As a native of Ohio – home of the Wright Brothers – and now a resident of North Carolina where their dream literally took off, I have a special fondness for the inventors of modern flight. I sometimes wonder what Orville and Wilbur would think if they saw a Boeing 747 roar overhead? Would they even recognize what they had started?
For that matter, Alexander Graham Bell would likely look at a touchscreen smartphone and ask “What is this?”
But what about Thomas Edison? He might look up at the power lines mounted on a wooden pole and say, “Yes, that’s how I left it.”
Today’s energy system is in some ways light years from what Edison gave us – I doubt he anticipated splitting atoms to make electricity – but in some respects, the grid is very similar to what it was more than a century ago.
To be fair, that system has worked incredibly well to provide America with the gold standard of power generation, transmission and delivery.
Still, at the most fundamental level, the grid operates primarily as a one-way road, sending electricity from centralized power plants to customers. The good news for our customers is that our industry is working furiously to modernize it – to make it smarter, “greener” and more capable than ever.
The grid needs to work more like a multilane freeway, sending energy and information in both directions with more on and off ramps. It needs to provide greater flexibility, even better reliability, and more product and service options for homes and businesses.
This modernization is underway and will provide our customers with a much better experience. Some of the changes will be noticeable, like mobile apps that provide customers the information they need to control their energy usage and save money, or self-healing technologies and grid hardening techniques that make power outages shorter and increasingly rare.
And, some changes will be less noticeable to the eye, but no less important. This includes the ability to smoothly integrate greater levels of renewable energy and emerging technologies like battery storage onto the system – enabling a cleaner and more reliable generation mix.
Modernizing the grid in this way requires a higher level of investment than we’ve seen before. Last year alone, the industry spent about $53 billion on the energy grid, up 10 percent from the previous year. This effort, which will go on for years, will create new jobs and serve as an economic stimulus for local communities.
It’s the same for Duke Energy. We operate the largest energy grid in the country, with more than 300,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 25 million people. To modernize that system, we plan to invest $25 billion over the next decade to build a smarter energy future. In North Carolina alone, this ambitious program will create nearly 14,000 jobs and more than $1 billion in tax revenue for local communities.
This will open the floodgates for limitless innovation by energy companies, as well as mobile technology developers, application engineers and entrepreneurs. All while ensuring that we are able to continue delivering the reliable, affordable and increasingly clean power customers demand.
I like to think that if Edison could see today’s energy grid, he would be humbled by the spectacular advancements that affordable, reliable and safe electricity has made in our lives. But he would be even more excited about how we are transforming the grid to serve the next generation.
Lynn Good is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Duke Energy, one of America’s largest electric power companies.