GE’s industrial internet is really (mostly) about energy efficiency

GE (s ge) put out a substantial report this morning on what it thinks are the opportunities for the industrial internet, which will be followed up by an event on the same subject in San Francisco later this week. As my colleague Barb Darrow wrote, it’s not a big shocker, and the move is really a rebranding effort for a few sectors that GE has long been working on, including smart grid technology, the internet of things, and smart transportation. But the major driving force at the heart of the movement is using digital technology to enable industry to reduce energy consumption and better manage resources.

Most of the sectors that GE’s newly coined effort covers — transportation, aviation, locomotives, power generation, power distribution, oil and gas development, and industrial processes — are highly energy-reliant (if not all about energy) and the use of digital technologies in these sectors is meant to enable the use of energy (electricity and fuel) as efficiently as possible. That’s where a lot of the cost savings lie. The one exception in the mix is GE’s attention on digital health care.

GE says that with digital and sensor technologies, the commercial aviation industry could reduce fuel use by one percent, which is a savings of $30 billion over 15 years. A one percent efficiency gain for gas-fired power plants globally could deliver $66 billion in fuel savings. A one percent gain in efficiency for the world’s rail networks could lead to $27 billion in fuel savings. The list goes on — and it’s filled with energy efficiency measures, which equals cost savings.

GE has been classifying a lot of this technology under its Ecomagination brand, and it’ll probably continue to do so well into the future. Saving energy — electricity use and fuel — is clearly in the best interest of the planet. Burning fossil fuels for transportation and electricity is a major cause of climate change.

But GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt has said before that he regrets spending so much time over the past four years focused on how green GE’s technologies are. In the Spring of 2011, Immelt said at an event at MIT (reported by Reuters):

“If I had one thing to do over again I would not have talked so much about green. . . Even though I believe in global warming and I believe in the science … it just took on a connotation that was too elitist; it was too precious and it let opponents think that if you had a green initiative, you didn’t care about jobs. I’m a businessman. That’s all I care about, is jobs.”

The re-branding of green technologies — and the clean tech sector — is happening across the board. The term cleantech (and green for that matter) have been deeply politicized in the U.S., and have become a dirty word in some post-Solyndra circles. From a startup perspective, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have had a harder time making money in “cleantech” than in mobile and web ventures.

As a result some investors — and some innovators — have moved away from so-called cleantech. The term “smart grid,” too, has been a bit tainted as consumers have pushed back on smart meters in certain regions. Smart grid returns for investors and startups have also been scarce. Investor groups looking to rebrand cleantech have been emphasizing terms like Clean Web, digital green and the intersection of cleantech and IT.

But as I reported recently, the trends behind the cleantech movement (and the smart grid) are still in place: there will be 9 billion people by 2050, which will lead to resource constraints, and a need for the better management of resources (energy being a major one). GE seems to be at the forefront of trying to rebrand this trend with this Industrial Internet moniker — and I applaud that.