U.S. renewable energy could quadruple in 10 years

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - Solar, wind and other sources of renewable energy could double or even quadruple their presence in the United States in the next 10 years, an executive in General Electric's energy finance unit said.

Kevin Walsh, managing director of the renewable energy group at GE Energy Financial Services, said renewables could make up between 5 percent and 10 percent of the nation's energy mix, up from 2.5 percent currently, in 10 years.

"Biomass and other forms of renewable is 2.5 percent, so very, very small," Walsh said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. "We are blessed with some of the best wind and solar and biomass resources in the world."

Asked what the percentage of renewables, excluding hydroelectric power, would look like in 10 years, Walsh said, "Five to 10 percent."

In an interview following his appearance at the conference, Walsh said wind would make up a large portion of that increase.

"Wind is going to be a big part of it," Walsh said. "Wind is very competitive. We still have quite a bit of wind resources to exploit in this country."

Solar, geothermal and biomass will also make up big portions of the increase in renewables, Walsh added.

GE has invested in all those technologies as part of a plan to pour $6 billion into renewable energy by 2010. It has invested $4 billion of that so far, Walsh said.

Most of the conglomerate's portfolio is made up of large-scale investments such as a string of wind farms across the United States and a major hydroelectric project in Canada.

But GE also has less than $100 million of investments in venture-stage companies including lithium-ion battery maker A123Systems Inc, wave power producer Ocean Power Delivery Ltd and Norwegian electric car maker Think Global.

In an interview, Walsh said GE's venture investments would remain a small part of the overall renewable portfolio, adding up to between $50 million and $100 million a year.

Still, he said they were important not only for their promising financial returns but also as a means for GE to keep its finger on the pulse of new technologies.

"It does give GE a window on emerging technologies that we might not otherwise have," Walsh said. "We think of these as technology scouts for us."

Walsh also said GE was open to partnering with Google Inc on renewable energy investments, though he added that so far Google's investments in companies including solar thermal company eSolar and high-altitude wind company Makani Power have been earlier-stage than GE is accustomed to.

Google has said it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help drive the cost of electricity made from renewable sources below the price of power generated from dirty coal-fired plants.

Looking ahead, Walsh said renewables would make up half, or close to half, of GE's energy financial services portfolio within five to ten years.

He also said the renewable portfolio would be less focused on the United States going forward. Currently, U.S. investments make up 75 percent of the total, but Walsh said GE sees big opportunities in China and India.


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