Interview with GE renewables chief Anne McEntee

WORLDWIDE: Anne McEntee took charge of renewables at GE in April, enjoying the highs of the rollercoaster US market. She talks to Windpower Monthly about her plans for riding through the lower end of that cycle.

Anne McEntee, GE vice-president for renewable energy
Anne McEntee, GE vice-president for renewable energy

Look out for more technology," says Anne McEntee. Succeeding the popular Vic Abate as vice-president for renewable energy at GE, she is pushing one of the world's largest wind-turbine manufacturers towards greater globalisation.

The US is by far GE's largest wind market, and since McEntee's arrival, the company has been enjoying the mini growth bubble brought on by the fact that developers must start projects by the end of 2013 to qualify for the production tax credit (PTC). But longer term, against tough competition from rivals Siemens and Vestas, GE Wind must continue to move into other regions in order to grow. "We will use technology as our biggest lever (of growth)," she states, confidently.

McEntee, 42, who has a PhD in applied mathematics, followed her father into GE 15 years ago. She was CEO and president of flow and process technologies, part of GE Oil & Gas, after managing the power services division.

McEntee is confident about the short-term US market. "[It] has seen a lot of ups and downs, (but) it's in a stable position for the next two years." Beyond that, she admits: "I am very concerned about the uncertainty of policy as we go past the end of 2015."

Is the route to a steady US wind market through a PTC renewal, or clearing projects for investment from master limited partnerships - an investment vehicle used widely by pipeline and other energy-related companies? "I don't know what the right answer is," says McEntee. But, US lawmakers may not prioritise extending wind support because of high-profile issues such as the national debt, she notes. "We're trying to push the technology forward so (we) are less dependent on subsidies and policy."

For the next three to five years, GE Wind Energy has specific priorities globally, she explains: optimising the production of entire wind farms; servicing GE turbines; and globalisation/localisation.

"[Battery] storage will be an option on every turbine we sell," she says. GE's newer "Brilliant" wind turbines - such as the 1.7-100 and 2.5-120 - each includes 15-16 minutes' storage. A storage retrofit will be offered for older turbines, she reveals.

In October, GE launched PowerUp, a customised software-enabled product with a claim that it can increase an existing wind farm's output by up to 5%. In mid-November it announced a deal to supply PowerUp to utility E.on for use on 469 GE 1.5-77 turbines in the US. The company's launch of service products is likely to become more frequent, she says.

As a multinational conglomerate, GE has been less buffeted by a contracting global wind market than "pure play" firms such as Vestas. GE does not release much on wind-turbine sales or orders, with wind products bundled with thermal and steam turbines in earnings reports. This does, however, indicate that wind turbines have sold well in 2013, at least in mature markets. Senior executives have referred to clinching 477 orders across North America and western Europe, when discussing Q3 earnings. This is an increase on 390 the previous year.

Beyond the US

To globalise, GE Wind is pushing sales in Britain, Ireland and Turkey. Market stability in those countries, over the next three to five years, is "pretty good - but it's all relative", says McEntee.

Large conglomerates that are globalising a unit can find it trickier to maintain quality control in their supply chain than smaller companies, say analysts. And with the company known for a multi-source strategy for key components, how will McEntee ensure quality control in a global supply chain?

"That clearly is a challenge," she says. But as GE Wind - which is a little more than a decade old - expands its business, she notes, its local contractors can draw upon its five vast engineering centres, in its home state of New York, and in India, China, Germany and Brazil.

Indeed, it's a time when McEntee's executive experience could serve her well, having previously overseen a services division and the growth of another relatively new division of GE. And at GE Oil & Gas, she managed the successful integration of a newly acquired company, a route that GE Wind may take once more as it weathers the storm.

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