Renewables boom is a bust for gas equipment suppliers like GE
General Electric's shares plunged 7% on Wednesday, suffering their worst one-day percentage decline since an 8.4% slide in April 2009.
GE's stock decline came in the wake of comments by CEO John Flannery, who told an Electric Products Group conference that he didn't see "a quick fix" for the turnaround of the company.
- Flannery said sales of heavy duty power equipment, one of the company's three main business divisions, "are going to be tough," according to Reuters.
Using natural gas-fired power plants to make up for the wave of power plant retirements — as opposed to using renewable energy — would cost billions for consumers, according to a recent report. However, a move away from gas plants could cost equipment manufacturers like GE.
A Rocky Mountain Institute report identified a need for 500 GW to replace power plant retirements expected by 2030, but said turning to gas plants, as opposed to clean energy resources, could cost consumers more than $500 billion.
Gas-fired plants are often the go-to resource to replace retiring coal plants, but the sale of gas plants have fallen off in recent years as renewable energy resources have risen. That is hurting companies like GE and its two main competitors, Mitsubishi and Siemens.
GE's stock slide came as investors expressed concern about the speed of GE's turnaround. Only months after he took over as CEO in August, Flannery announced a new strategic direction for GE, one that included $20 billion of divestitures, a dividend cut and a focus on three core businesses: aviation, healthcare and power.
In mid-December, the company announced that it was cutting 12,000 jobs from its power division.
GE said its power division is suffering from a saturated market that is marked by flat or low load growth. GE's wind turbine business is strong, though it is facing tightening margins, but it is not part of its power division.
Other equipment makers are also feeling that pain. Last November, Siemens said it was cutting 6,900 jobs in its power and fossil fuel division in response to falling worldwide demand for large gas turbines. In May, Siemens said it plans a temporary shut down of its power and gas division in an effort to cut costs.
Earlier this month Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said it expects orders for steam and gas turbines to run dry by 2020. The company said it plans to consolidate its manufacturing plants and convert some from making turbines to making other types of industrial machinery in an effort to cut costs by as much as 10%.
A May report by Barclays said that Mitsubishi had received half of all worldwide gas turbine orders in the first quarter of the year, topping its two chief competitors, GE and Siemens. But that is a larger share of a shrinking pie.
The economic health of the largest equipment manufacturers may hinge on how utilities handle the expected wave of power plant retirements. RMI's report argues that if utilities made a "rush for gas" and replaced much of the retiring capacity with gas-fired generation, it could be bad for consumers, costing them as much as $520 billion for equipment and $480 billion for fuel through 2030.
But analysts Hugh Wynn and Eric Selmon at the research firm SSR see the gap left by retirements being filled by a roughly 8% annual growth in fossil fuel capacity between 2020 and 2025. If they are right, it would be welcome news for equipment manufacturers, but their investors may have to cultivate more patience.
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