Reliability is Key to a Successful Energy Transition
North Carolina’s electric cooperatives focus on reliability as energy transitions evolveBy Joe Brannan
Every morning, North Carolinians wake up and flip a switch to start their day. “Always on,” reliable electricity is something that we expect and depend on.
Electric utilities, including your electric cooperative, have honed their ability to manage grid resources and meet the energy needs of consumers. But as we go through an evolving energy transition that includes integrating new resources — each with a distinctive set of capabilities — a continued focus on reliability is critical.
North Carolina energy policy, which was signed into law last year, requires development of a carbon reduction plan by Duke Energy to be approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) by the end of this year. NCUC is currently conducting hearings on carbon plan details. North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are actively engaged in these hearings to ensure the cost and pace of a carbon reduction plan does not leave anyone behind, nor compromise reliability. During these hearings, we are learning about the desired plan and timing to implement key tenets of the new energy policy: reliable, affordable and low-carbon electricity.
"As we go through an evolving energy transition, a continued focus on reliability is critical."
Today’s reliable energy system includes large electric generation units of many different fuel types, which are coordinated to balance the amount of electricity used by consumers. Replacing existing electric generation with new and sometimes intermittent resources, such as solar and wind energy, requires utilities to carefully manage the pace of the transition and coordination of resource capabilities to make sure things like your lights, heat, air conditioning and refrigerator are always on.
If utilities retire existing generation before new electric resource capabilities can be adequately coordinated to meet consumer needs, we will experience a less reliable and less affordable electric system than we have today. Some of these undesirable and costly situations are currently playing out in other states, such as California and Texas.
Our focus on reliable electricity does not stop with the transition and coordination of large, central generation. New “grid edge” technologies — which include residential and community solar systems, energy storage, and electric vehicle chargers — have become available to businesses and consumers, providing them greater means to manage their energy use.
To maintain reliability and affordability going forward, utilities will need to account for these growing grid edge technologies and their capabilities, integrating and coordinating them with large generation units, including solar and wind resources.
North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are doing just that. Building on our 80-year history of delivering reliable and affordable energy across rural North Carolina, we are continuing our focus on the coordinated operation of large generation resources, while also working with members to integrate and efficiently coordinate the capabilities of new grid edge technologies. By maintaining a dedicated focus on reliable and affordable electricity during the energy transition, we will ensure we continue to provide value to our cooperative members.
About the AuthorJoe Brannan is CEO of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, the Raleigh-based wholesale power and materials supplier and trade association for the state’s electric distribution cooperatives.