Solar power: $100m business with billion-dollar potential

World Future Energy Summit: Q&A with Steve Bolze, the president and chief executive of GE Power and Water at WFES 2012.

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Steve Bolze, the president and chief executive of GE Power and Water, talks with Florian Neuhof at WFES 2012.


q What brings you to the World Future Energy Summit?

a A big part of our global customer base is here. We've been in Abu Dhabi close to 40 years. About a third of all power in Abu Dhabi is from GE technology. I get up to the region at least three times a year, and it's probably, outside of western Europe and the US, our biggest region in the world.

q Why is the region so important to you?

a The region has very little to no reserve margins. So as economies expand they need power, and that's different than in other parts of the world right now. They are making the investments really on an annual basis. We've announced US$13 billion [Dh47.75bn] in business in the Middle East across the energy business in the last 36 months.

q What are the important themes in your line of business?

a There are three megatrends going on in the world right now: the greater abundance of natural gas right now, and the impact that is having on the marketplace; the role that renewables are going to continue to play as their use expands. The third megatrend we see is called "distributed generation": how do you bring power to the 1.3 billion people in the world that don't have access to power? And a lot of that is not going to be through centralised power generation. The Middle East really is a microcosm of what's going on in the world.

Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, made it clear nuclear power is a key pillar of China's energy policy. Are you looking to get involved in the country's nuclear programme?

A lot of our nuclear business right now is around servicing our existing customers around the world, a lot of which are in the United States. China is investing in its own technology development. They will be one of the largest nuclear players in the world, but our role in China will be more on the renewable or the gas side.

q You produce wind turbines in China. How do you compete against Chinese producers, who are known for their low pricing?

a One of your competitive advantages is technology. The reliability of our units is about 99 per cent. That means you get a better cost of electricity out of the wind turbine. Two or three of the biggest players in wind power are Chinese, but we still have the biggest capacity in wind space right now.

q Give us an idea of the size and scope of GE's solar business?

a Solar is a $100 million business. It's not a big part of our portfolio, but when you look at it over the course of the next five to 10 years, this could easily be our next billion-dollar business.

q Is solar power going to become a major source of energy in the Middle East? How will you position yourself in this nascent market?

a Do we believe solar is going to be a growing part of the energy mix in the Middle East? Yes. How do we expand there? It's just like we have done in other parts of our business. We have relationships with customers that go back 40 years in some cases, in some cases 100 years. So we can work together on developing their sites, to make sure the technology works in the short term and the long term.

q How important is it to localise your business?

a That's very important. And that's not unique to the Middle East. That's where the world is today. There is a focus on job creation, on making sure that they have the benefits of the technology development.