July 28, 2011 / 1:15 PM / in 7 years

GM invests in solar energy systems maker

ROCHESTER HILLS, Michigan (Reuters) - A General Motors Co unit has invested $7.5 million and taken an undisclosed stake in Sunlogics Inc, helping the solar energy systems manufacturer to establish plants in Michigan and Canada and create 310 jobs at the small company.

A GM sign is seen outside the Medved General Motors car dealership in Arvada, Colorado in this August 12, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

GM Ventures said it also signed commercial agreements with Sunlogics for the installation of solar charging stations at Chevrolet dealerships and GM plants, as well as a power purchase deal to install large solar arrays at GM factories and buy the energy produced by the arrays.

“Most forecasts predict that global solar use will double over the next several years, much of that growth in North America and Asia,” Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures, said at Sunlogics new headquarters here on Thursday.

“Solar is a smart business decision because renewable energy brings cost efficiencies over time and is good for the environment,” he added, saying it complements the company’s electrification strategy that started with the roll-out of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric hybrid car.

In conjunction with the Sunlogics deal, GM said it has committed to doubling the use of solar power use at its plants globally to 60 megawatts — the equivalent of powering 10,000 homes annually — by the end of 2015. The U.S. automaker derives 1.4 percent of its U.S. energy consumption from renewable resources.

GM has gained attention with the Volt. The U.S. automaker’s push into electric vehicles is partly aimed at seizing the green mantle Toyota Motor Corp earned with the roll-out of its popular Prius hybrid vehicle.

Sunlogics and GM previously collaborated to develop a solar photovoltaic canopy and charging station for Volt dealers and there are two in place at stores in Grand Blanc, Michigan, and Modesto, California.

The technology designed by Sunlogics is called the Chevrolet Volt “Green Zone,” which gives Chevy dealers the ability to solar charge the electric car under the canopy. Just one provides enough energy to power two to three homes per year, or more than a quarter of a dealer’s energy consumption, GM said.

GM hopes to have 250 Chevy dealers signed up for the program by the middle of next year, said Rob Threlkeld, global manager of renewable energy at GM.

A similar solar charging station from Sunlogics is used at the automaker’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, where the Volt is built. GM also has charging systems at four other U.S. factories, three supplied by Sunlogics.

The investment marks the eighth by GM’s venture capital arm, which was established last June with $100 million in funding. The investments have ranged in size from $3 million to $8 million, totaling about $43.5 million.

Lauckner said the venture unit hopes to close five more deals over the next 60 days.

One of GM Ventures’ areas for investment focus is in technologies involving the greening and electrification of vehicles. Other areas include in-car information-entertainment technologies, sensors or processors, and “smart” or advanced materials that can improve vehicle performance or cut costs.

GM Ventures is headed by Lauckner, a veteran GM engineer, and overseen by GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky, a former investment banker in charge of strategy at the automaker.

Sunlogics said it will use some of GM’s funding to establish its headquarters outside Detroit and open manufacturing plants there and in Ontario, Canada. The Michigan plant will employ 200 people and the Canadian plant 110.

Sunlogics specializes in solar project development, manufacturing and installation for use by industrial, utility, government, corporate and retail organizations.

Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Dave Zimmerman and Tim Dobbyn

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