New solar agreement brings renewable power to the Midwest and will push GM beyond the 1 GW threshold of renewable electricity use

DETROIT—General Motors recently reported it had entered into a new power purchase agreement for a 180-megawatt solar project, reported to be the equivalent of about 47,882 U.S. homes’ electricity use for one year. The solar energy will come from a new solar field in Arkansas originally developed by First Solar, Inc. and will use photovoltaic solar modules, GM said in a release.

With this agreement, GM has the option to store energy for future use, a first for the company.

The deal marks a major milestone for GM—surpassing 1 gigawatt in renewable energy use. General Motors reported that it is currently the 11th largest offtaker of renewable power in the U.S., and the largest offtaker in the manufacturing sector.

The power purchase agreement will supply three GM sites in the Midwest: Wentzville Assembly in Missouri and Michigan’s Lansing Delta Township Assembly will be fully powered by solar energy. The remaining power will be allocated to Lansing Grand River Assembly.

“GM’s investment supports the use of solar technology, innovated and developed by First Solar in the United States, to power factories that form the core of the Midwest’s industrial resurgence,” said Georges Antoun, First Solar chief commercial officer, in the release. “As America’s solar company, we’re proud to support GM’s manufacturing footprint in the Midwest with sustainable solar electricity, especially as it builds on over a century of automotive excellence and innovates toward a zero-emissions future.”

First Solar is the only U.S.-headquartered company among the world’s nine largest solar manufacturers. The company has reportedly invested more than $1 billion in expanding its Ohio factories, establishing the Western Hemisphere’s largest solar manufacturing footprint. First Solar has approximately 2,500 employees across the U.S., including more than 1,600 at its U.S. manufacturing facilities, and is working with more than 240 suppliers in Ohio, according to the release.

First Solar’s proprietary thin film solar modules were developed at its R&D centers in California and Ohio. They are manufactured using a unique process that requires minimal energy, water, and semiconductor material. (Image courtesy First Solar, Inc.)

First Solar’s proprietary thin film solar modules, developed at its R&D centers in California and Ohio, are manufactured using a unique process that requires less energy, water, and semiconductor material. First Solar is also a pioneer in photovoltaic module circularity, recovering more than 90 percent of the materials, including its CadTel semiconductor, from every module processed at its recycling facilities in Ohio.

The company brings cradle-to-cradle circularity to solar panel manufacturing. One kilogram of CadTel can be reused 41 times to generate 2 gigawatt-hours of clean energy, while displacing 1,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide over 1,230 years, according to the manufacturer.

“As GM continues its transition to an all-electric, zero-emissions future, it is imperative that we also invest in a cleaner grid that can support everything—from our factories to our vehicles,” said GM Chief Sustainability Officer Dane Parker, in the release. “Investments like these have increased access to renewable power, and with this deal, we are exploring the next frontier of renewable energy, which integrates the principles of circularity and energy storage, among others.”

The agreement followed news that GM received a 2020 Green Power Leadership Award in the Excellence in Green Power Use category. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, GM has demonstrated exemplary action and dedication to significantly advancing the U.S. renewable energy market through voluntary use of green power.

Earlier in 2020, GM announced two other renewable projects totaling 600 MW of solar energy, which are expected to be operational by 2023. General Motors said that it continues to make significant progress in its use of renewable energy to power its operations, combining power purchase agreements, green tariffs, and on-site renewable energy projects.

General Motors said in the release that as it works to meet its 100 percent renewable energy goal in the U.S., it will continue to build on its strategy to focus on market solutions to help reduce emissions near the communities where GM operates. How it sources the energy to power its facilities and products is essential to the company’s zero-emissions, all-electric vision, the company said.

 

Largest U.S. Automaker Plans to be Carbon Neutral by 2040

DETROIT—On January 28, 2021, General Motors announced that it plans to become carbon neutral in its global products and operations by 2040 and has committed to setting science-based targets to achieve carbon neutrality. The company has also signed the Business Ambition Pledge for 1.5°C, an urgent call to action from a global coalition of UN agencies, business, and industry leaders, the company said in a release.

“General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe working to establish a safer, greener, and better world,” said Mary Barra, GM Chairman and CEO, in the release. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.”

In addition to GM’s carbon goals, the company worked with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to develop a shared vision of an all-electric future and an aspiration to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035. GM’s focus will be offering zero-emissions vehicles across a range of price points and working with all stakeholders, including EDF, to build out the necessary charging infrastructure and promote consumer acceptance while maintaining high quality jobs, which will all be needed to meet these ambitious goals.

“With this extraordinary step forward, GM is making it crystal clear that taking action to eliminate pollution from all new light-duty vehicles by 2035 is an essential element of any automaker’s business plan,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp, in the release. “EDF and GM have had some important differences in the past, but this is a new day in America—one where serious collaboration to achieve transportation electrification, science-based climate progress, and equitably shared economic opportunity can move our nation forward.”

A Science-Based Approach

 General Motors is committed to reaching carbon neutrality in its global products and operations by 2040, supported by a commitment to science-based targets. To reach its goals, GM plans to decarbonize its portfolio by transitioning to battery electric vehicles or other zero-emissions vehicle technology, sourcing renewable energy, and leveraging minimal offsets or credits.

Electrification

The use of GM’s products accounts for 75 percent of carbon emissions related to this commitment. GM will offer 30 all-electric models globally by mid-decade and 40 percent of the company’s U.S. models offered will be battery electric vehicles by the end of 2025. GM is investing $27 billion in electric and autonomous vehicles in the next five years—up from the $20 billion planned before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said in the release.

More than half of GM’s capital spending and product development team will be devoted to electric and electric-autonomous vehicle programs. In the coming years, GM plans to offer an EV for every customer, from crossovers and SUVs to trucks and sedans.

The company will also continue to increase fuel efficiency of its traditional internal combustion vehicles in accordance with regional fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations. Some of these initiatives include fuel economy improvement technologies, such as Stop/Start, aerodynamic efficiency enhancements, downsized boosted engines, more efficient transmissions, and other vehicle improvements, including mass reduction and lower rolling resistance tires, according to the release.

Renewable Energy

To address emissions from its own operations, GM will source 100 percent renewable energy to power its U.S. sites by 2030 and global sites by 2035, which represents a five-year acceleration of the company’s previously announced global goal. Today, GM is the 10th largest offtaker of renewable energy in the world and in 2020, the company received a 2020 Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Supply Chain and Infrastructure

GM’s carbon neutral commitment applies to its global product portfolio and owned operations. The company is implementing plans to reduce the impact associated with its supply chain while supporting grids and utilities to power electric vehicles with renewable energy. GM has worked with some of its largest suppliers to create a sustainability council to share best practices, learn from each other, and create new standards for the industry.

In addition to the council’s work, GM is collaborating with suppliers to set ambitious targets for the supply chain to reduce emissions, increase transparency, and source more sustainable materials.

While electric vehicles themselves do not emit tailpipe emissions, it is critical that they be charged with electricity generated from renewable sources like wind and solar. GM has worked with utilities and developers to support investments in renewable energy found in and around communities that have GM facilities via power purchase agreements and green tariffs. The company is also working with EVgo to triple the size of the nation’s largest public fast charging network by adding more than 2,700 new fast chargers by the end of 2025, a move set to help accelerate widespread electric vehicle adoption. The new fast chargers will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

GM said it believes that the energy sector is well on its way to a decarbonized grid and that an all-electric future will be supported by renewable infrastructure and technology.

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