GM Sustainability Report: Renewable Capacity Down, But So is Carbon
GM drew on 62.3 MW of renewable power last year, down from 73 MW in 2011 – but at the same time, the company’s scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions intensity fell 2 percent, from 0.9 to 0.88 metric tons of CO2e per vehicle, according to its 2012 sustainability report.
GM’s carbon intensity fell 5.3 percent from 2010 levels. The company is aiming for a 20 percent cut by 2020.
The report goes into some detail about GM’s existing renewable power sources – including, it says 30 MW of solar, more than 20 MW of landfill gas and, at its Brazil plants and over 15 MW of biomass energy from sugar cane – but doesn’t detail which source has disappeared. Also, curiously, the capacities cited for each renewable technology total over 65 MW, even though the company says it has 62.3 MW.
It does offer some explanation for the decline: “Our overall energy consumption dropped during this time period, as a result of activities such as closing the Shreveport, Louisiana, vehicle assembly plant and the steam elimination project at the Orion, Michigan, vehicle assembly plant, which led to the decreased [renewable capacity] number,” the report says.
GM also says its performance on renewable energy remains consistent with its projected glide path towards its 2020 commitment of 125 MW. It is keeping pace by evaluating cogeneration options for using landfill gas, and exploring additional solar power opportunities, including a 3 MW solar project at the Changwon Assembly plant in South Korea, the company says. By the end of 2015, GM expects to double solar output.
GM published its first sustainability report as a re-organized company in January 2012, and followed that with an update last autumn. According to a spokesman, the update allowed the company to catch up to 2011 data, “and enabled a more normalized cadence of reporting going forward.”
Energy, carbon and water metrics in the 2012 report include all manufacturing and non-manufacturing sites. The company adjusted some base year and target figures to reflected divested assets and (in the case of energy) updated heating values.
One frustrating aspect of the publication is how the company has chosen to measure and report its renewable energy use. The report refers to MW as a measure of “renewable energy use,” which it is not. MW is a measure of capacity. KWh would have been a far better way of showing the company’s renewable use. Then there is the issue of the renewable technologies totaling 65 MW, rather than 62.3 MW. GM appears to combine measures of procurement (“we procure more than 15 MW of biomass-generated electricity from sugar cane”) and generation (“three of our facilities combined generate more than 20 MW of renewable energy from landfill gas.”) Perhaps GM does not itself consume all energy generated from the 20 MW of landfill gas? That could account for the discrepancy – but GM does not explain.
The company improved its energy efficiency by 2.9 percent last year, cutting the energy needed to produce one vehicle from 2.37 MWh in 2011 to 2.30 in 2012.
GM says that it makes annual investments in equipment upgrades, such as lighting, ventilation system controls and automatic shut-offs, and automatically implements any project with a “hurdle rate” of one year or less. Each plant’s performance evaluation considers energy use per production, and employees who suggest process improvements can receive a portion of the resulting savings, up to $20,000. Conservation initiatives have avoided $66 million in energy costs since 2010, the company says.
The automaker has 54 facilities meeting the EPA’s Energy Star Challenge for Industry — up from 30 in 2011, and more than any company worldwide, GM says — and this has saved it $90 million in energy costs. (But the company did not specify over what time period.) On average, the 54 Energy Star plants reduced their energy use by 26 percent, GM said (again, with no timeframe).
Some of GM’s energy-saving projects include:
- Bupyeong and Gunsan, Korea plants conducted paint shop energy conservation projects to save $820,000 annually.
- The Dongyue, China plant cut compressed air usage 10 percent through initiatives in the body shop and general assembly area.
- The St. Catherine, Ontario plant replaced ozone-depleting chillers with a water-cooling system that uses canal water from the adjacent St. Lawrence Seaway.
The company is aiming to cut energy intensity 20 percent by 2020, from 2010 levels, to 1.97 MWh.
GM now has 105 landfill-free facilities, up from 97 in 2011. These facilities recycle, reuse or convert to energy all waste from daily operations. The company says that by recycling and reusing 90 percent of its manufacturing waste worldwide, it generates about $1 billion in revenue annually. GM has reduced total waste by 55 pounds per vehicle since 2010.
GM’s waste-saving methods include the replacement of wood pallets with reusable plastic pallets at its plants in St. Petersburg, Russia; Rayong, Thailand; and Talegaon, India. This resulted in 566 tons of waste reduction, GM says. At St. Petersburg, installation of new auto paint robots and color batching processes, to reduce the use of paint thinner, cut waste to landfill by 169 tons.
The company manages all its byproducts in a single electronic tracking system to maximize recoverable value. In addition, all GM plants monitor, measure and report their performance on a monthly basis against company-wide waste-reduction goals. This data helps identify project opportunities and enables communication, GM says.
Since it began the waste reduction program, the company has cut the cost of its waste reduction efforts from about $10 per ton to about 80 cents.
Over the past year, GM’s global water intensity fell 0.8 percent, from 4.66 to 4.62 cubic meters per vehicle. This was a four percent reduction from GM’s 2010 baseline, en route to the company’s goal of a 15 percent reduction by 2020.
The company says that its manufacturing facilities represent 85 percent of its water use, although relative to many other products, automotive manufacturing is not particularly water-intensive. GM’s heaviest water users are paint shops and casting plants. It also says that only eight of its facilities – a small percentage – are in water-stressed areas.
The automaker’s water-saving tactics include reusing condensation and treated wastewater, and harvesting rainwater. In Mexico, its San Luis Potosí plant is cleaning and reusing 90 percent of wastewater in its plant operations, saving about 264 gallons of water per vehicle built.
Over the year, VOC emissions from assembly painting held steady at 3.5 kg per vehicle. The company counts VOC emissions from ELPO, primer, topcoat, final repair and cleaning solvents, which it says are the major sources of VOC emissions from typical paint shops, and excludes minor sources such as maintenance painting and sealers.
For the 2013 model year, 20 of GM’s US models have an EPA-estimated 30 mpg or better highway mileage. Four models rack up 40 mpg or more, and the company plans to double the number of such models in the next few years. In 2012 the average CO2 emissions of GM’s US fleet were 2.4 percent below its 2011 baseline, and the company is aiming for 15 percent by 2016.
Its fuel economy plan focuses on cutting vehicle mass and on aggressive investment in advanced materials, such as high-strength steel, carbon fiber and aluminum. The company says it is also improving the thermodynamic efficiency of gasoline engines using technologies including downsizing, turbocharging, direct injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation.
By last year GM had put 179,801 vehicles with some form of electrification on the road, up from 48,108 in 2011. It is aiming for 500,000 by 2017. The company says that today about 10 percent of its fleet can be powered by alternative fuels such as diesel, biofuels, compressed natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas and electricity.
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