Smart Energy Voices - Episode 2

Smart Energy Voices - Episode 2

Ten Questions About Renewable Energy With GM’s Rob Threlkeld 

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Few people could be considered to be at the epicenter of the renewable energy transition in big business, but this episode’s guest Rob Threlkeld is one of whom it could be said. With over 19 years of experience in the energy side of General Motors, Rob has led the charge in transitioning the company toward its goal of 100% sourcing of operations from Renewable energy. He’s also set the pace for GM’s Global Energy Efforts in Sustainable Energy, Supply, and Reliability. 

Rob believes it’s not only possible but very likely that companies like GM will lead the way toward a 100% carbon-free future. Join guest host Peter Kelly-Detwiler as he leads Rob through a rapid-fire “10 questions” format on the topic of big business and renewable energy. You won’t want to miss this episode.

You will want to hear this episode if you are interested in...

  • Rob’s beginning of working on energy issues for GM [2:30]
  • The biggest challenge of greening-up GM's portfolio strategy [3:51]
  • Rob’s biggest surprises to date working in the sustainability sector [5:05]
  • The impact of COVID-19 on the renewable energy industry [6:01]
  • How to manage the inherent risk involved in financial contracts [7:59]
  • Why Rob likes to zig when others zag [9:40]
  • GMs strategies regarding charging of electric vehicle fleets [11:21]
  • The changing culture within GM regarding sustainability [13:13]
  • Accelerating education for smaller companies [14:28]
  • Cutting edge things Rob sees happening in the RE Industry[17:16]

GM's portfolio approach to renewables

Rob makes an excellent point about how GM is addressing its energy consumption needs through the concept of an investment portfolio. He points out that nobody who knows anything about investing would put all their money in one stock or one class of investment. That’s because a wide-ranging portfolio diversifies risk and moderates fluctuations.

GM has taken a similar approach when it comes to sourcing its energy needs. Rather than establishing one base source of energy — such as the existing, carbon-fueled electrical grid — GM is procuring its energy from a wide portfolio of energy sources, many of which are diverse renewable energy sources. With this approach, energy demands can be met, costs can be balanced, and risk can be decreased. And equally important, GM moves toward its goal of 100% renewable energy consumption.

In moving toward this goal, the company is setting its sights on four pillars:

1) Energy efficiency

2) Sourcing from clean energy sources such as wind and solar

3) Storage to support grid integration of renewable energy

4) Supporting policy and regulations that back global renewable energy adoption

Listen to hear how GM has come to these decisions and to learn how Rob sees large companies paving the way for a carbon-free future.

COVID-19’s impact on renewable energy efforts

When COVID-19 became a world-wide pandemic, none of us were able to comprehend what it would mean for life and business. By mid-March 2020, everything came to a standstill. It’s the only time Rob has ever experienced a 100% shutdown of entire companies. He says that GM and many other companies were able to endure that kind of shutdown because they had already built a range of flexibility into existing energy contracts. Nevertheless, energy was still a huge cost for companies since they were not generating revenue.

But out of the crisis have come a few bright spots. More information is being shared between companies, which helps leaders across the board make wise decisions and more accurate projections. It’s promising that this kind of sharing is taking place and one could hope that the practice is the “new normal” when it comes to energy decisions.

Innovative ways technology is accelerating the renewables transition

How can we drive goals that get us to a 100% carbon-free power grid? It’s the question at the heart of the renewable energy movement. Rob says it can only happen if Fortune 100 and other large companies take an “all together” approach. They can’t only think about themselves but must consider approaches and strategies that will facilitate change across industries and for large and small companies alike. 

Rob explains that many utilities that are using renewable sources are leveraging technology to shift consumer mindsets about energy consumption. For example, consumer apps that monitor power consumption within a consumer’s home can educate about power consumption while making it “fun” to manage the devices within the home. Similar technologies are being deployed within the electric vehicle sector to build a “fleet” mentality into unrelated consumers who own EVs, using price to encourage them to charge their vehicles during less expensive times.

This conversation includes more about how GM and other large companies are leading the way in the renewable energy movement and how companies like Google are also developing technologies that provide solutions to the problems we face. Listen to hear all the details!

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Rob Threlkeld

Rob Threlkeld is Global Manager of Sustainable Energy, Supply and Reliability for General Motors, leading the company’s energy procurement efforts including the commitment to meet the electricity needs of its global operations with 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Rob is responsible for leading that team that supports GM energy procurement and regulatory efforts including negotiating power purchase agreements, natural gas, green tariffs, and engineering onsite renewable solutions for GM facilities across the globe, including opportunities associated with battery storage, behind-the-meter applications, and EV integration. As part of GM’s Sustainable Workplaces team, Rob shares best practices for renewable energy procurement with internal and external audiences, offering solutions for large and small businesses alike to benefit from the use of renewables.  Rob began his career at GM in 2000 as manager of the powerhouse and wastewater treatment plant operations at GM’s Lordstown, Ohio Assembly Complex. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Purdue University. He is a registered Certified Hazardous Material Manager, Certified Energy Manager, and Business Energy Professional.

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