Solar Power World received a tweet yesterday that intrigued us quite a bit. It was from Brad Marley (@bradmarley), who describes himself as the “professional storyteller for General Motors energy & environment team, representing @mullenunbound.” He asked for a meeting.
Having no idea what we would find, Heather Centorbi (@WTWH_SocialXprt) tweeted him back and set up the meet. When I walked into the press room at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, I had no idea what to expect. But what Brad and his colleague Rob Threlkeld (renewable energy manager for GM) told me took me by surprise — and got me even more excited than ever about the future of the solar industry in this country.
GM has decided to take its considerable talents and power, and put themselves full-force into the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
So what? you might say. Another company is joining SEIA. Why is this big news?
Well, oh skeptical friends, this is not just any company. This is General Motors, the company about which President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson legendarily once said, “What’s good for GM is good for the country.” This is that GM.
This decision by the company immediately raises the profile of the solar industry infinitely. Consider:
GM’s solar arrays in the United States generated enough electricity in 2012 to power 800 U.S. homes. That number is expected to double in 2013.
Its U.S. solar installations include:
- 1.8 MW rooftop solar array at Toledo (Ohio) Transmission Plant expected to generate 3 percent of the plant’s electric consumption.
- 1.237 MW array on the rooftop of its White Marsh, Md. plant near Baltimore – one of the largest in the state – generates nearly 6 percent of the facility’s electric consumption.
- 1 MW solar array on the rooftop of its Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. distribution center. It was the first public solar project in the United States at 1 megawatt when it began operating in 2006.
- 900 kW rooftop array on its parts distribution warehouse in Fontana, Calif.
- 516 kW ground-mount solar array at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly — the largest of its kind in Michigan.
- 350 kW ground-mount array at GM’s Lake Orion Assembly Plant will provide enough energy to power the equivalent of 45 homes annually in Michigan.
In the United States alone, 2.1 percent of GM’s energy consumption comes from renewable resources.
“We’ve been involved in putting solar on our facilities for the past seven years,” Threlkeld said. “GM a lot of experience in the solar industry as an end-user. We’ve learned a number of lessons — good and bad — that we think we can help the industry get its message out to the public.”
In its nine-point sustainability initiative, GM has committed to using 125 MW of power from renewable sources by 2020. Threlkeld said renewable energy used to be 5% of his job — now it’s nearly 100% of his job.
“Not many people know this, but GM has built a network of outreach programs within communities to educate them about our sustainability efforts,” Threlkeld said. “Solar has played a significant role in those presentations so far and will continue to be integral to what we’re doing.”
Threlkeld added that what makes GM’s solar story unusual is the power they can bring to bear not only in the United States, but around the world.
“We work with utilities on rates, and that affects rates all the way down to the consumer,” Threlkeld said. “We negotiate rates with entire countries around the world. We plan to have a significant impact on driving the rates for solar electricity to a place where they are competitive with fossil fuels for electricity.”
Will we see solar panels on GM’s cars anytime soon? Threlkeld laughed.
“I haven’t heard anything about that yet, but we are committed to providing our workers with the ability to charge their electric cars at work through the use of solar canopies,” he said. “We’re not putting them on cars just yet.”
At Solar Power International last year in Orlando, President Bill Clinton said the solar industry needs to do a better job of its story to the American people. I agreed and said so in my article about the speech. I also believed the industry needed more high-profile advocates like Clinton to get the word out.
Now we have one in General Motors — and I, for one, can’t wait to see what other major U.S. companies join their lead in advocating to the public on behalf our great industry.
Welcome, GM — we’re glad to have you.