Thermostats that measure a person's kilowatt usage and then report it upon request are among the "smart tools" being tested by Progress Energy Carolinas, a Raleigh-based company that serves customers in two states. The company has customers in Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties. It recently filed new energy-efficiency plans in North Carolina and South Carolina, both aimed at meeting the demands of the market and of the law.
"Our customers are telling us they want to be greener and we need to be greener to meet what is in front of us," Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes said. "New homes have gotten 50 percent bigger over the last 30 years and the gadgets available to us have certainly grown."
North Carolina legislators have required power companies, by 2021, to get at least 12.
5 percent of the energy they sell from renewable resources or through conservation programs.
"It's a multifaceted issue, really," Hughes said. "We are serving more customers and those customers are using more watts than they would have in the 1970s, but at the same time, they are more environmentally conscious. We are at an energy crossroad, an we are responding to that."
Company officials have developed what they call a balanced approach to offering greener energy. They are focusing on changing customer behavior, seeking alternative and renewable energy and upgrading old power plants ahead of building new ones.
"We know we'll have to build new power plants eventually," Progress spokesman Dan Oliver said.
"That's just the reality when you go from serving 660,000 customers in 1975 to serving 1.4 million of them now. But it's an expensive, long-term undertaking and we know that it makes sense to put off doing that as long as possible."
The company has launched a Save the Watts campaign, along with a Web site of the same name, offering customers tips to trim their power use and their bills. Progress Energy has also recently put out requests for proposals on "environmentally friendly technology" including solar and wind-energy programs and plans for turning animal waste into fuel.
"Honestly, we do not know what's out there that's both reliable and competitive when it comes to biofuel," Hughes said.
"We'll probably find that some things that work on a smaller scale just won't meet large-scale demands, but right now, we're wide open."