GM has just signed its Corvette factory in Kentucky to a huge solar power plus energy storage deal, which is pretty cool when you consider the prospect of an electric Corvette. In an even more interesting twist, the global oil giant Shell is behind the deal, through its interest in the leading US solar developer Silicon Ranch. They aren’t fooling around, either. Just a few months ago Shell and other investors poured $225 million in new equity capital into Silicon Ranch, anticipating a ramped-up year of solar activity in the US.
More Solar Power For GM
The latest GM solar power buy will come under the umbrella of its Bowling Green Assembly in Kentucky as a mashup that involves the Tennessee Valley Authority as well as Shell. TVA is a public utility with a coal-friendly history and it has taken some heat for being slow to pivot into wind and solar, but the new deal demonstrates it is in position for a rapid transition into clean power.
Here’s Silicon Ranch with the lowdown:
“…renewable energy continues to expand with plans to build the largest solar-plus-storage project in TVA’s Kentucky service area. The new Logan County solar farm will provide Facebook’s regional data center operations with 145 megawatts of solar power and General Motors’ Bowling Green Assembly, exclusive home of the Chevrolet Corvette, with 28 megawatts of solar power.”
Oh wait, we almost forgot about Facebook’s role in the deal. Regardless of the anti-vaccination propaganda peppering Facebook and other social media, Facebook has been a true friend of the renewable energy transition. Facebook was a front-and-center clean power adopter, and now it is pushing the envelope on energy storage.
“Facebook’s investment helped enable the addition of 120 megawatt-hours of new battery storage technology that will increase the resilience of the power grid,” explains Silicon Ranch.
The US Solar Power Ecosystem At Work
When President Joe Biden promised to fix the climate, he probably figured on getting some help from electricity consumers, utilities, and energy developers, and the new GM-Facebook deal is a good example of how that ecosystem is developing.
Like Facebook, GM illustrates how the buyer’s side is maturing. GM has been gobbling up clean power as fast as it can go, and not just for itself. Among other ambitious renewable energy initiatives, back in 2016 GM helped launch the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance with the aim of helping other retail electricity buyers in the US ditch fossil fuel, and now REBA is eyeballing the wholesale market.
On the utility side, TVA is a good example of how utilities are beginning to deploy financial tools that accelerate change. TVA began to loosen its grip on coal power in 2018, when it established the Green Invest program to foster clean power development among the local utilities in its network.
With parts of seven states under its belt, TVA is the biggest public utility in the nation. It was established in the Great Depression as the cornerstone of a national rural economic development program.
Economic development — aka job creation — used to the be the selling point for fossil power, and now TVA is leveraging that same mission to make the pitch for a rapid pivot into renewables.
“TVA signed a long-term power purchase agreement with Silicon Ranch to develop, own, operate and maintain the solar-plus-storage facility, which will foster significant capital investment in Logan County and spawn additional economic impacts for the surrounding area,” TVA enthuses. Among the benefits are 450 construction jobs anticipated by Silicon Ranch, with a pledge to focus on local hiring.
As a rural electric cooperative (socialism!), TVA also has the potential to influence the entire electric cooperative ecosystem, which serves a population of 42 million in the US and also has a hand in economic development programs overseas. Because of their community benefit mission, electric coops are in a good position to dip into new clean tech that improves performance, enhances public health, lowers costs, and creates jobs.
Solar Developers Develop Big-Picture Plans
Another key aspect of the solar power ecosystem is, of course, the developers. Silicon Ranch is based in Tennessee. Its whole-of-region approach reflects a mature industry that dovetails with other commercial activity.
“Thanks to the forward-thinking vision of our partners at TVA and the local power companies, Silicon Ranch is on pace to invest more than $1 billion across the Valley, and we are proud to expand this legacy to Logan County and the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” the company explains.
They left Shell out of that comment, but we all know what they where thinking. Silicon Ranch already has 2.5 gigwatts of solar in its portfolio, and the new Shell-assisted $225 million round of equity funding will send it off on a to add “well over” one more gigawatt in just two years.
Speaking of holistic, Silicon Ranch also represents a maturing attitude toward land use for solar development. Past practice involved throwing down gravel or replanting solar acreage with uniform grasses. Now the field of agrivoltaics is popping, in which farmers can leverage the microclimate created by solar panels to establish grazing areas, pollinator habitats, and human-edible crops.
Solar arrays and agrivoltaics also dovetail with regenerative agriculture, which refers to farming practices that focus on rebuilding and preserving soil health. Silicon Ranch is riding that trend through its trademarked Regenerative Energy® platform, which targets grasslands for grazing sheep.
“Key to this approach is managing the land based on close observations of soil, grass, and the water cycle, resulting in quantifiable ecological, economic, and social outcomes that are backed by a third-party verified standard,” Silicon Ranch explains, emphasizing the science-based aspects of its platform.
Solar Power & The All-Electric Corvette Of The Future
Circling back around to that thing about an all-electric Corvette, auto industry observers have been all abuzz over GM’s plans for an all-electric future, but fans of the Chevy Corvette may end up disappointed if the rumors pan out, those rumors being that a Corvette-branded SUV version is in the works and not a coupe or a convertible.
Quelle horreur! On the other hand, the surge in global wealth disparity leaves plenty of room for an electric Corvette hypercar to get to market, so there’s that.
GM could also be eyeballing the success of the Mustang Mach E, which Ford is pitching as part of its SUV lineup. The Mach E has been a success story for Ford as a mashup of SUV features with iconic Mustang styling.
GM has already taking a dip in that direction with the new Chevy Bolt, which bows to consumer preference for SUVs while introducing a more compact (and more affordable) vehicle.
Doing the math, that could mean an electric Corvette SUV with a compact footprint that brings Corvette style to the masses, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Also, it’s too early to give up on the prospect of an electric Corvette sports car. After all, the YOLO effect is on its way, as the lucky members of the car-buying public who made it through the pandemic with their financials intact get their vaccines and decide it’s time to break free of the SUV-preferring pack and get behind the wheel of that snazzy sports car they’ve always been dreaming about.
GM’s sales figures already indicate a move in that direction. On top of a healthy report for 2020 overall, the company’s fourth quarter retail figures hold out a candle in the darkness for die hard Corvette fans. Here’s the happy recap from GM:
“Fourth quarter retail deliveries for Chevrolet were up 12 percent, driven by the success of the all-new Trailblazer and sharply higher sales for almost every other model, including the Corvette (up 158 percent), Bolt EV (up 106 percent), Tahoe (up 78 percent), Suburban (up 56 percent), Traverse (up 31 percent), Colorado (up 21 percent), Silverado (up 15 percent) and Malibu (up 11 percent).”
Never give up, never surrender.
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Photo: 2021 Chevy Corvette Stingray lineup courtesy of GM.