The natural gas boom in the U.S. has dropped the price of energy and started to reduce the use of dirtier fossil fuels. It is also creating a manufacturing renaissance in the southeast. Tim Lieuwen, director of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute, explains an emerging trend of major energy companies establishing gas turbine manufacturing plants in the southern U.S.
Over the next three decades, more than $1 trillion of new electric power generating capacity will be installed throughout the world and the majority of this will be derived from gas turbines.
Gas turbine technology – an efficient and reliable way to deliver power from natural gas – has grown in popularly recently for several reasons including the nation’s abundance of natural gas. Combined cycle power plants using gas turbines can be sited, permitted and built quickly. And they produce about half the carbon of coal and emit significantly lower levels of smog producing gases.
Already we see encouraging economic signs from the natural gas boom. Major players in the power sector are choosing to on-shore gas turbine manufacturing plants, rather than send the factories to China or other parts of Asia.
While GE has been headquartered in Atlanta since 1998, other powerhouses are converging on the area because of the ideal mix of infrastructure, skilled workforce, low cost of living and educational assets in the region.
Siemens recently shuttered its manufacturing facility in Ontario and moved to Charlotte, NC, where it developed a $130 million manufacturing operation center and created 700 new jobs. It’s building gas turbines to ship to Saudi Arabia. Mitsubishi, based out of Tokyo, was also recently wooed to Pooler, Ga., where the company installed a $325 million manufacturing facility that will employ 500 new workers. Likewise, Alstom recently completed a $300 million manufacturing facility in Chattanooga.
With these manufacturing facilities come good jobs involving the entire spectrum of workers, from skilled craft trades to engineers with PhD’s. Gas turbines also are industrially intensive requiring a major manufacturing base, which will bring tier-two suppliers into a region. Gas turbines are also becoming an attractive export, particularly for those countries such as China that are dealing with their own energy issues.
This is an exciting trend that should be studied and replicated. We see that the confluence of universities focused on solving big problems, a skilled workforce and progressive states have led to the emergence of the southeast as a major player in the energy and manufacturing industry.
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