winds in the west

GE business to fill order for turbines to power Western Hemisphere's largest wind project

GE Vernova and Pattern Energy, two energy transition companies with Houston ties, are teaming up for a historic wind project. Photo via ge.com

A business to be spun off by General Electric will build hundreds of turbines for what will be the largest wind project in the Western Hemisphere, part of a massive equipment order and long-term service agreement with the global renewable-energy giant Pattern Energy.

GE Vernova, which recently became a high-level partner of Boston and Houston-based Greentown Labs, announced the agreement Tuesday, saying it is the largest onshore wind turbine order received by the company, both in quantity and in the amount of electricity that the 674 turbines will eventually generate when the SunZia Wind Project comes online in 2026.

GE Vernova will tap its factory in Pensacola, Florida, for the large order, as well as tower manufacturing operations in New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas. Overall, 15 suppliers are on board for providing the necessary parts to make each turbine.

Construction already is underway on the SunZia wind farm and an associated multibillion-dollar transmission line that will funnel power to populated markets in the western United States. Pattern Energy, which has a Houston office, just weeks ago announced that it had closed on $11 billion in financing for the projects.

Backers see SunZia — described as an energy infrastructure undertaking larger than that of the Hoover Dam — as a pivotal project. The venture has attracted significant financial capital and stands to boost the percentage of the nation's electricity that comes from renewable sources amid escalating state and federal energy mandates.

Still, some Native American tribes and environmentalists worry about the location of a 50-mile (80-kilometer) segment of the transmission line where it will pass through Arizona's San Pedro Valley. The federal government already had approved the siting, but tribal leaders said there should have been more consultation.

In December, the U.S. Energy Department reported that the private sector over the past three years has announced investments of more than $180 billion in new or expanded clean energy manufacturing projects across the nation, including spending on development of larger, higher capacity wind turbines. GE has been among the companies to take advantage of tax credits included in the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

However, after years of record growth, the industry group American Clean Power expects less land-based wind to be added in the U.S. by year’s end — about enough to power 2.7 million to 3 million homes.

While companies are taking advantage of government incentives now, it can take years to bring projects online, the industry group said.

The SunZia Wind Project will span three counties in rural New Mexico. Crews already are constructing the concrete platforms that will support the turbines, and developers expect the first turbines to rise this autumn.

Pattern Energy CEO Hunter Armistead said the project will serve as a backbone for a cleaner, more reliable grid for customers across the western U.S. The company already has signed long-term power purchase agreements with Shell Energy North America and the University of California for a portion of the electricity that will be generated.

“Construction is in full swing on SunZia, using American-made turbine components and creating thousands of good-paying new jobs — a big win for the growing clean energy economy,” Armistead said in a statement.

Vic Abate, president and CEO of the company's wind business, called the venture historic.

“This project demonstrates GE Vernova’s ability to deliver on our workhorse strategy in onshore wind — producing fewer variants in large quantities at scale to drive quality and reliability across the fleet for our customers," he said in a statement.

In all, the company has more than 55,000 turbines installed worldwide.

The company has been working with Pattern Energy for the past 18 months on site layouts that are designed to maximize the performance of the turbines in central New Mexico and to ensure the supply chain can keep up with manufacturing demands.

GE Vernova consultants also have been working on interconnection with the transmission line, and the company's financial arm provided a tax equity loan commitment that helped to solidify financing for the project.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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