General Motors is creating a new energy business to sell batteries, charging equipment, solar panels, and software to residential and commercial customers in a broad-based effort to create a range of accessories that can help sell its lineup of electric vehicles.
The new division, GM Energy, is also a direct shot at Tesla as a major player in renewable energy generation and storage. GM has said it intends to eventually overtake Elon Musk’s company in vehicles sales — and now it wants to challenge it on the energy front as well.
Travis Hester, GM’s chief EV officer, said the company is making a serious grab for a piece of what is potentially a $120-150 billion market for energy generation and storage products. The aim is to make GM’s brand synonymous with not just electric vehicles, but a whole host of products and services in orbit around EVs and their rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
Hester said that GM has noticed Elon Musk’s moves in this market and sees an opportunity for itself. Tesla’s energy business has been steadily growing for several years, with revenues reaching $866 million in the second quarter of 2022. In addition to Tesla, there are a host of smaller, less recognizable firms that sell these products, like Generac, which sells backup power generators, and Fluence Energy, an energy storage company.
A serious grab for a piece of a $120-150 billion market
“They don’t have a vehicle,” Hester said of those smaller companies, in an interview with The Verge. “And frankly, they don’t have the dealer network that we have.”
Presently, GM has four EVs 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 moment, that electrification moment, they have to decide how they’re going to run that vehicle,” he said. “They have to decide are they going to buy a standard charger for their home? Is it going to 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 into that ecosystem or as little as possible depending on their individual needs.”
GM Energy will be comprised of three units: Ultium Home, Ultium Commercial, and Ultium Charge 360, which is 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 be comprised of three units
GM Energy will also be in the virtual power plant business. Many EVs with high-capacity batteries are being marketed for their ability to serve as backup power in the event of a blackout. (Hester notes that the Chevy Silverado EV, with its 200kWh battery pack, can power an average sized home for 21 days.) EVs can also feed power back into 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 has previously partnered with PG&E in California around 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 given time. In essence, it treats high-capacity batteries as not only tools to power EVs but backup storage cells for the electrical grid. GM is also working with Con Edison, Graniterock, and New Hampshire Electric Cooperative on similar projects.
For solar energy, GM is teaming up 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 complimentary software.
Over time, as GM’s battery factories come online and production of its Ultium-branded battery systems ramps up, the company intends on swapping in its own battery cells and storage units, Hester said. The automaker is also planning on manufacturing its own line of backup power generators using its Hydrotec-branded hydrogen fuel cells.
EVs can also feed power back into the grid during times of peak demand
“We’re going to start with an array of lithium-ion cells from different partners that we already have,” he said. “And then as we get further into the Ultium rollout of our vehicles and all of our cell plants, we will pull in Ultium cells and we will do more manufacturing of our own.”
(Ultium is the name of GM’s electric vehicle battery and powertrain technology. Last year, the company said the Ultium Charge 360 network would be the name given to GM’s own vehicle apps and software with a variety of third-party charging services, such as Blink, ChargePoint, EVgo, Flo, Greenlots, and SemaConnect.)
Unlike Tesla or Volkswagen, GM does not have its own branded EV charging network yet — though it’s hoping to get there eventually. Owners of GM’s electric vehicles must instead rely on a patchwork of third-party chargers, each with their own software and membership requirements. The company is in the process of building a network of coast-to-coast Ultium 360-branded chargers at trucks stops in partnership with EVgo.
But much like its approach to EVs, the dates for the launch of these new products are still a ways off in the future. GM is still testing its V2H service in partnership with PG&E with a small sample of residential customers in California, and plans on expanding 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 similar pressure for its new energy products. That said, the automaker resisted calls from Wall Street to spinoff its EV business as a separate unit, arguing that plug-in power is GM’s future.
“It’s not a business unit,” Hester said. “It is our business as we go forward.”