Q&A: Global Executive Director of GE Ecomagination Deb Frodl Charts the Unstoppable Rise of Renewables

Deb Frodl is a 27-year veteran at GE and the Global Executive Director of Ecomagination, the company’s growth strategy to enhance resource productivity and reduce environmental impact with clean technologies. Before this, she was the Global Alternative Fuels Leader at GE. In other words, she knows a thing or two about renewables. Here, she answers questions about this fast-growing sector. 

How much of Canada’s energy comes from renewables?

Presently, 18.9 per cent of Canada’s total primary energy supply comes from renewables, according to Natural Resources Canada. Many people don’t realize that moving water is the country’s most important renewable energy source, providing 59.3 per cent of Canada’s electricity generation. In fact, Canada is the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world.

Wind is the second most important renewable energy source in Canada. It accounted for 6 per cent of electricity generation in Canada in 2015, enough to power as many as 3 million homes. It’s not just wind, of course: together, wind and solar photovoltaic energy are the fastest growing sources of electricity in Canada.

How does the price of renewables compare to other sources?

The costs of renewables have declined due to innovation, improved technology, and market expansion. Solar PV costs have dropped 75% over the last decade. Solar and wind are now either the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries, according to the World Economic Forum. In 2016, Morocco delivered unsubsidized onshore wind for just 3 cents per kilowatt hour, and Mexico has solar installs that may go under that. 

What’s the market for renewables?

By 2040, companies and governments worldwide will invest $7-11 trillion in renewable energy. That’s more than new additions to coal, gas, and nuclear power generation combined. Globally, there are 8.1 million renewable energy jobs, and they’re growing at 5% annually. We see a future soon where one-quarter of all global energy industry jobs will be in clean tech.

How is digital technology making renewables better?

GE studied the effect of scaling just a handful of digital solutions across key industries like power, aviation, and lighting. If these solutions are scaled globally, businesses will save $81 billion in fuel costs annually and avoid 823 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s like taking 174 million cars off the road. And it could close the global carbon gap by 30%.

The global e-Sustainability Initiative found that we can bring about a 20% reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 by applying Internet-enabled solutions in energy, health, buildings, agriculture, education, and manufacturing. This would also reduce costs by $4.9 trillion.

Would renewables still be used if they weren’t subsidized?

The price of renewables continues to decline. A number of countries have removed or reduced subsidies. Renewables are increasingly becoming cost competitive. Look at on-shore wind in Morocco, for example: the cost was only 3 cents per kwh in 2016, and that was unsubsidized. 

What kinds of jobs do renewables create?

In the U.S. from 2009 to 2016, wind and solar generation jobs were up 240%. Those jobs account for 5% of total U.S. employment growth. In fact, wind maintenance tech is the fastest growing job in the U.S. Globally, there are 8.1 million renewable energy jobs, and they’re growing at 5% annually. Solar PV was the largest renewable energy employer in 2016, with 2.8 million jobs worldwide, an 11% increase over 2014.


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