General Motors: Using Data Visualization to Navigate Decarbonization - Smart Energy Decisions

Energy Efficiency, GHG Emissions, Industrial  -  May 1, 2024 - By Better Buildings, U.S. Department of Energy

General Motors: Using Data Visualization to Navigate Decarbonization

General Motors (GM) has publicly committed to reducing its energy consumption, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions across its 118 U.S. sites. All sites were tasked with evaluating potential contributions to the goal, as well as mapping glide paths to the targets. To better facilitate and standardize this process, GM developed a new Energy and Carbon Optimization (ECO) Metrics Dashboard. The dashboard helps energy managers and plant leadership by tracking monthly performance for energy, water, and emissions and allows users to estimate site-specific potential savings from their existing project roadmap. 

GM has pledged to reduce operational energy and water intensity by 35% by 2035 against a 2010 baseline. Before developing the ECO Metrics Dashboard, GM developed the Energy and Carbon Optimization (ECO) toolbox to organize energy management processes across their facilities. The ECO toolbox provided resources for plants to conduct energy treasure hunts and explore other savings strategies. The ECO Metrics Dashboard also provides a way to project and track progress based on ECO toolbox strategies. 

The GM energy team started a collaborative project with the internal Manufacturing Engineering (ME) group to develop a dashboard that would serve as a data visualization tool for performance tracking against 2035 goals. The new dashboard, called the ECO Metrics Dashboard, is fed from a raw data download file generated within the GM Utility Billing Management (UBM) system and uses Microsoft’s Power BI (PBI) software. The design criteria used in the development of the ECO Metrics Power BI Dashboard includes the following data components and reporting functionalities

Intensity-Based Metrics:

  • Monthly Energy, Water, and CO2e metrics
  • Monthly intensity targets are established allowing 2035 glidepath and prior year performance evaluation and trend analysis

Glide Path for Energy, Water, and CO2e Metrics:

  • The glide path represents a simple straight line to meet the 2035 target allowing sites to evaluate monthly performance and future target setting to maintain alignment to longer-term goals  
  • The dashboard includes a summary table that automatically color codes the sites based on the gaps between metrics

Automatic Multi-level Reports:

  • Glide path reports can be generated at the business unit, region, and company levels

Simple Data Refresh Process:

  • Designed to take a simple standard data report from GM2100, GM's global energy, water, and greenhouse gas data management system 
  • Quick data refresh time

Addition of Potential Savings Database:

  • Plans to connect the glide path visuals with the potential savings from the Roadmap database  
  • Highlight the effect of potential savings/projects over the gap between the current performance and the glide path to the 2035 goals

The cross-team collaboration allowed GM to fully utilize the Power BI database management capability and skills of their employees. The project planning phase took two weeks followed by a two-month implementation phase to develop the dashboard itself. The project was completed at no cost because it used solely in-house resources. Working with existing data and resources greatly simplified the project, but the aggressive timeline added a layer of difficulty. To simplify the data refresh process and meet time requirements, the team decided to minimize manual data pre-processing and complete most calculations inside the dashboard. This required updating the source code, which was something the team had not previously done. While it increased the complexity of using the dashboard software, the outcome justified it. 

Use of the ECO Power BI dashboard was meant to serve General Motor’s internal Energy team. After collecting and analyzing initial data, the team saw opportunity to benefit from broadening the intended audience. To ensure effective rollout and use of the Power BI dashboard, the ECO team solicited feedback on the user interface from internal customers across the manufacturing and non-manufacturing portfolios. The team ensured there was an array of user types included in the test group, ranging from Plant Directors to Engineering Managers, and Continuous Improvement Leads. Based on the feedback received, the ECO team was able to simplify the dashboard options and minimize the number of user selections to drill down to individual site information. Once the dashboard was streamlined, the ECO team integrated a rollout demonstration into existing forums that brought together various user groups. 

GM used Microsoft Power BI, a data visualization software, to design and execute the ECO Metrics Dashboard. The source data represents actual invoice data stored in GM’s third-party bill pay system.  

The ECO Metrics Dashboard enables staff to measure progress by showing consumption-based glide paths, a rolling 12-month performance chart, current year actuals, and GM’s 2035 target performance evaluations. These visualizations provide a means to monitor monthly progress and help identify gaps between actual monthly data and future targets.  As plants improve through energy and emissions reduction projects, these impacts can be tracked and shared across the company. Incorporating savings from potential projects will also help plants make decisions to implement projects based not only on simple payback from utility savings but also on the impact of potential emission savings.

In addition to plant-specific metrics, the ECO Metrics Dashboard can also display data by business sector, country, and company-wide. Pareto charts were added to highlight plants with the biggest opportunities for improvement. Initial feedback received from plants and GM leadership indicates that the team exceeded the required objectives and unveiled a new perspective on existing data that could potentially change or impact GM’s ECO scorecard strategy.  

Overall, the new ECO Metrics dashboard provides a variety of effective visualization tools to help plants, energy leaders, and GM leadership navigate their journey to achieve the company’s 2035 energy, water, and emissions reduction goals. Since the dashboard was designed to mesh with existing data systems, visualizations can be updated easily and aggregated to understand both plant-level and company-wide performance. Additionally, the dashboard’s ability to estimate potential savings from planned projects gives managers a powerful tool to prioritize project development and consider upgrades that could produce even greater energy, water, or emissions savings. 


This column originally appeared as a blog on the Better Buildings website


Through DOE's Better Buildings Initiative, more than 900 commercial, public, industrial, and residential organizations share their proven energy efficiency strategies and inspire others to tap into the continued potential for energy efficiency. Collectively these organizations have saved 2.5 quadrillion Btus of energy, equivalent to $15.3 billion, and 155 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Partners have reduced their water use by 13.7 billion gallons. Together, partners represent more than 35 of the country's Fortune 100 companies, 10 of the top 25 U.S. employers, 14% of the U.S. manufacturing energy footprint, and 13% of total commercial building space, as well as more than 100 state and local governments spanning the nation. 

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