General Motors turns 100 this year and although GM represents the gas guzzling brands of Cadillac and Hummer, there is at least one environmentally friendly reason to mark this anniversary; the electrically powered Chevrolet Volt. The Volt program is an ambitious but very risky program that GM is pushing forward with in the face of uncertainty. It also, believe it or not, is a perfect complement to wind power.
GM committed in 2007 to produce the Chevrolet Volt by 2010; a very short development period even for more typical models. GM is pushing ahead with this initiative despite the technology not being fully developed yet, despite it having to make massive human capital investments such as training its entire dealer network to service this new technology, and despite uncertainty regarding future energy prices that will ultimately determine whether the Volt is a financial success. Actually, all these challenges are remarkably similar to those currently facing the burgeoning offshore wind industry (more on that in a future post).
Speaking of wind though, electric cars like the Volt will compliment wind as a renewable energy source in a way that at first might not seem obvious. Electric cars like the Volt will recharge through an ordinary electric outlet in the owner’s garage. As battery technology improves (and it has improved a lot recently), and as drivers become comfortable with the electric range of their vehicles, there is no reason the car battery won’t be able to act as a battery for the entire house. So in a wind powered economy, people will be able to charge the car’s battery while the wind is blowing and the power is cheap, and then consume the power at home when it’s more expensive or when they are out driving their cars.
Some say that if large scale wind is to be successful, industry or government will need to provide equally large scale batteries or similar electrical storage systems to even out its variability. We in Mainstream say that if the grid is large enough it captures the wind wherever it is blowing and delivers a firm offering. Actually this was proved in a study done at Kassel University.
By pushing ahead with the Chevrolet Volt, GM is enabling individuals to go over the heads of industry and government to address this obstacle themselves at a local level, as well as providing them with an environmentally friendly way to get around town. Let’s hope this sets the tone for GM’s next 100 years.