A bold promise?

By 2020, the BMW Group will manufacture its more than 2.5 million vehicles annually using 100 percent green electricity. Initially, that might sound ambitious, costly, may be even unrealistic. “None of those”, claims Jury Witschnig, who is responsible for sustainable production in Strategic Planning at the BMW Group. He simply calls it “plannable”.

We interviewed Jury Witschnig about a goal that is rapidly coming closer.

In 2017, the BMW Gr oup announced at the UN Climate Conference that it intended to use only electricity from renewable resources by 2020. Don’t you think that’s a little overambitious?

Jury Witschnig: Why? In Europe, we’ve already reached our goal. Worldwide, we’re not quite there yet at 81 percent, but we will manage it by 2020. I have no doubt about that.

What makes you so sure?

We have already done a lot. And that aside, the vision of a carbon-free energy supply is not just some idea about replacing fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas with renewable energy from wind or the sun...

What then?

... it means taking care with the environment and our resources. We owe it to our customers. But to be honest, we do it in our own interest as well. Energy is expensive, which is one of the reasons why we have strongly reduced the energy consumption for each vehicle manufactured in recent years. Today, it’s already 37 percent lower than in 2006. We will keep it that way, even if production goes up. We therefore monitor and optimise our consumption not only regularly in our current operations, but also when we plan new processes.

That still leaves a large amount of green power that needs to come from somewhere.

Sustainability is not a random project. We developed a strategy for it years ago. This means that we know exactly which of our 31 locations worldwide are suitable for solar power and which for wind energy, how much green electricity we can buy, whether there are investment partners and what’s happening in politics. This has allowed us to gradually increase the share of renewables at all facilities.

With the result that the BMW Group today not only has wind turbines outside its plants, but also 30,000 cows.

Which makes sense. After all, the wind power systems at our Leipzig plant helps us to produce the BMW i3 from 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity. And our four-legged friends at the plant in Rosslyn, South Africa, produce enough dung for the biogas plant to generate almost a quarter of the electricity we need there. We love this result so much that we’re considering whether we should grow the herd quite a bit more.

Wouldn’t it be easier to buy green electricity?

Maybe, but it’s also pretty boring, and actually less economical. We’re engineers, after all, and fascinated by new technologies. There are lots of interesting developments happening now, and we want to use their potential. This includes for example photovoltaic systems, which could play a role very soon in some of our facilities.

In Leipzig, the BMW Group is using old BMW i3 batteries, right? You mean our storage farm? Yes, it’s great. We’re doing a proof of concept there with about 530 BMW i3 batteries to show that they can have a useful second life - as buffer storage for renewable energy. The battery farm helps to integrate the power from the wind turbines on the Leipzig site into the electricity grid. This saves electricity and money, and it’s also an interesting component in the context of the upcoming energy sector transformation.

Regardless of these efforts, do you still need to purchase extra?

We will not be able to get around extra electricity purchasing in the next few years, but we are relying 100 percent here on power from renewable sources. We are currently expanding our combined heat and power plants at seven locations in order to increase the efficient and environmentally friendly production of heat in manufacturing. Our alternative energy sources aren’t yet quite sufficient for heating. To give you an image, we would need several football pitches worth of solar thermal, or geothermal, but unfortunately that isn’t available everywhere. 

Why are you making your goal of 100 percent green electricity public this way? What do you gain from being a pioneer?

Germany committed to the Paris climate targets in 2015. This means we have some ambitious goals that we are achieving together if companies like ours take responsibility. However, we have to be consistent and think about it in an integrated way. Sustainable mobility consists not only of low-emission vehicles on the streets. To put it another way: electric cars can only develop their full potential if they have also been manufactured without emissions.

Then you could also start with your suppliers.

You’re right, integrated thinking has to include that as well. And we’re already doing so. After all, we hold more than 12,000 suppliers worldwide to the same environmental standards as the ones the BMW Group is measured against. This means that as multipliers, we recognise our own responsibilities and encourage our suppliers, not least for economic reasons, to save resources themselves and to invest in renewable energies. Many of them understand that already and in turn pass on the message to their own suppliers. It’s working really well, like a snowball effect.