Last Thursday, the World Affairs Council of Charlotte (WACC) hosted Duke Energy President & CEO Lynn Good in our WACC CEO Speakers Series. Good is a remarkable woman who has risen through the ranks of Duke Energy since joining the company in 2006. She now serves as the President, CEO, and Chairman, an unlikely combination of responsibilities which displays the incredible trust that the company has in her competency and leadership. She spoke on Thursday to a diverse group of WACC attendees, who ranged from high-powered business executives to middle school students from Charlotte Preparatory School.
In her speech, Good highlighted the importance of energy to infrastructure on both the global and local stages. Electricity, she argued, is what makes the world small, and as we continue to globalize and grow, we will have increased needs for energy consumption. However, well over a billion people have no access to electricity and many more lack reliable service, so there is still much work to be done on a global scale. This progress, she believes, will be have to be undertaken “country by country, decade by decade” due to the incredible complexity of growing economies and booming populations. She pointed to India, Africa, and China as the focal points for the next global wave of industrialization and infrastructure-building. China, as she pointed out to the audience, has almost doubled its energy production in the last decade and is projected to continue at this breakneck pace for the foreseeable future.
Renewable energy was also a major topic of Good’s speech, as she acknowledged the importance of the recent Paris COP21 Climate Change Conference, but she also warned that environmental responsibility “goes far beyond” Paris. Just as she believes the expansion of global energy infrastructure must be undertaken country by country, so too must the move towards renewable and environmentally-friendly means of energy production. In the United States specifically–due to the lack of a national energy policy–this progress must happen on an even smaller level, state by state, and that means much of the responsibility for North Carolina lies with Duke Energy itself. As Good, described it, they are responsible for running the “ground game” and determining what our country’s vision for the future of energy production is.
Twenty-seven percent of Duke’s energy generation in North Carolina is carbon-free, and, as Good told us, the company has reduced carbon emissions by 22% since 2005. Solar, wind. nuclear, and natural gas are all options the company is pursuing to reduce dependence on coal plants. Duke has invested over five billion dollars in researching and developing these forms of renewable energy, with one billion invested in North Carolina alone. Perhaps because of this investment, North Carolina has the 4th-largest solar production of any state, as Good proudly informed the attendees.
However, there are many inherent difficulties that are involved with a shift towards renewable energy. Duke Energy, as Good remarked, has been the main economic driver in the greater Charlotte area since it was founded over 100 years ago to power textile mills on the Catawba river. Duke Energy’s main concern is providing reliable, affordable service to its customers, and this requires them to maintain a diverse portfolio of energy sources. Solar power, for example, cannot be relied upon to deliver energy during the peak time of energy production, which, according to Good, is 7:15 in the morning.
The main thrust of Good’s speech was that Duke Energy must seek a balance of reliability, affordability, and environmental consciousness in their future maintenance and expansion of their utility services. As the largest provider of energy utilities in the US, much of our country’s energy policies will be affected by Duke Energy. However, Good is a leader who projects an air of assured confidence and competence. She seems eager to tackle to energy challenges of the upcoming decades, and if her speech on Thursday was any indication, she is certainly the right person for the job.
Summarized by Kevin John Cammarn, senior at Middlebury College (Spring 2016 WACC intern)