Duke Energy wants to help Big Tech buy the 24/7 clean energy it needs

Some of the biggest companies in the world have bought renewable electricity for their operations for years — and now crave something more.

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft — all of which have goals to power their operations with clean electricity — have acknowledged that simply buying wind and solar credits isn’t enough. Amazon wants to invest in clean energy projects that maximize emissions reductions. Google and Microsoft have said that, to authentically decarbonize their operations, they need to source enough clean energy to make it through every day and night. This principle applies to society at large: The grid won’t be rid of fossil fuels until it can get reliable, clean electricity at any time of day. The trick is figuring out how to do that in today’s electricity system.

Now mega-utility Duke Energy wants to make it happen. The power provider, which serves 8.4 million customers in the Carolinas and four other states, worked with those tech giants on a novel plan to let large corporate energy consumers purchase higher levels of clean energy than previously available, all the way up to the fabled 24/7 coverage.

Essentially, willing corporations could bankroll Duke’s construction of advanced clean energy technologies to deliver on their advanced climate or 24/7 commitments. For instance, the structure could fund early deployments of long-duration energy storage, like the iron-air battery that Form Energy is commercializing for multiday storage. The mechanism could even deploy small modular nuclear reactors, if that long-simmering technology class manages to clear regulatory approvals and produce a viable commercial product.

Duke rolled out the concept at a late-May White House summit on nuclear energy deployment. The utility plans to submit the plan to regulators in the coming months, starting in the Carolinas, Lon Huber, senior vice president of pricing and customer solutions, told Canary Media.

Duke would work with each customer to determine their desired outcome and what needs to be built, and how soon, to make it happen. In essence, the tech giants will have to nail down how much of a premium they’re willing to pay to deliver on their ambitious climate pledges.

This is coming at a time when tech company climate commitments are colliding with intense new electricity demand to power the AI computing arms race. Utilities are scrambling for new power sources, and some, like Duke, are planning to expand fossil gas generation to meet that need.