Duke Energy smart energy future plan addresses extreme weather


Duke Energy is working on ways it can improve the resilience of the grid and the company’s ability to respond to extreme weather incidents as part of a ‘smarter energy future’ plan. Duke Energy will, therefore, be investing close to $3 billion over the next decade into their grid network in South Carolina to ensure quicker responses to storm events and outages.

Hurricane Matthew, which hit the state in October 2016, broke “1,906 utility poles, downed 284 miles of line, knocked 1,581 miles of line out of service and plunged 1.5 million customers into the dark,” according to SCnow.com.

Restoration efforts included utility crews from 23 states and Canada which utilised “20 marsh buggies and …burned 325,000 gallons of fuel, flew two drones and five helicopters, ate 143,135 meals, occupied 9,545 hotel rooms, slept on 4,634 cots and worked out of 14 staging areas.”

Mindy Taylor, district manager for government and community relations for Duke Energy remembers “That Sunday morning, after the hurricane hit, 95 percent of our customers were in the dark. That Saturday night when I drove from my home to the office, I truly thought I was driving through a war zone. You’re driving through pitch black dark that you don’t normally see. Trees in the road, power lines down, flooding in the road – it was really scary.

“We’ve got a group of very dedicated employees who worked around the clock for a week to get the power back on. What they did in a span of seven days was absolutely phenomenal.”

Duke Energy planning for the future

According to Taylor, plans including spending $1.3 billion on moving ‘hard to access’ overhead lines underground and more than $1.8 billion on improving and hardening the transmission system, enabling grid self-optimisation,  installing advanced metering infrastructure, and upgrading communication networks and back office systems.

Lessons learned during hurricanes play into the day-to-day assessments of the system when it comes to planning changes and improvements, says John Kirby, engineering manager with Duke’s power quality reliability and integrity division.

Which is why the ‘building a smarter energy future’ programme is part of that effort.

Kirby says that plan is to have the majority of their customers on a mesh network in order to facilitate quicker feedback on outages and restorations. In addition, sectionalising the grid is part of the bigger plan as a means of minimising the impact on outages.

“The Smart Energy Future includes incorporating independent power producers or distributed generation. We have to make changes to be able to incorporate that,” he added. As more stand-alone solar installations come online in South and southern North Carolina, Duke Energy will update the transmission grid in order to take advantage of these ‘independent power producers.’