GMSA’s 50 shades of green

GMSA’s 50 shades of green

Renewable energy is sexy and, as such, many companies are doing their bit for the environment by exploring this field. But energy efficiency is the “sleeping giant” that will make all the difference for a sustainable future, as General Motors South Africa has discovered …

With environmental issues being the talk of the town, many companies have taken it upon themselves to fight the good fight for the future of the planet. But General Motors South Africa (GMSA) is leading the onslaught on going green with an array of energy efficiency initiatives.

Going green throughout the supply chain

GMSA is working closely with several of its component and parts suppliers in the Nelson Mandela Bay area, which includes Port Elizabeth (PE) and nearby towns, to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to be green ambassadors, reduce energy consumption and save costs in their operations.

The first step to a greener supply chain started with GM Utilities engineers conducting energy audits at some of the company’s suppliers. Their aim? To sniff out opportunities to reduce energy consumption and aid Mother Earth.

These audits revealed that, while some suppliers have good energy-saving practices in place, there is always room for improvement … Especially when it comes to energy consumption in the industrial processes, which are often the biggest energy guzzlers in the industrial environment.

For example, at the GM Struandale plant in PE, the energy gremlin is the paint shop, which is responsible for 85 percent of the energy consumed at the facility.

But as Craig Beetham, GMSA energy and utilities coordinator, explains – every organisation can do its bit by looking further than general utilities for savings. “Energy saving in the industrial processes is often under estimated and completely overlooked in favour of general facilities, where factors such as energy-intensive lighting and continuously running air-conditioning are easily identifiable energy consumers.”

He adds that GMSA isn’t merely pointing out where things can be improved … “We are working together with our suppliers as partners, to reduce production costs and to ensure the most efficient and sustainable operations possible – in terms of energy consumption – are obtained.”

But it’s hard to improve on processes if you don’t know where to look, and here the GMSA engineers have a word of advice. They say that, through close scrutiny and analysis of high-consumption processes, businesses can make significant reductions in energy consumption caused by oversized equipment and processes that involve heating, fans, pumps and compressed air.

A total of 31 delegates from 23 different component suppliers recently attended an energy consumption and cost saving workshop at GMSA’s Kempston Road plant in Port Elizabeth.Beetham refers to a process that heats water to illustrate how an inefficient and poorly-designed process can add to costs through unnecessary consumption. “A process, for example, that loses one litre of water through evaporation per minute would require an additional 37 kW of power to compensate for the loss. This can add up to R200 000 per annum if ignored,” he tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT.

He adds: “We have found that there is often more value in time spent evaluating processes and looking to reduce energy consumption rather than only focusing on general utilities. We challenge all our suppliers to look at every part of their industrial processes and reassess their set-points for temperatures and pressure, because this is where there’s often wasted energy in the system.”

Passing the buck?

It is obvious that, if your suppliers are greener, you’ll be greener. But General Motors (GM) is not passing the buck … It is uniting globally, getting down and dirty and doing its part on every continent to reach its goal of reducing energy intensity from its facilities by 20 percent by 2020.

In fact, the company has already done a lot on the energy saving front. By using energy-efficient lighting, tracking hourly consumption, upgrading to more efficient heating and cooling systems and shutting down equipment when it’s not in use, the company reduced its energy consumption at its global facilities by 28 percent on a per-vehicle-produced basis between 2005 and 2010. This reduced greenhouse gas emissions by around 3,34 million tonnes during that timeframe. (Take a bow, GM.)

Doing the green thing is also saving GM several KB bakkie loads of money, as lighting upgrades and other efficiency projects have saved the company $2,5 million (R24,93 million) per annum at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.

But this isn’t where the savings stop, as GM has 54 facilities worldwide that meet a voluntary energy reduction challenge – the Energy Star Challenge for Industry – set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA).

To meet this challenge the EPA standards require facilities to reduce their energy intensity by 10 percent within five years. However, GM’s 54 facilities cut energy intensity by an average of 26 percent within two to three years. These efforts saved the company $90 million (R897,52 million) and nullified greenhouse gases equivalent to those resulting from the powering of 140 000 homes annually.

New to the list are 22 GM international operation sites, as well as two facilities in North America, which join 30 GM plants that met the Challenge in 2011.

“Energy efficiency reduces our emissions and improves our bottom line, so we are driven to make improvements wherever we can,” says Mike Robinson, GM vice president of sustainability and global affairs. “The EPA was right to recognise our global employees who work diligently to come up with new energy-saving ideas and implement efficiency measures every day. Their commitment is helping us to leave a smaller carbon footprint.”

Going the extra green mile

GM isn’t only awakening the energy efficiency giant, but also getting into renewables, with the company harnessing power from the sun, water and landfill gases. GM was named number one automotive user of solar power in the United States (US) and hosts two of the five largest rooftop soar arrays in the world.

The company’s goal is to enable the use of 125 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020, with half of its electricity at its California distribution plant being powered by the sun. Nine of GM’s facilities feature solar charging canopies on their grounds.

GM is also one of the largest industrial users of landfill gas in the US, with three of its four manufacturing facilities using it as an energy source – generating $3,5 million (R34,90 million) in savings in 2011. Additionally, GM’s Brazil manufacturing facilities use 15 megawatts of biomass-generated electricity from sugar cane.

So GM is definitely fighting the good fight for an environmentally sustainable future, awakening the “sleeping giant” that is energy efficiency and exploring renewable energy sources too …

And if what the company has achieved thus far is anything to go by (which it certainly is), it’s sure to reach even greater heights in the years to come – which is nothing short of sensational news for our planet.

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