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Under investor pressure, Duke Energy issues climate report

Responding to shareholder pressure, Duke Energy is releasing today a climate-change report that sketches a drastically changed electricity mix in a carbon-constrained future.

Why it matters: As one of America’s largest utilities, its speculation on this front is a bellwether for how the country’s electricity mix may change in the decades ahead. Duke provides electricity to more than seven million customers in the Carolinas, the Midwest and Florida.

Gritty details: It outlines a 2050 scenario where the world has taken steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level consistent with keeping global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius. That’s the big ambition of the 2015 Paris climate deal, but the current commitments aren’t close to reaching that.

Duke’s 2017 → 2050 generation mix:

  • Coal: 34% → zero.
  • Renewables (wind, hydropower and solar): 1% → 23%.
  • Natural gas: stays at about one-third.
  • Nuclear: stays at about one-third. This relies on an assumption that federal regulators grant Duke additional operating licenses to allow their existing reactors to run 80 years. That’s never happened before, though several companies are seeking such approvals.
  • The report creates a new, vague category called “new load following, zero emitting” technologies, which accounts for 13% of its mix by 2050. This is a catch-all for low-carbon resources not widely available today, like carbon capture technology and advanced nuclear power.

One more thing: The report pushes back against a growing number of activists and companies calling for 100% renewable energy. Duke cites the lack of storage technology and the intermittency of solar and wind as reasons they can’t reach that level. For example:

“On our system, we’re seeing more peaking and high demand days in our winter months when solar output is very low and there is not currently technology to allow us to move solar output we may have on our sunny June day to January.”
— Cari Boyce, Duke's vice president of policy, sustainability and stakeholder strategy
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