Duke Proposes Statewide Smart Grid

First we had Texas utility Oncor sign a $690 million deal for smart meters and now North Carolina-based Duke Energy has announced ambitious plans to build a statewide smart grid network. Starting in Indiana, the proposal would include more than 800,000 new digital ‚Äúsmart meters” — one for nearly every Hoosier customer across the entire state. The five-year initiative would also include new communications systems along the existing lines and in substations, reducing the need for on-site work and the frequency and duration of power outages, Duke says.

Duke Energy, as a regulated utility, still needs approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for this project. Duke has yet to announce any vendor partners, but a project of this scope will almost certainly involve some of the many startups working in the smart grid community. Duke is a member of the GridWise Alliance, a consortium of over 60 companies including telcos, utilities, software giants and cleantech startups like SmartSynch, GridPoint and SensorTran.

This would be the biggest smart grid endeavor undertaken by the utility. Duke has toyed with smart meter deployment on the pilot project scale, working with smart meter maker Echelon on some 2,000-3,000 homes around the utility’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., Duke spokesperson Dave Scanzoni tells Earth2Tech.

Duke says the Echelon system would allow them to reduce the level of voltage on the lines without impacting customer service, saving enough energy to power 40,000 homes for a year. For contrast, Duke just signed a power purchase agreement for 16 megawatts of solar power from SunEdison which will only power 2,647 homes a year.

Duke also has plans to implement a demonstration-sized project to offer solar panels or “other renewable energy sources” on site for customers, the beginnings of a truly distributed grid. That’s good news for residential solar installers.

Scanzoni says Duke is hopeful they will gain approval come June and that implementation of the five-year project could start before the end of the year. Once they begin the regulatory filings, Scanzoni said, vendor partnerships will likely be announced. Smart grid startups had best deploy sale reps to the Indiana area.