Duke Energy is the nation’s largest power company, supplying electricity to more than 7 million customers in the Southeast and Midwest. But for the past six years, the Charlotte company also has been quietly building a separate startup business that sells wind and solar power to other utilities and businesses.
Regulators have forced Duke Energy and utilities elsewhere to provide a mix of alternative energy like wind and solar in response to environmental concerns.
Duke has also responded to this growing demand by starting a separate company to sell clean energy to utilities, corporations and universities. It’s called Duke Energy Renewables.
In six years, Duke Energy Renewables has grown to 350 employees and invested $4 billion in solar and wind facilities that stretch from the Carolinas to California.
Those facilities are on display at the company’s new Renewable Energy Monitoring Center at NASCAR Plaza uptown. Surrounded by computers and a wall of screens, 20 employees work 12-hour shifts
Company president Greg Wolf calls it the “nerve center.”
"We can look at it down to an individual site, both on cameras for security and monitoring as far as production. And then, if there's an issue with a specific turbine, for example, they can even drill down and help diagnose that here from Charlotte and work with our field technicians," Wolf said.
Duke's nearly 50 sites now generate about 2 gigawatts of electricity annually.
That ranks Duke Energy Renewables about sixth nationally. Competitors include other utilities and alternative energy specialists.
The subsidiary does NOT sell to parent Duke Energy, in part because of rules that limit what the Duke Energy Renewables can charge its sister-company. Basically, these rules prohibit Duke from hiking rates based on the energy it buys from another company it owns.
"The franchise side of Duke, the utility side, has already invested a lot in solar, and we've got plenty of growth opportunities elsewhere, and we've kept them separate," Wolf said.
Wolf says Duke’s renewable energy business is growing about 20 percent annually, versus 4 to 6 percent for the company overall. After six years, it’s profitable, now generating more than $250 million a year. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the company’s overall annual revenues of more than $25 billion. But Wolf expects the division to contribute more than 100 million to Duke’s overall profits next year.