Duke Energy sets sights on net-zero carbon by 2050

Company’s updated carbon goals increase need for new technology, innovation

Duke Energy is speeding up its effort to reduce climate change with a new goal to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation to net-zero by 2050.

Most Americans are concerned about climate change and want it to be a priority, and Duke Energy's customers want cleaner energy. The company has been reducing carbon emissions for more than a decade and announced the new target Sept. 17.

Since 2005, Duke Energy has cut carbon emissions 31 percent, more than the electric industry average. The company also sped up its goal for cutting emissions by 2030 from 40 percent (one of the industry's most ambitious) to at least 50 percent. 

“It’s important to commit to more now to set the wheels in motion for the future,” said Vicky Sullivan, the company’s environmental policy lead for climate and air issues.

Sullivan explained how the company will achieve those goals:

Duke Energy sees the need for more progress

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Duke Energy has made North Carolina second in the nation in solar energy.

The reduction Duke Energy has already achieved meets or exceeds the standards of the former Clean Power Plan and the 2025 U.S. commitment to the Paris agreement. The company has achieved this by adding renewables – including reaching 4 gigawatts of solar capacity – retiring coal units and replacing them with cleaner natural gas.

Sullivan said the company’s goal is to get as close to zero carbon emissions as possible by 2050. With evolving technologies such as carbon capture, there are likely to be some residual CO2 emissions, so the company will evaluate the need for offsets or credits in later years as needed to be net-zero.

Timelines will vary in Duke Energy’s service areas

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Initiatives vary in the states Duke Energy serves.

Each state has different generation mixes and different regulations. Stakeholders and the public utilities commissions that regulate decisions about how we serve customers are critical in our ability to achieve a low-carbon future.

“We know our customers want clean energy at an affordable price, so we want to allow time for good dialogue among regulators, customers, communities, shareholders and us as we work toward this common goal,” Sullivan said.

Our products and initiatives will continue to be customized in each state. In Indiana, for example, we’re offering a new solar leasing program, while in South Carolina, customers can share solar

Diverse energy sources and a modern grid protect reliability and affordability

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The McGuire Nuclear Station and nuclear power are keys to a diverse energy mix.

The strategy includes doubling the company's portfolio of solar, wind and other renewables by 2025. Natural gas and existing nuclear will be critical as coal units are phased out.

While we’ll continue to develop more renewables, solar is not available all the time, and some of our regulated footprint doesn’t align with wind-rich geographic areas, she noted. That makes energy storage all the more important. Our multiyear effort to improve the grid also supports more renewables, reduces outages from extreme weather and provides customers with more control over their energy use.

Innovation is promoted through investment and policy

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Duke Energy is building 22 megawatts of battery storage in Florida alone.

The company expects to achieve substantial reductions in carbon emissions with today’s technology, but will need new technologies to achieve net zero. “What we’re talking about here are technology breakthroughs,” she said.

These include longer-lasting energy storage (months rather than hours), commercial-scale and cost-effective carbon capture and storage, and new nuclear technologies. We hope these technologies – and perhaps others – will fill the need for dispatchable, load-following carbon-free generation that supplements renewables in later years. Until then, gas infrastructure remains part of our diverse energy mix for flexible and affordable electricity, and it helps balance the fluctuating output of renewables.

Duke Energy is already leading the industry deployment of battery technology with an innovation hub and several substantial storage projects. We will continue to advance other innovation through policy support and investments.

All sectors will need to participate to achieve global change

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From Charlotte, N.C., technicians use special software to monitor thousands of megawatts of renewable energy across the country.

The electric sector is responsible for nearly 80% of U.S. carbon dioxide reductions. The transportation sector now emits more CO2 annually in the U.S. than the electric power sector. This means we’ve got opportunities to help our customers and communities reach their sustainability goals as well. That includes developing new energy efficiency products and services, shared solar and other renewable programs like Green Source Advantage, and expanding electric vehicle infrastructure.

“All in all, this is an incredibly exciting and dynamic time to be in the energy business,” Sullivan said. “As more and more utilities, regulators and communities grapple with how to make decisions to address climate change, we’ll have to collaborate on R&D investments, policies and regulatory models that navigate this new reality.”

For more details on Duke Energy's low-carbon path, see news release and duke-energy.com/climate.