GE, Google, Waste Management: Three Fortune 500 Firms with Emerging Roles in Clean Energy

GE, Google, Waste Management: Three Fortune 500 Firms with Emerging Roles in Clean Energy

To achieve President Obama's goal to double the use of renewable energy in three years and significantly improve energy efficiency would be a momentous feat. The skill and ingenuity of many companies will need to flourish. As economic conditions shift, the most successful companies will change with the times and help lead innovation. Let's examine the niches of three very different organizations in the emerging green energy economy.

General Electric: (2008 Revenue: $176.6 billion)

GE's energy division is a global leader in power generation technologies and the nation's biggest provider of power plant turbines. With $29.3 billion in revenue last year, the firm is involved in many different types of energy, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind and biogas. GE anticipates global gas turbine shipments to be about the same as last year, but for wind turbine shipments to fall 14 percent in 2009.

GE has more than 10,000 wind turbines installed globally, with over 15,000 megawatts of capacity. The latest models of turbines range from 1.5 to 3.6 megawatts of capacity. The 2.5 megawatt turbines are ideal for land-constrained markets such as Europe, while the 3.6 megawatt turbines are produced for offshore use.

There are manufacturing centers located in Spain, China, Canada, the U.S. and Germany. The main facility is strategically located in Salzbergen, Germany, near the boarder with the Netherlands.

Just last month, John Rice, the vice chairman of GE's infrastructure unit, said the firm's wind turbine business was approaching $6 billion for 2008. In the fall, GE Energy's vice president of renewables, Victor Abate predicted a strong performance for 2008. "We were doing maybe 500 turbines back in 2005, but this year we will break 3,000," Abate said at the time.

GE is also a member of the Smart Energy Alliance, joined by Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Oracle and Capgemini. The next generation of distribution systems will utilize information technology, communications and energy systems to transform the transmission and distribution operations of utilities. The developments are considered to be instrumental for greater energy efficiency, productivity and use of renewable energy.

GE's SmartMeter technology makes customers more aware of energy use during peak times and enables time-of-use pricing. The goal is to decrease costly peak energy use and increase energy efficiency, saving money for both the utilities and consumers.

Google (2008 Revenue: $16.6 billion)

A strong trait that Google brings to the table is thinking outside the box and creating innovative approaches. For example, Google announced an ambitious plan last October to wean the U.S. off of coal and oil power by 2030 and to cut the use of cars by 40 percent.

Over the last several years, Google has invested heavily in solar energy and launched a Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal campaign. Its philanthropic arm,, invested $45 million in wind, solar and geothermal start-ups in the first three quarters of 2008. Despite heavy investments in renewable energy, however, the company continues to receive the majority of its revenue from on-line advertisement.

The firm recently started branching out even further when it recently announced the development of Google PowerMeter, which is a platform for home energy information. The program is to track energy use through the iGoogle homepage. This gadget will record historical trends and forecast future use. It is currently undergoing internal beta testing.

In what has been considered a smart strategic move, Google's announcement came just before the stimulus package was passed. The firm is trying to become a new player in the power industry and is working on building key relationships to make the product successful and expand into a new market.

"We have been debating, 'What are the business opportunities for Google in this area,' " Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, said last fall. "And I think right now, we would answer the question that our primary mission is one of information."

Waste Management (2008 Revenue: $13.3 billion)

The company seeks to "reverse the way you think about waste." WM has painted its garbage trucks green, launched the website and spent tens of millions on television commercials about electricity generated from waste. Although this might sound like just a major PR campaign, there is meat to their initiatives.

Waste Management is the largest solid waste management company in North America and operates the largest US fleet of heavy-duty collection trucks. The company has a goal to reduce fleet emissions by 15 percent by 2020.

In California, 300 garbage collection trucks will soon be fueled by the same trash that they haul. Landfill gas will be purified and liquefied, producing up to 13,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) daily at a new company facility.

The facility at Waste Management's Altamont Landfill in Livermore, California will begin operation this year. It comes with a price tag of $15.5 million, with grants providing $1.4 million.

The new facility will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30,000 tons per year, according to Linde North America, Waste Management's partner in the venture. LNG is a cleaner burning transportation fuel that emits less nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and particulates than diesel-fueled vehicles.

"This will be the largest plant of its kind and we hope to break new ground by producing commercial quantities," said Duane Woods, senior vice president of Waste Management's Western group. "Natural gas is already the cleanest burning fuel available for our collection trucks, and the opportunity to use recovered landfill gas offers enormous environmental benefits to the communities we serve."

The company also boasts 69 landfill gas-to-energy facilities in 21 states and has been developing such projects for 15 years, according to the company's environmental review. Landfill gas produces enough energy to power 160,000 homes.

It is a smart business move for the company as it is able to capitalize using what would otherwise be a harmful waste product generated from landfills, while mitigating climate change.