Hearings - Testimony
 
Subcommittee hearing on “Emerging Technologies and Practices for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
 
Dr. Mark M. Little
Director, GE Global Research General Electric Company

Statement of:
 
Mark M. Little
Senior Vice President and Director
GE Global Research
 
Before the
 
Senate Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to
Global Warming and Wildlife Protection
 
May 9, 2007
 
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee. Good morning and thank you for inviting me to address the Committee and provide GE’s perspective on technologies that could be readily deployed in the event Congress passes climate change legislation.
 
I am Mark Little, Senior Vice President and Director of GE Global Research, GE’s centralized R+D organization.  We are one of the world’s largest and most diversified industrial research labs, with a proud heritage of innovation spanning the Center’s 107-year history. 
 
From developing the first U.S. jet engine to developing many of the technologies that helped build today’s modern electrical grid, GE researchers have a proven record of moving the state of technology forward in a meaningful and practical way. Our breakthroughs have had real impact not only in transforming the nation’s infrastructure, but also in improving people’s lives.
 
In my role, I oversee more than 28,000 technologists across the company and around the world representing virtually every scientific discipline.  Our mission today is the same as it was at the time of our founding in 1900 -- to drive innovations that create new or better GE products and meet the needs of our customers and of society. 
We gather at a time when concerns about energy security and global climate change are at the top of everyone’s list.  In May 2005, GE launched ecomagination. Ecomagination represents the company’s commitment to develop cleaner, more efficient and environmentally friendly products.  As part of this initiative, we have pledged to double our level of R+D investment in green technologies from $700 million to more than $1.5 billion by the year 2010.    
 
Since launching ecomagination, we already have more than doubled the number of green products from the 17 that had originally been identified. GE’s customers and consumers now have more and better choices to reduce their emissions and energy consumption. In the years ahead, we will introduce even more products to help address the challenges of global climate change.
 
In February 2007, GE’s Vice Chairman, and President and CEO for GE Infrastructure, John Rice, testified before the Subcommittee on Energy & Power, Energy & Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, and called for the enactment of U.S. legislation on climate change at the earliest date possible.   He further stated that science has reached a point where such legislation is possible.
 
Indeed if Congress enacted climate change legislation today, the technology now exists to support viable options for the regulated community.   We have technologies available that can help prevent unacceptable greenhouse gas concentrations, such as those suggested by USCAP.  I will focus my remarks on six key technologies that we believe could have the most immediate impact. They are: The Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) system, or cleaner coal; wind energy; solar power; batteries; biofuels; and nuclear power.
 
 
 
In discussing each of these technologies, it’s important to understand that success in providing readily available solutions is directly tied to government setting a clear, consistent policy direction and continuing its strong commitment with industry and academia to aggressively invest in and accelerate the advancement of clean energy technology.  We have already seen how government policies can positively impact the growth and availability of clean energy solutions. 
 
The enactment of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) and new Renewable Portfolio Standards in more than 20 states have helped to fuel a three-fold expansion of the wind industry in the U.S. over the past few years.  In Europe where policies have been more consistently applied, the growth has been more rapid and substantial.
 
The first technology I would like to discuss is the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) system, or cleaner coal. GE’s Energy business has an IGCC product on the market today that successfully converts coal and other fossil fuels into a cleaner burning energy source. Compared to a traditional pulverized coal plant, an IGCC plant emits less than half of the sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, mercury and particulate matter. It also provides a much more advantageous way to capture carbon.
 
In an IGCC plant, the capability exists to separate and capture carbon before combustion.  We believe this presents a much more effective and economical way of removing carbon versus the method that could be used today of removing it from the exhaust at the very end of the combustion process. 
 
We are focused on several advanced gasification technologies to improve our IGCC platform.  We’re addressing everything from increasing process efficiency to reducing capital costs and emissions.
 
To fully realize the environmental benefits of IGCC technology, we will need a clear, consistent policy set forth by the government on carbon emissions.
 
Currently, the increased environmental benefits for IGCC come with increased capital costs.  With no value placed on carbon and no regulations governing carbon sequestration or liability associated with it, little incentive exists to adopt this technology. And while we have research programs that are aggressively working to reduce the capital costs of IGCC technology, those solutions will not be available in the short-term. 
 
Placing a monetary value on carbon and adopting rules governing carbon sequestration would go a long way toward ensuring that the nation meets its greenhouse gas emissions goals, and that IGCC technology can be a viable solution in helping us get there. The fact that nearly 50% of the nation’s electricity is derived from coal makes IGCC technology a critical part of the technology solutions needed.
 
Wind energy is another available, carbon-free technology that already has had a tremendous impact in Europe and is beginning to have real impact here in the U.S.  With the help of government incentives like the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and individual states’ efforts to adopt Renewable Portfolio Standards, wind is economically competitive today with other traditional sources of energy.  But for all of wind energy’s success, we believe there is much more room for improvement. 
 
Just consider that in the short time since GE got into the wind business in 2002, we have been able to improve the wind capture of our wind turbines by 30%.   But with more investment in R+D by industry, government and academia, we can do even more to improve the economics and accelerate the speed and scale in which wind assets can be readily deployed.    
 
At GE’s research lab, we are exploring new, lighter and more aerodynamic blade designs, lighter composite materials and better electronics and controls to make further improvements to GE’s wind turbines and large-scale energy systems.  We believe that another 15% wind capture can be added with more advanced technology development.  By industry partnering with the government, we could greatly accelerate this effort. 
 
Solar power, when coupled with government incentives, is another carbon-free technology that is available today.  In states like California and New Jersey where strong government incentives are in place, solar is thriving.  But if solar is to be a truly viable choice for residential and commercial consumers across the country, we need to accelerate the level of investment by government, industry and academia in solar energy research. I want to commend the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for doing just that with the recent launch of its Solar America initiative.
 
Solar America, of which GE is proud to be a partner, is exactly the kind of bold initiative that is needed to make solar power economically competitive across the U.S.  Right now, the price of solar power is around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. That is much too high. To encourage more widespread availability and use, we need to cut that cost in half. This reduction is the whole thrust of DOE’s initiative.
 
The general view across the solar industry is that the goal of economic viability will not be reached until at least the year 2030.  Through Solar America, we believe that aggressively accelerating breakthroughs in less costly and more efficient materials and improvements to the solar module systems could cut that timeline in half to 2015.  
 
The next technology I would like to discuss is high-energy batteries and hybrid systems.
 
GE has made significant progress with its own battery research initiatives. It has been critical to our Rail business and its development of a hybrid locomotive, which we will be demonstrating for the first time later this month at a planned GE ecomagination event in California.   
 
Within two to three years, we believe batteries could have a real impact on the heavy-duty vehicle industry and soon after plug-in hybrids for the automotive industry.  GE is currently collaborating with the U.S. government on a variety of projects to advance battery technologies.
 
Although GE is a not a producer of biofuels, we are working on new technologies that will enable our turbine products to burn several types of biofuel. GE Energy already has a product, the Jenbacher engine, which can operate on biofuels such as methane gas from landfills. We will continue to drive new developments in the research lab to make GE’s power generation and turbine products more fuel flexible, so that they can accommodate a variety of more environmentally friendly, domestic generated biofuels. 
 
Finally, I would like to discuss a carbon-free technology alternative that is not only available today, it is providing 16% of the world’s electricity and 20% of all electricity produced in the U.S. – nuclear power.  In fact, GE last week announced a contract with Dominion, one of the nation’s largest energy producers, to supply critical project components in the event Dominion decides to build a third nuclear-powered electric generating unit at its North Anna Power Station in Mineral, Virginia. 
 
More recent permitting, licensing and policy changes have helped to encourage new U.S. plant opportunities, but we believe more can be done to promote new opportunities in nuclear power.
 
In a world that is searching for carbon-free alternatives, nuclear represents one of the most mature and attractive solutions for bringing more carbon-free power online in a significant way.  While past incidents raised public concerns over the safety and reliability of nuclear power that persist today, significant progress has been made since then to address these issues and make nuclear a safe, reliable source of energy. 
 
As the U.S. Congress considers climate change legislation, GE believes several technologies can be readily deployed today in the short-term to meet new greenhouse gas emissions goals set forth in such legislation. But the success of these technologies is incumbent upon having the right policies and a committed research and deployment partner in government to help accelerate needed advancements.
 
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and members of the Committee for the opportunity to provide testimony.  Addressing the issue of climate change is one of greatest challenges the U.S. and indeed the world will face in the 21st century. The good news is that we have a host of technologies available today that can support swift action by Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation.
 
Thank you.
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