Renewable energy developers are wilting under the economic pressure attending the COVID-19 crisis, but major US clean energy buyers are still keeping the decarbonization movement going. In the latest news on that score, General Motors has just announced a new clean power investment of 500,000 MWh in solar through the Michigan utility DTE, even as it makes a sharp U-turn into the medical supply area.
EV Factories Powered By Renewable Energy
With the new 500,000 MWh commitment, GM will have invested in 800,000 MWh of renewable energy through DTE’s MIGreenPower program. The end goal is to power all of the GM facilities served by DTE in the southeastern part of Michigan with renewable energy by 2023.
That deadline is coming up fast, considering that the COVID-19 outbreak is nowhere close to contained in the US. With supply chains disrupted and energy workers incapacitated or taken by the virus, new wind and solar development will slow in the coming months and possibly into the fall, and beyond.
Nevertheless, renewable energy is the plan. GM’s initial investment in MIGreenPower kickstarted the construction of three new wind farms, which as of this writing are still on track to be up and running before the end of the year. The new investment also involves two new solar farms that are already in development, and it looks like the developing will keep on keeping on despite the COVID-19 outbreak.
With the new solar investment in hand, DTE expects to provide clean power to the company’s Renaissance Center global headquarters and Global Technical Center, as well as the Milford Proving Ground, the Orion and Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plants, and a handful of smaller sites.
If Orion rings a bell, that’s where GM’s signature Bolt EV (successor to the interesting but discontinued Volt EV) is manufactured. Similarly, the Detroit-Hamtramck is slated to churn out the new GMC Hummer EV (successor to you-know-what) as well as a raft of other planned EVs.
As for GM’s other facilities, the company is anticipating 100% renewable energy by 2030 in the US, and by 2040 globally.
The Renewable Energy Ripple Effect & EVs
Coal is on the way out, but as long as gas-fired power plants dominate the US electricity generation landscape then EV drivers have some ‘splaining to do in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water resource impacts, and other local environmental and public health issues.
To be clear, every reliable study demonstrates that EVs have a smaller carbon footprint than gasmobiles, regardless of the grid mix, but there’s always room for improvement.
GM’s new solar investment takes that into account. The company’s new renewable energy commitment also involves installing EV chargers for workers at its DTE-covered facilities, which means clean power juicing for EV drivers. The company also helped launched the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance in 2018, which aims to leverage the big-dollar clean power buying power of corporate members like GM to push the demand for wind and solar.
On its part, DTE has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2040 and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in its electricity operations by 2050 (its natural gas business is a whole ‘nother can of worms, but that’s a different kettle of fish).
Walking & Chewing Gum At The Same Time
Despite a lack of interest in decarbonization by top federal policy makers, GM has continued to push the wind and solar envelope in recent years. What makes the new deal with DTE particularly interesting is that GM is also up to its elbows in an all-hands-on-deck effort to provide assistance during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Defense Production Act has yet to be deployed in any comprehensive way, but various US manufacturers have taken the initiative to pivot into medical equipment, and GM is one of them. Last month it paired with the company Ventec Life Systems to produce 30,000 medical ventilators in the US before September, and last week the partners made their first delivery to hospitals.
The company is also producing face masks, and over the weekend GM announced that is manufacturing — and donating — additional personal protective equipment, including face shields, protective gowns and aerosol boxes.
GM gives a lot of the credit to employee volunteers who applied their 3D printing, sewing, and other automotive skills to hand-make samples in consultation with local hospitals. GM and its suppliers are now scaling up those designs, to the tune of 50,000 face masks weekly in addition to other equipment.
Need something? GM and its employees are also involved in other COVID-19 initiatives, contact them at GMCOVID19ResponseTeam@gm.com.
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Photo via GM: “Workers build the first production ventilators at the General Motors manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana, Tuesday, April 14, 2020. GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce VOCSN critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors).
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