Regarding the McAlpine initiative, rather than test a microgrid per se, Duke is more interested in learning how to improve its response to outages, store energy for off-peak use, seamlessly integrate new technologies, and operate a more intelligent grid. About 16,000 residents participate in various ways, in some cases volunteering to have their power curtailed during peak periods in exchange for credits to bills. Duke uses the lessons it learns from the McAlpine project to make improvements to its larger, multi-state power grid.
To reach customers online, Duke launched a blog last year called "Youtility" that features clever energy-saving tips, such as recipes that don't require appliances and the best ways to save on heating and water usage while bathing (take showers, not baths, and buy a low-flow showerhead).
Rounding out Duke's portfolio, the utility has invested in a range of technologies, from smart meters to smart cities. The company has installed more than 600,000 smart meters in Ohio to replace outdated units often located inside homes, although it's holding off for now on upgrading meters in the other states it serves—the Carolinas, Kentucky, and Indiana—because those devices are not as old and still functional.
In China, Duke is advising ENN, the country's leading clean energy company, on ways to power a planned eco city in Langfang, near Beijing, sharing tips on subjects such as solar, community battery storage, and energy generation from swine waste, and culling valuable lessons. "The sharing is very beneficial, especially around energy storage and solar," Miller says.
In what might be a first for a regulated utility, Duke's McAlpine experiment has morphed into a minor tourist attraction. As the neighborhood began to attract curious visitors, Duke added a walking path and informational kiosk for school groups, locals, and intrepid travelers interested in learning more about the futuristic technology that dots the neighborhood.