Solar more important than wind: Duke CEO

NORTH CAROLINA - Utilities have a tough job in picking which expensive, relatively unproven renewable energy technology to place their chips on.

Solar and wind power get about equal face-time in the news, trailed by smaller contenders like geothermal, but which gets the most press isn’t necessarily a good indicator of which will be most successful.

On the American west coast, PG&E and Southern California Edison have more or less settled their bets on solar power. Now it sounds like the east coast’s biggest utility, Duke Energy, is equally bullish on solar.

Clean Technology Investor reports on an interview with Duke’s CEO, Jim Rogers:

Rogers said that even though Duke has made large investments in wind energy, “wind will be a very small portion [of U.S. energy use] relative to solar.” Specifically, he favors the advantages of distributed solar photovoltaic generation….

Rogers said that he expects distributed solar photovoltaic generation to be the leading renewable energy resource in the U.S. in the future, taking over wind’s current position.

On the subject of carbon-capture and storage, Rogers called himself a “realist.” “There’s some possibility [CCS] might not work,” Rogers said, or that it might not be cheap enough.

The difference between Duke and a utility like PG&E is mostly land availability. Where the west offers plenty of wide open spaces and deserts for giant solar thermal projects, the east is more densely populated and has few open areas that aren’t protected, so smaller solar power deployments will be easier to pull off.

Unfortunately, there’s also a second difference: Duke’s customer base is less accepting of higher power bills. Combine that with the relatively higher cost of solar panels, and it could be years before there’s significant solar power in Duke’s operating area.

In fact, Duke already lost one fight to go ahead with a $50 million solar project in North Carolina, backing out earlier this year with the complaint that local regulators wouldn’t let it fund the program the way it wanted to. It had already reduced it before, from $100 million. (Update: Duke writes to say that they resolved the issue and are proceeding with the $50m plan.) Without significant changes in policy, Duke is likely to stay just where it is at the moment, fighting to keep burning coal.



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