One of the largest utilities in the U.S. hopes to spend close to $40 billion or more over a 10-year period to expand natural gas and renewables generation, invest in the nuclear fleet and modernize the grid.
Duke Energy released its 2017 Sustainability Report, detailing progress on improving climate impacts within its grid. The report includes a “2-degree scenario” on the possibility of reducing its CO2 emissions from the generation fleet enough to help limit global warming impacts to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“We have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 31 percent since 2005, and have set our sights on even greater progress,” the climate report to Duke shareholders reads. “In 2017, we established a goal to reduce CO2 emissions 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Beyond 2030, the company’s long-term strategy will continue to drive carbon out of our system.”
By 2030, Duke hopes to have more than 80 percent of its generation mix coming from zero and lower carbon-emitting resources. The company’s current generation mix is 34 percent nuclear, 33 percent coal, 28 percent natural gas and 5 percent renewables. Twelve year earlier, the coal portion was 58 percent and natural gas only 6 percent.
Duke projected cleaner-than-coal investments to top $11 billion by 2026. Those include a push toward 42 percent natural gas (which has half the emissions of coal) and 10 percent renewables by 2030.
Three natural gas combined-cycle plants representing nearly 3,000 MW are planned to come on line this year and in 2019, according to report. Meanwhile, Duke plans to retire nine coal units (totaling 2,006 MW) through 2024, in addition to the 47 units (5,424 MW) retired from 2011-2017.
Grid resiliency also will be a priority, the company vowed in its report. Modernization spending will hit $25 billion through 2026 on storm hardening, renewable integration and targeted undergrounding of electric lines.
Duke’s energy efficiency efforts will focus on expanding current programs to achieve savings of 22,000 GWh by 2030; that is the equivalent of annual energy use for 1.8 million homes, the company said.
The fate of the zero-emissions nuclear fleet faces uncertainty due to startup cost fears, no surprise considering the abandonment of new-build projects in South Carolina and cost overruns at Southern Co.’s Vogtle plant in Georgia. Duke did not mention these projects, but focused on its 9,000-MW fleet built mainly in the 1970s and ‘80s and licensed for 60 years.
Duke expressed pride in its nuclear fleet, noting 19 consecutive years of operating at a capacity factor exceeding 90 percent. The company is evaluating the possibility of extending its nuclear operating licenses but admitted the challenges there.
“We’re evaluating the possibility of seeking additional license extensions for these facilities, which would allow us to operate them for a total of 80 years,” the report reads. “No nuclear unit in the United States (has been) licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 80 years of operation and license extension is not guaranteed.”
Duke Energy is one of the latest utility holding companies in the U.S. with more than 7 million electric customers in the Carolinas, Midwest and Florida. Generating capacity totals approximately 52,700 MW.