What’s more, through the Munich center, GE also aims to forge ties to local industries. The company is negotiating with BMW to collaborate on hydrogen storage and hybrid engines and sensors, says Hans Bornemann, head of business development for the new lab.
It’s all part of GE’s strategy to dominate the market for renewable-energy technologies. Two years ago, GE bought Enron’s wind business and expanded aggressively into the wind power market. Today, GE Wind Energy is one of the company’s fastest-growing divisions and is heading for world market leadership, having picked up another 9 percent of market share from 2002 to 2003, according to BTM Consult in Denmark. And in March, the company acquired the U.S. photovoltaics manufacturer AstroPower and now sells complete photovoltaics systems for homes. “In ten years, we will rule the world,” predicts Vlatko Vlatkovic, GE global technology leader for electronic and photonic systems.
The new center also reflects GE’s renewed commitment to technology development in general. Since 2001, GE has invested $100 million in its Niskayuna, NY, research headquarters and built a $64 million research facility in Shanghai, China. While the Munich lab is focusing on renewable energy, which consumes about half of its research budget, it will also develop sensor, medical-imaging, and automotive technologies.
GE’s aggressive research expansion in Germany brings the fight to its chief rival in the fields of power systems, medical technology, and lighting: Siemens. In fact, from Siemens’s headquarters in Munich to the new GE research center north of the Bavarian capital is just a 20-minute drive. And GE’s plans to research medical, sensor, and automotive technologies strike at the heart of Siemens’s business.
But Siemens has made a strategic decision not to pursue core renewable-energy production technologies; rather, it supplies parts, consulting, and maintenance to geothermal power plants and wind farms. So at least for the time being, GE has the wind at its back when it comes to renewables.