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By Sam Holeman
Vice president, transmission system planning and operations
Duke Energy

We must be ready to reliably meet the energy needs of our customers every day, regardless of the weather. 24 by 7 by 365 is more than a motto; it’s what our customers and communities depend on each and every day. Our job is to ensure reliability and security for customers.

During times of peak demand, our system has performed well, allowing the company to meet our customers’ energy needs. Temperatures dove below zero in the Midwest earlier this year, and we managed the system to meet customer demand. Duke Energy also applied lessons learned from Polar Vortex events in 2014 and 2015 in the Carolinas, such as freeze protection for sensitive equipment, and saw significant performance improvements during a 2018 event, which was much more severe in duration of below-freezing temperatures.

No matter the weather, we’re always prepared

Duke Energy has a detailed plan in place to manage the power grid in extreme temperatures – whether it’s the heat of summer or the cold of winter – across all our jurisdictions. We use historical data, real-time analysis and predictive modeling, along with years of operational experience, to ensure the grid can reliably meet customer energy needs in the most challenging conditions.

We regularly test the system against a variety of possible grid scenarios, and incorporate best practices and lessons learned from within the company and from peer utilities to continually improve the service we provide.

Our team of meteorologists continually keeps us updated on weather conditions, and our team of system operators monitors the electric power system 24/7 to help ensure we have an adequate supply of electricity to meet customer demand. We also regularly maintain and prepare our generating plants, transmission systems and distribution systems so they are ready to deliver reliable power when they are needed most, no matter what Mother Nature has in store.

Texas grid challenges – can it happen here?

As we all watched the challenging situation unfold in Texas, our hearts went out to everyone impacted. We recognize how difficult the scope and scale of this event was for so many in the Lone Star State. As we work to understand more following the formal investigations, we will incorporate any lessons learned to improve our system and processes.

The deep freeze in Texas has prompted the natural question of – can this happen here? The short answer is – it’s possible, but it’s our job to plan, prepare and execute ahead of any potential extreme weather event to keep it from happening.

We’re interconnected to other utilities in other states in a way that Texas is not. We have more options to purchase power from other sources, especially when customer demand for energy is highest, and we can use voluntary demand response programs to maximize available power for customers.

When temperatures are extreme, we rely on our diverse energy mix to serve customers. Solar, wind and energy storage are an essential part of our plans for a cleaner energy future, but we also will continue to rely on nuclear power, hydro, oil, natural gas and coal to provide reliable generation when customer demand for energy is at its highest.

Our regulated energy model also requires us to meet reliability requirements through comprehensive long-term planning and adequate power reserves to meet extreme demand. The result is a flexible plan to serve customers today and in the years ahead.

Grid-strengthening initiatives harden system against severe and extreme weather

As severe weather and storms have increased in severity and intensity, it is imperative that we continue to strengthen the grid, making it more resistant to outages from severe weather, and protecting it from physical and cyber threats. We are working to engineer a climate-resistant grid, hardened against extreme weather and optimized for a cleaner, lower-carbon future.

In my 35-year career, we have been able to meet customer demand for electricity, even in extreme temperatures, and it’s Duke Energy’s goal to continue that track record. It requires working with our stakeholders with innovation and investments in the right technology to transform the grid as we’re transitioning to cleaner energy. We are making those investments now for the decades to come.