David Tulauskas, GM: Going 100% renewable "improves the bottom-line and gives energy cost certainty"

Reading time: 6 minutes
15 September 2016

General Motors (GM) is committed to using 100% renewable electricity across its global operations by 2050, as part of their RE100 commitment. Here, David Tulauskas, GM’s director of sustainability, shares the business case for action.

Why is GM aiming to become 100% renewable?

"We understand that the world is changing and we are making bold moves to meet customer needs, conserve the resources our business relies on, and decarbonize the automotive industry.

"Our 100% renewable goal, along with GM's pursuit of electrified vehicles and responsible manufacturing, is part of the company's approach to strengthening our business, improving communities and addressing climate change.

"As a signatory of the Ceres BICEP Climate Declaration since 2013, we believe, and continue to prove, there is economic opportunity in addressing climate change."

How did you decide on your 100% goal?

"We have a 20-year history of using renewable energy, which dates back to our first landfill gas project in 1995. With this legacy, one might think this new goal was an easy decision. But with a global annual consumption of nine terawatt hours of electricity, moving forward with a 100% renewable energy goal required a lot of discussion and planning.

"The result is a roadmap that we expect will reduce our costs, make our facilities more resilient and help scale adoption of clean power sources. With these factors, we believe our commitment to meet 100 percent of our electricity with renewable energy is an achievable challenge.

"As we continue to develop more renewable energy projects, we’re helping grow the market. This is important to GM. We helped create a blueprint for industrial scale renewable energy with many NGOs and business partners, so this goal and joining RE100 is a natural step for us to take."

What have been your achievements so far?

"In 2005, we added solar to our portfolio and in the last few years have signed power purchase agreements for wind energy.

"In 2010, we created a target to promote the use of 125 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy by 2020. We are on track to exceed that goal by the end of 2016 when two wind projects come online to help power four manufacturing operations.

"GM currently uses 48 MW of solar energy at 22 facilities, equivalent to the size of 130 American football fields."
David Tulauskas, GM’s director of sustainability

"Our Baltimore Operations facility houses one of the largest rooftop arrays in Maryland at 1.81 MW, generating 6% of the facility's electrical consumption. We're adding 30 MW of solar energy to our Jinqiao Cadillac assembly plant in Shanghai and our vehicle distribution center parking lot in Wuhan.

"We're ranked as one of the top onsite generators of green power by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Three of our US manufacturing facilities use landfill gas as a source of energy. Our Orion Assembly plant in Michigan, the home of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV, is 54% powered by landfill gas. By converting gas to energy onsite, GM is using clean power to build a cleaner car.

"I'm equally proud of GM's collaborative efforts in helping to increase demand, inform policy, and drive standardization of industrial-scale renewable energy. We're a founding member of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance and Business Renewables Center, and one of the first signatories of the Renewable Energy Buyers' Principles.”

What challenges and opportunities are you experiencing as you work towards your 100% goal?

"Our 100% commitment is global. It applies to our operations around the world, however, not all markets have renewable energy sources or an established definition of renewable energy credits, so we'll develop solutions for procuring renewable energy in these locations.

"This will help improve the air quality in those communities and benefit our customers and employees where they live and work. Delivering clean power back to our surrounding communities could help them become more resilient as well.   

"Additionally, renewables are competing with low prices for natural gas in the US and in other countries, which makes adoption slower. We're confident that through improved technology, more stable energy costs and other benefits, the business case for renewable energy will continue to improve.

"Intermittency or reliability of wind and solar energy is another challenge. However, we believe GM is in a unique position to turn this challenge into an opportunity given our electric vehicle battery expertise. GM is using Chevrolet Volt batteries for energy storage at our Milford Proving Ground data center office. We believe our battery technology will help meet future renewable energy storage needs.

"We're in the midst of launching the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the first extended range electric vehicle. With 238 miles of range, this is one of the greenest vehicles on the market. Charging it with 100% renewable energy further reduces its footprint.

"We currently save US$5 million from using renewable energy, a number we anticipate will increase as more projects come online and the supply of renewable energy increases.”
David Tulauskas, GM’s director of sustainability

What are your plans for switching to renewables going forward?

"The first step is continuing to maximize our energy efficiency. By reducing energy use overall, there will be less electricity needs to be covered by renewable sources. We are a five-time ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year, and continually find business value in reducing consumption across our operations.

"The bulk of the renewable energy mix will likely come from power purchase agreements, which don’t require capital investment by GM. 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 MW 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 look at ways to store energy 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 may need to explore options for purchasing renewable energy credits."

Why do you think it is important for companies to help increase demand for renewable electricity?

"Recently, Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors, committed to a vision of a decarbonized automotive industry. Convened by the World Economic Forum, Barra, as well as 13 other automotive CEOs, committed to the idea that access to clean, safe and affordable automotive transportation is not just for the privileged few.

"This goes beyond just the emissions from our products. Supporting the demand for renewables to power our operations is a key component of meeting the commitment. It makes business sense for companies to pursue the use of renewables because it improves the bottom-line and takes advantage of energy cost certainty for long-term planning.”

Why do you think RE100 is a good initiative to join?

"RE100 connects us with other companies who share a similar vision to use renewable energy to help address climate change. Together we can identify barriers to buying clean energy and develop solutions to meet growing demand. RE100 serves as a platform for us to connect with other members to learn how to use renewables in different markets across the globe.

"The RE100 pledge aligns with other nonprofit groups GM has joined to help scale renewable energy use, including the Corporate Renewable Buyers’ Principles, the Business Renewables Center and the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Alliance."

What else are you doing to help drive a low carbon economy?

"As a founding member of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, we want to help other companies use more renewable energy for their operations. We share best practices and encourage our suppliers to pursue sustainable business practices as we believe it benefits the customer, the planet, and the bottom line.

“In the US, GM dealers can apply for Green Dealer recognition to highlight sustainability initiatives implemented at their shops. Renewable energy use is one such activity that can help dealers earn recognition.

"We continue to introduce electric vehicles to the market, which will benefit from being powered by renewables. Electric vehicle batteries are poised to play a significant role in addressing one of the challenges with wide-spread renewable energy use: intermittency."

by Marie Reynolds

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