General Motors turns down the heat, saves millions

Looking to save potentially millions of dollars in energy bills, General Motors is turning down the heat and encouraging employees to help find other energy inefficiencies in its 60+ US factories. 

The auto giant is tapping the United Auto Workers, to help get workers to turn off lights and computers, alert managers to window leaks and other energy inefficiencies and make small changes that can amount to big savings. Published reports said some of GM’s plants and offices are kept at 55 degrees. Each plant's energy bills are transferred automatically into a central data system tracked closely by the company, GM said.  

According to the Detroit News, Each plant has managers dedicated to the job, and the UAW has staffers on hand to help as well. The energy gurus fixate on the smallest details. They check to see if cold air is leaking in through a crack in the factory wall; whether different types of light bulbs could be more efficient; or if some workers are leaving their machines running during break time. 

For perspective, GM's North American operations use about 70 gigawatt hours of energy a year powered primarily in the form of gas, electricity and coal. That's roughly equivalent to the juice required to power 10,000 average-sized homes, according to the Detroit News.   

GM of course isn’t the only one to employ such energy saving activities as both Ford Motor and Chrysler have similar energy savings programs.  All three major US automakers will save some energy, though not the way they’d like to,  because they are temporarily shuttering some plants due to of lack of demand.  Ford has temporarily shut down at least two factories that build large pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles amid tepid demand, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A Ford plant in Dearborn, Mich., plant that builds F-150 pickups and a Louisville, Ky., plant that builds Explorer SUVs went dark starting last week – two weeks ahead of their normally scheduled holiday shutdowns.     Chrysler plans to halt production at truck plants and extend the shutdown through all of January, the Journal said.  And GM said it will temporarily idle three pickup-truck plants for two weeks in January, in addition to the traditional holiday shutdown. 

Still, GM said last year it had reduced its energy use by 25% and added solar and landfill gas as energy sources at its North American facilities over the past five years. GM’s Service Parts Operations Parts Distribution Center in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., for example, is the nation’s largest, corporate solar photovoltaic installation. Solar panels lining the roof help keep costs down and reduce the facility’s environmental impact, the company said on its Web site. 

Earlier this month, GM’s Flint Tool and Die Plant said it will recycle an amount of polystyrene equal to that of 42 million coffee cups this year, an achievement that makes the plant  “landfill free,” recycling  or reusing all normal plant wastes.

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