General Motors is creating a new energy company to sell batteries, charging equipment, solar panels and software to residential and commercial customers in a broad effort to create a range of accessories that can help sell its range of electric vehicles.
The new division, GM Energy, is also a direct opportunity for Tesla as a major player in renewable energy generation and storage. GM has said it plans to eventually overtake Elon Musk’s vehicle sales company — and now it wants to challenge it on the energy front, too.
Travis Hester, GM’s chief EV Officer, said the company is making a serious effort to grab a slice of the potentially $120-150 billion market for power generation and storage products. The goal is to make the GM brand synonymous not only with electric vehicles, but with a whole range of products and services orbiting electric vehicles and their rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
Hester said GM has noticed Elon Musk’s moves in this market and sees an opportunity for itself. Tesla’s energy business has been growing steadily for several years, with revenue of $866 million in the second quarter of 2022. In addition to Tesla, there are plenty of smaller, less recognizable companies that sell these products, such as Generac, which sells backup power generators and Fluence Energy, an energy storage company.
A serious grab for a slice of a $120-150 billion market
“They don’t have a vehicle,” Hester said of those smaller companies in an interview with… The edge. “And frankly, they don’t have the dealer network that we have.”
Currently, GM has four electric vehicles on the market: the Chevy Bolt EV and EUV; the GMC Hummer EV; and the Cadillac Lyriq. Within the next two years, it will release the Chevy Silverado EV, Blazer EV and Equinox EV, as well as a Hummer SUV and another electric Cadillac. GM has said it aims to sell one million electric vehicles by 2025, Hester said. And each of those customers is also a potential customer of GM Energy.
“At that point, that electrification moment, they have to decide how they’re going to drive that vehicle,” he said. “They have to decide whether to buy a standard charger for their home? Will it be a bi-directional charger? Do they want to add stationary storage as a fixed box? Do they want to do solar? And they can go as far or as little as possible in that ecosystem, depending on their individual needs.”
GM Energy will consist of three units: Ultium Home, Ultium Commercial and Ultium Charge 360, the company’s EV charging program. The division will sell a range of products to residential and commercial customers, including bi-directional charging equipment, vehicle-to-home (V2H) and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) equipment, stationary storage, solar products, software applications, cloud management tools, microgrid solutions and hydrogen fuel cells.
GM Energy will consist of three units
GM Energy will also be active in the field of virtual power plants. Many EVs with high capacity batteries are marketed for their ability to act as backup power in the event of a power outage. (Hester notes that the Chevy Silverado EV, with its 200 kWh battery pack, can power an average home for 21 days.) EVs can also feed power back to the grid during times of peak demand. GM Energy will be the entity that sells that power back to the utilities during times of high energy consumption.
GM previously collaborated with PG&E in California on the idea of ”vehicle-to-grid” technology. The idea is to use bi-directional charging equipment to push and pull energy from electric vehicles at any time. Essentially, it treats high-capacity batteries not just as tools to power EVs, but as backup storage cells for the utility grid. GM is also working with Con Edison, Graniterock and New Hampshire Electric Cooperative on similar projects.
For solar, GM has partnered with San Jose-based SunPower to sell solar panels and home energy storage products to residential customers. SunPower and other partners will supply the solar panels and perform the installations, with GM developing the free software.
Over time, as GM’s battery factories come online and production of its Ultium battery systems increases, the company plans to trade in its own battery cells and storage units, Hester said. The automaker also plans to produce its own line of backup power generators using Hydrotec-branded hydrogen fuel cells.
EVs can also feed power back to the grid in times of peak demand
“We’re going to start with a range of lithium-ion cells from different partners that we already have,” he said. “And as we move forward in the Ultium rollout of our vehicles and all of our cell factories, we will bring in Ultium cells and produce more ourselves.”
(Ultium is the name of GM’s battery and powertrain technology for electric vehicles. Last year, the company said the Ultium Charge 360 network would be the name for GM’s proprietary vehicle apps and software featuring a variety of third-party charging services, such as Blink , ChargePoint, EVgo, Flo, Greenlots, and SemaConnect.)
Unlike Tesla or Volkswagen, GM does not yet have its own charging network for EVs, although it hopes to get there eventually. GM electric vehicle owners must instead rely on a patchwork of third-party chargers, each with their own software and membership requirements. The company, in partnership with EVgo, is building a network of coast-to-coast Ultium 360 chargers at truck stops.
But like the approach to EVs, the launch dates for these new products are still a long way off in the future. GM is still testing its V2H service in partnership with PG&E with a small number of residential customers in California, and plans to expand it to more homes in early 2023. And its solar products won’t be available until 2024.
GM has been under pressure in recent years to accelerate the rollout of its EVs, and no doubt it will face the same pressure for its new energy products. That said, the automaker has resisted calls from Wall Street to spin off its EV business as a separate entity, arguing that plug-in power is GM’s future.
“It’s not a business unit,” says Hester. “It’s our business if we move forward.”