'Make it better': Solar energy could be solution to keeping your power on during future storms

Josh Chapin Image
Friday, January 6, 2023
Solar energy could be solution to keep power on during future storms
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'Make it better'

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Jennifer Crowley is one of the lucky ones. She only lost power in her Broadway community in Lee County for an hour on Christmas weekend and that is because she lives up the street from a fire station.

"If we're paying this much money for electricity, beef up your system, make it better," Crowley said. "It was not as long as other people's but it's still kind of scary. You have to drag the generator out and no one wants to do that when it's 10 degrees."

Duke Energy said frigid temperatures, malfunctioning power plants and other states dealing with the same; unable to send electricity here, all contributed to what went wrong during the holiday weekend.

It's also why temporary outages had to happen.

"It's a very challenging set of circumstances," said former State Senator Floyd McKissick. "It was unprecedented cold weather, high winds and load setting is a practice commonly used in the utility business."

McKissick is on the North Carolina Utilities Commission which questioned Duke Energy executives this week. He said Duke Energy must do three things: improve their notification system, improve their models used for predicting energy demand, and go in and correct equipment that malfunctions during extreme cold.

"One thing we know is that climates are going to extremes so even though the model didn't predict what happened this time, next time it could be worse," McKissick said.

Richard Harkrader owns the Person County Solar Park off 501 and Crown Boulevard in Timberlake. Normally he's part of the Duke grid and his solar panels provide electricity to the area.

He thinks Duke could've done better.

"I admit they were in chaos and scrambling to get things done and they had to call people in and work all night long," he said.

Harkrader said without explanation Duke Energy turned off the panels during the height of the storm. He called in the area and normally they have to do that because lines are down in the area.

"They had people working on the lines and then they do need to turn these off, so people don't get hurt but that wasn't the situation here," he said.

Duke Energy has a slightly different version from Richard.

They said solar wasn't available to them when they had to make the decision about the temporary outages, but they added it to the mix where they could when it got later in the day.

There's already another kind of technology in place at these solar farms. Think of a battery that collects energy during a surplus so it can be used when there is no sun.

Duke said that kind of storage will be important to managing demand on the grid moving forward.