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Technology Focus

Anuja Ratnayke
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Anuja Ratnayake
Manager, Strategic Initiatives,
Technology Assessment & Applications
Charlotte, N.C.

Duke Energy employees are working on numerous fronts to create a responsive, efficient and sustainable 21st century company. The following highlights some of their progress on the technological, regulatory and legislative fronts.

You may not associate technology research and development with a utility. But to increase energy efficiency while reducing operating costs and emissions, research and development (R&D) is a major focus at Duke Energy. We are using technology R&D to redefine how to better balance energy supply and demand, how we can deploy more renewable energy on our system, how our grid can become smarter and how coal can be burned more cleanly to generate electricity.

As an example, in our transmission and distribution systems, we are experimenting with new energy storage technologies. Technology advances have reduced battery size while increasing their storage capacity, efficiency and safety. This means we could eventually deploy high-capacity batteries at our electrical substations and connect them to solar panels and other renewable energy sources. Smaller batteries and storage devices could also be deployed in homes and businesses.

Connected to a smart grid, these devices would help smooth out the peaks and valleys in the daily electricity demand curve. Installed in 10,000 homes, they could also serve as a virtual power plant — distributed resources functioning like a single power plant — supplying power back to the grid during periods of both high and low demand. Such an intelligent infrastructure will be needed for recharging the growing number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles coming on the market, as well as for all-electric cars and trucks in the future.

We plan to test such a system in 2009 in a pilot project at one of our substations in Charlotte, N.C. At our McAlpine Creek substation, we will install a state-of-the-art 500-kilowatt battery and a 50-kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel array. This equipment will provide supplemental power to about 100 homes equipped with smart meters and power-use sensors. Some homes may also have their own storage batteries.

Inside the homes, the large power-using appliances — such as furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters and clothes dryers — will use plug-in energy-sensing devices that wirelessly connect them to an intelligent gateway. The gateway device is about the size of a hardback book and looks like a cable modem. It enables the customer to monitor and adjust power use through an energy portal displayed on a personal computer, a wireless PDA, a smart phone or a digital TV set. The information from the gateway also gives us the capability to optimize our demand load across the connected homes.

We can optimize load during peak demand times by remotely cycling appliances off and on at short intervals, and use the batteries and the solar array to feed power back to the grid when necessary. In essence, we have created a virtual power plant. And just as electricity use is now back-of-mind to our customers, this increase in energy efficiency has no impact on their comfort and convenience. In fact, in other areas where this technology is in use, customers often aren’t even aware of it until they see the savings on their monthly electric bill.

This grid optimization project is just one way we are using new technologies to go beyond the meter — to create new partnerships with our customers to significantly increase energy efficiency and reduce our environmental impact.