The San Francisco Chronicle: Cruise looks to Central Valley solar panels to power its self-driving cars
The San Francisco Chronicle – August 25, 2021
By J.D. Morris
Cruise, the San Francisco autonomous car company backed by General Motors, is launching a new initiative to support renewable energy efforts in the Central Valley.
Through a program called Farm to Fleet, Cruise will source solar power for its all-electric fleet from two farms: Sundale Vineyards outside Tulare and Moonlight Companies in Reedley (Fresno County).
Sundale Vineyards grows table grapes, and Moonlight is a citrus and stone fruit grower. Both of them also have solar panel installations — and they’ll now support Cruise as it tries to expand the number of electric cars on the road in California.
Executives at the self-driving car company say paying the farms for solar power is intended to further the state’s progress in fighting climate change while providing a benefit to communities that likely won’t have a massive number of electric or autonomous cars anytime soon.
“We’re tying urban issues and rural issues together in a way that, I think, benefits everybody,” said Rob Grant, Cruise’s vice president of social affairs and global impact. “We looked intentionally at where we can make this connection in parts of California that are not normally thought of as a hotbed for autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles.”
Cruise’s self-driving cars aren’t coming to the Central Valley immediately. The company is developing a ride-hailing service in San Francisco, where its cars are being tested on the city’s streets — both with and without drivers. Cruise has also partnered with the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank to deliver meals since the pandemic took hold last year.
When the company’s cars are charged in San Francisco, they get the same electricity from the same grid as everyone else. But Cruise is paying undisclosed sums to Sundale and Moonlight in exchange for renewable energy credits that correspond to the same amount of power Cruise uses from the grid.
The credits are a kind of financial certificate that California businesses can buy and sell to track their clean power goals. All of Cruise’s credits will now come from Sundale and Moonlight.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Sean Stockton, Sundale’s president. “This one just seemed like a natural fit, to take advantage of the metro areas’ uses of electric vehicles, and something we could do.”
A report on the Central Valley solar initiative authored by Cruise and experts at BTR Energy, which works to integrate electric cars with traditional electricity markets, expresses hope that the partnership between Cruise and the farms can sets an example for other businesses. Their aim is to see much wider use of electric cars in the ride-hailing industry.
It’s an important subject in California energy and climate policy. While the state’s highly regulated electric power sector has made a lot of progress on reducing its carbon emissions, thanks to mandates requiring utilities to buy more renewable energy, the transportation sector still has a long way to go.
The report projects that, under the rosiest scenarios, making the ride-hailing sector all-electric could by 2040 help California avoid up to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which the report says would be akin to taking 2.9 million gas-powered cars off the road. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already moved to end the sale of gas cars in the state by 2035.
The authors believe that partnerships like the one Cruise has established should take off as the state tries to reduce its transportation emissions.
“We believe that disparate industries — in this case, transportation and agriculture — can have a greater impact when working together to solve the climate crisis,” said Jack Barrow, CEO of BTR Energy. “These types of initiatives can illustrate to other communities how transportation electrification can benefit them and how it can be part of a solution to climate change.”