Technology for Good: A Half Century of GE Solar

Posted April 05, 2012

SOURCE: General Electric (GE)


“Space-age energy sources . . . solar energy, fuel cells, thermionic converters, and solid-state thermoelectric . . . broaden the company’s work.”

- From the introduction to GE’s Annual Report, 1959

GE’s interest in solar energy began in a very exciting yet nerve-wracking era. Those glamourous years that witnessed the jet age, JFK, and Mad Men were also when America was preoccupied with the Cold War and competing against the Soviets with mastering space exploration. GE was front and center during the space age, and the company’s legacy of innovation continues to this day during a time of rising energy prices and global instability.

While oil prices rocked the American economy during the 1970’s, GE ramped up its research and development on solar energy. The company’s solar R&D began before Jimmy Carter plunked solar panels on the White House and a young California governor named Jerry Brown sponsored tax incentives for residential solar installations. In 1974, GE partnered with the National Science Foundation to demonstrate how solar power worked at a Boston area school. That year alone, solar was an integral part of GE’s R&D $352 million ($1.6 billion in 2012 dollars) budget. Other projects outlined in the company’s past annual reports include the linking of solar energy technology and heat pumps to offer home builders an alternative heating option in 1976, and a year later, updated photovoltaic technologies. By the end of the 1970’s, concern over the Three Mile Island accident and another series of oil shocks led to GE’s discussions of future solar developments, one of which was “solar central receiver power plants that use heliostats to convert the sun’s energy to electricity.”

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KEYWORDS: Environment, Technology. Innovation & Solutions, GE, ge solar, Solar, Energy, renewable energy

Associated Media:

Sustainable Growth 2012

GE’s 2012 Sustainable Growth Summary highlights progress against commitments on our social, environmental and economic impacts—or, what we call People, Planet and Economy.



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