GM Details its 100 Percent Renewable Energy Goal

GM Details its 100 Percent Renewable Energy Goal

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General Motors plans to generate or source all electrical power for its 350 operations in 59 countries with 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

General Motors' Rob Threlkeld in the solar array field at GM Warren Transmission Operations Thursday, September 8, 2016 in Warren, Michigan. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)

Thursday, September 15, 2016 - 12:15pm


GM is pledging to meet its electricity needs at all of its global operations with renewable energy – such as wind, sun and landfill gas – by 2050. The company’s global renewable energy manager, Rob Threlkeld, answers some questions about the company’s 100 percent renewable energy plans and what it will take to achieve its goal.

How does GM define this commitment? What does it mean to be 100 percent renewable?

Rob: Our global electricity needs will be met with renewable energy by 2050. This represents about 350 facilities where we pay utility bills, which includes both manufacturing and non-manufacturing buildings leased or owned by GM.  

What percentage of GM’s operations are currently powered by renewables?

Rob: GM has a capacity of 106MW of renewable energy globally today. We have 22 facilities with solar arrays, three sites using landfill gas, and four that will benefit from wind power by the end of this year.

Why is it important for GM to be powered by renewable energy?

Rob: This commitment, along with a pursuit of electrified vehicles and efficient manufacturing, is part of our approach to addressing climate change.  We have a vision to decarbonize the auto industry and ensure our vehicles operate in the cleanest way possible. After all, clean energy means cleaner air in our communities. It all makes business sense, too. These efforts translate into bottom-line benefits such as lower and more stable energy prices for the long term.

How much will it cost to have all global electricity use met by renewable energy?

Rob: GM currently spends $1 billion on energy annually, including electricity, natural gas, and heating and cooling costs. Electricity makes up about $650 million of that budget. We track the energy use of all of our manufacturing facilities and many of our non-manufacturing facilities through our energy management system. We understand how energy efficiency can reduce loads, which will help us transition to renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy offers more stable pricing options than traditional energy sources like fossil fuel, reducing the price volatility caused by external threats like government relations and natural disasters. Wind energy is already price competitive with traditional forms of energy and we expect the price of solar power to continue to decrease as demand grows.

How much money could GM save by 2050 by executing this plan?

Rob: Renewable energy prices continue to decrease, making it difficult to predict savings from a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio. However, renewable energy offers greater price stability than fossil fuel. Uncertainties in the market and temperature changes can greatly impact the cost of traditional energy.

We will save money through onsite investments in renewable energy, like building more solar arrays at our plants and facilities. We don’t know the future price of energy, but based on our decades-long use of renewable energy, we strongly believe we’ll get a good return on new projects globally.

What will your renewable energy portfolio look like?

Rob: The first step is continuing to maximize our energy efficiency through investments in new technology and daily efforts to conserve electricity in our facilities. By reducing energy use overall, there will be less electricity needs to be covered by renewable sources. The bulk of the renewable energy mix will likely come from power purchase agreements, which offer significant amounts of power that will help us scale our use. GM already has two power purchase agreements for wind energy in place, one to power half of our Arlington Assembly plant and another to power three facilities within our Mexico operations. These PPAs inject 30 megawatts and 34 megawatts of clean wind-powered renewable electricity into the grid, respectively. We also expect to meet the goal through green tariffs – working with our utility partners to allow customers greater access to source electricity from renewable sources.

We’ll continue to develop energy storage options, like powering facilities with used electric vehicle batteries, and install onsite renewable energy projects in the form of solar arrays and landfill gas projects. As we build new or renovate existing buildings across our global operations, we’ll integrate renewable energy where feasible.

In areas where renewable energy options are scarce, we’ll potentially look at purchasing renewable energy credits.

What companies will GM work with on its renewable energy projects?

Rob: To reach our goal, we’re collaborating with local utilities, policymakers, government officials, renewable energy developers, technology manufacturers, and other companies and organizations who will help make renewable energy procurement more attainable. This goal is part of the reason why we’re a founding member of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, which helps grow corporate demand for renewable power and demonstrate that market demand to utilities. Not all markets where we operate have established a definition of renewable energy credits or even offer renewable energy sources. We plan to collaborate with local policymakers and regulators to help enable more clean energy options.