General Motors considers the march toward a more sustainable future a vital part of its business going forward, according to GM Global Manager of Renewables Rob Threlkeld, who says that the utility and transportation sectors are seeing the pace of innovation accelerate dramatically. To him, the advent of self-driving, autonomous cars is nearly as important to GM’s green strategy as electrification.
“Five years ago, there was not a lot of talk around autonomous vehicles,” he told Business Chief Magazine recently. “Electrification was starting to just start to come around. We only had the [Chevrolet] Volt at that time. We’ve now got the Volt and the Bolt. But you can see this massive switch to where autonomous vehicles are definitely part of a future with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion components. You’ve seen this technology revolution in both the utility and transportation sectors.
“You’re going to see more change in those sectors in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last 50-100 years.”
At the same time, General Motors has taken pains to revamp its manufacturing infrastructure to lower their environmental impact, as well. “From a competitive standpoint,” the sustainability of GM’s products and its manufacturing methods are “really linked together in a way they weren’t before, even a few years ago,” Threlkeld says.
But a gap exists between the amount of green energy that big corporations like GM are today calling for, and what can be provided by utility companies, according to a Wind Energy Foundation report. Emissions are emissions, whether they’re coming straight from the tailpipe, from the power plants that allow consumers to charge their electrified vehicle models, or from the energy demands of GM’s manufacturing plants.
Threlkeld says he thinks that’s “just part of the evolution of the process.” Five years ago, he says, the conversation was around “what the companies really need to do in [the sustainability] space to engage with each other.” Then, it became about “how do we gauge the utilities, which are really the natural potential owners of the renewable energy assets? That’s where we started to take off as we looked at green tariffs in the US and what utilities were starting to offer.”
Threlkeld says the last part of the progression is “the issue of moving this low-cost electricity. From a company standpoint, we’re always looking for the most economic source of generation that we can procure and sometimes getting it to our facilities can be a challenge. How do we now engage relevant stakeholders – the regional transmission operators or the independent system operators in this process – as technology drives the future both in utilities and transport?
“It has to be in a way that ultimately benefits all the customers.”