling our homes are among the most energy-intensive processes. General Electric may make the news for splashy moves like acquisitions and spinoffs, but it puts between 5% and 6% of its revenue to work on the research and development front each year. In fact, it's spent over $43 billion on R&D over the last decade alone.

That puts General Electric in an elite league, and its newest refrigeration development could really help utilities like Consolidated Edison reduce electric demand in the face of an increasing number of customers and increasing energy use by tech-heavy lifestyles. That's a win-win for Consolidated Edison and General Electric. And it could be bigger than you think.

Consolidated Edison has around 3.4 million electric customers. Since each customer is basically a home or business, that's 3.4 million people who could trim their use if they make the switch to energy sipping devices like a magnetic fridge. That will add up quickly, and you might even find Consolidated Edison offering incentives for such a change. General Electric's market, meanwhile, would be even more vast. Every home in the United States is a potential customer.

Watch General Electric's research
A magnetic refrigerator is still a few years away. However, you should keep an eye out for this type of industry-changing technology from General Electric. Alstom is big news, but don't let it blind you from the work that's being done behind the scenes at this industrial giant. Companies like Consolidated Edison, which are increasingly facing green regulations, will certainly be waiting with baited breadth.

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Reuben Brewer has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. 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.

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