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GE battery plant adding customers

Efficiency attracts African, Asian sales

Thursday, September 20, 2012
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— The $100 million General Electric battery plant has landed 10 new telecommunications customers since it began commercial sales in July.

Demand for the plant’s Durathon battery, a technology that doesn’t overheat and requires less time to charge, has spread across Africa, Asia and in the United States, where it powers more than 3,500 cell towers.

The Durathon battery technology was refined at GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna.

Prescott Logan, general manager of GE Energy Storage, said in a new release, “Durathon batteries help solve key challenges for customers in emerging markets, where power outages and cycle disruption are prevalent, and in developed markets where batteries currently take up large spaces in cramped urban centers. The technology is unique because it can function in a variety of extreme conditions and store as much energy as lead-acid batteries twice its size while lasting up to 10 times as long.”

The 10 new customers represent $63 million in orders, with nearly $60 million of that total coming from a deal with Megatron Federal of South Africa. Their purchase was announced in July when GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt came to Schenectady to highlight the Megatron deal.

Megatron, an engineering company, was the first customer for the plant, inking a deal for 700 batteries earlier in the year. Shortly afterward, they expanded that order to 1,000 batteries and eventually signed another agreement to purchase 6,000 batteries. These batteries are expected to ensure continuous operation of telecom installations the company maintains in Nigeria.

The batteries will also allow Megatron to limit its carbon footprint, as they require fewer diesel generators to keep charged. The company is expected to lower fuel consumption and emission by as much as half.

GE states that these 10 telecom customers represent just the start of a bright future for the Durathon battery, which could be used in telecom installations all over the world. GE’s Immelt previously speculated that the battery plant’s sales could exceed half a billion dollars in 2015.

Local GE spokeswoman Christine Horne said, “These orders are a testament to the strong momentum of our business and another great step forward for the community in showcasing our strength as a global leader in energy storage.”

The battery plant in Schenectady, which falls under the umbrella of the company’s transportation division, begin scaling up its operations last year and began creating products for commercial sale this year. In 2011, the company hired 140 workers for the plant, and it is expected to employ about 450 when fully operational in 2015.

During Immelt’s visit this summer he said GE will invest an addition $70 million into the plant.

The company’s earlier investment into the site was made in conjunction with a $25.5 million tax credit package, $15 million from the state, $5 million from the Metroplex Development Authority and other tax incentives.

 
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