In a compromise with environmentalists, the energy giant is committing some significant resources to clean tech.
When I took my silly Nissan Leaf road trip into the mountains, there were two things that would have made that journey exponentially easier:
1) Just a little more range
2) Just a few more fast charging stations
You see, the current uneven distribution of fast charging stations—combined with the less-than-optimal range of my 2013 Nissan Leaf—mean that it's not just the theoretical maximum range you have to consider when planning a trip. Instead, you end up charging more often than you really need to "just to make sure", and because there are blank spots where you may not find a fast charging option.
The first consideration will soon become a thing of the past as longer range electric vehicles become commonplace. The 150 mile 2018 Nissan Leaf represents a step change that would have made my 200+ mile journey possible with just a couple of 10 to 20 minute fast charges, using the charging infrastructure that exists today.
But with just a little more charging infrastructure—and by that I really just mean one single fast charging station somewhere in the 70 or so miles between Winston Salem and Hickory—I'd be cutting the charging down to one single stop.
Now, for North Carolinians at least, there's a good chance that this infrastructure will soon be fleshed out. In addition to nationwide efforts like Electrify America's network of soon-to-be-built charging stations (which includes several in NC), Green Tech Media reports that Duke Energy has just reached an agreement with consumer groups and environmentalists for a $2.5 billion grid modernization plan which includes $25 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure—including $7.7 million for a foundation-level network of DC fast charging infrastructure across the entire site. The settlement will also include a commitment for 300 megawatts of energy storage by 2026, with 200 megawatts of it coming by 2023. True, it's not quite on a par with Californian utilities' recently approved plan for massive electric vehicle infrastructure spending, but in a state with relatively nascent charging infrastructure—outside of our main urban areas—a plan like this could go a long way toward kickstarting broader change.
It's worth noting, of course, that not everyone is happy. While the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association have all signed on to support the plan, it has yet to gain approval from regulators—and a coalition of groups including the Southern Environmental Law Center, North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina Housing Coalition, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy have all opposed the plan, arguing it will represent an undue burden on low income rate payers.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this agreement in terms of energy policy—a topic I am pretty far from an expert on—I do think there's a strong case to be made for utilities to explore electric vehicle charging as a rare potential new source of demand at a time when energy consumption is flatlining and utilities are freaking out.