GM’s 200 solar EV stations to quadruple U.S. total

gm-solar-ev-canopy-vertical1Just how big is General Motor’s Green Zone campaign to build solar EV charging canopies at GM plants and dealerships across the United States?

Let’s put it this way: Within the next year the campaign could singlehandedly quadruple the total number of solar-powered EV charging stations in the United States.

Yes, that’s right. The car company at one time (in)famous for building the cars of America’s graybeards is now at the cutting edge of the plug-in and solar-charged driving revolution with plans to install more than 200 solar EV charging canopies in the U.S. within the next 12 months or so, according to GM’s Global Manager for Renewable Energy Rob Threlkeld, who SolarChargedDriving.Com interviewed earlier this week.

“Within the next year, from what I can see, we’re looking at more than 200 [solar EV canopies] being built,” Threlkeld told SolarChargedDriving.Com. “We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries in the last two to three weeks from dealers now that we’ve announced that some are up.”

First two GM solar EV canopies
Two GM dealerships – American Chevrolet in Modesto, Calif. and Al Serra Buick GMC in Grand Blanc, Mich. – now officially have solar-powered EV charging stations on their lots.

The two dealer solar EV charging canopies – with hundreds more to come — are a follow-up to GM’s installation of solar EV canopies at several of its U.S. plants, including the inaugural solar EV canopy at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, where GM is building the plug-in hybrid EV Chevy Volt.

robthrelkeld2“The hope is that solar becomes one of the leading ways you charge your EV.”
–Rob Threlkeld, GM Global Manager for Renewable Energy

All told, in addition to installing a couple hundred new solar EV charging stations at dealerships across America this year, GM plans to outfit all 30 of its U.S. plants with the stations as well.

Sun vs. “brown” power

“Being able to drive a Volt via sun vs. brown power is something that interests a lot of people,” explains Threlkeld.

In fact, GM – which boasts large solar installations on the roofs of multiple U.S. plants and has what it says is the world’s largest rooftop solar array on an auto plant in Zaragoza, Spain, at 11.8 megawatts – first focused primarily on solar without the EV connection.

But that began to change with the development of the Chevy Volt, says Threlkeld.

Volt pushes GM toward EV + PV
“Back in 2008, we had this idea to green dealerships by putting solar on their roofs,” recalls Threlkeld, who’s been in his current position at GM for six years. “It didn’t involve solar EV charging. In January 2010, we decided it seemed like a good fit to tie solar to the EV rollout. It would get people to understand how integral solar-charging is to EVs.”

GM dealers are among the people most interested in the canopies, which Threlkeld says GM, and its partner, Sunlogics, plan to build mostly in 10 kW and 20 kW configurations with six and 12 EV charging stations, respectively.

“We have over 50 dealers who are reviewing contracts right now and we’ll be on the way to signing 250 by next year,” says Threlkeld, who credits his former boss, Kamesh Gupta, now at the solar company Sunlogics, which GM recently invested $7.5 million in, with getting the solar EV canopy plug-in train rolling at GM. “The dealers see it as a great way to showcase products that they have. We’re trying to ramp up as fast as anticipated demand.”

Original Volt launch states such as California, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas will see the first solar EV canopies, according to Threlkeld. However, within a year, they’ll be popping up across the U.S., with Canada next.

gm-canopy-dealer-modesto$200,000 per canopy
The stations aren’t cheap, with pre-incentive installation costs for an 20 kW, 12-charging station model running approximately $200,000, says Threlkeld. However, local and federal incentives, along with a variety of financing models help reduce the total cost. And the positive PR the stations generate for dealerships, and, of course, for GM, are priceless.

“You can see there is significant interest among the public in charging their EV with green power,” notes Threlkeld of GM’s experience so far with solar EV charging canopies such as the one at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which went up in July 2010, and which has been expanded from 18 kW and 12 charging stations to 27 kW and 18 charging stations.

It’s not just about the positive publicity either. The solar EV canopies provide a real economic, and practical benefit, with the 12-station, 20 kW model capable of generating the equivalent of up to 4,500 charges annually for GM’s flagship plug-in vehicle, the Chevy Volt.

Solar canopies provide shade
And, of course, there’s the basic human comfort element of solar EV canopies: They provide shade from scorching sun and protect vehicles and their owners from rain and snow as well.

“People like parking their car under a canopy,” says Threlkeld. “It stays a lot cooler. Plus, if you keep the interior temperature cooler, you improve the efficiency of the charge.”

Although GM’s set to quickly become the American, and, quite possibly, the global leader in solar-powered EV charging, it hasn’t yet begun to officially track interest in solar among prospective Volt customers and Volt buyers.


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Future of solar-charging
“There is interest in looking at that,” says Threlkeld. “Right now, we’re trying to deploy large scale solar on our plant roofs as well as the solar EV canopies. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we get further into exploring that [customer interest in solar] in the future.”

And why not. After all, Threlkeld himself sees lots of positive growth potential for solar-charged driving, potential that clearly could help boost GM’s own growth, especially in terms of plug-in vehicles such as the Volt.

“There’s a lot of positive momentum,” he says. “If you get larger companies and larger retailers to drive solar charging, I see it becoming much more common in the future. The hope is that solar becomes one of the leading ways you charge your EV, so that it is completely green.”


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