Duke Energy Proposes Microgrid At National Park

North Carolina-based Duke Energy has proposed installing a microgrid to serve a remote communications tower in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Located atop Mt. Sterling in Haywood County, N.C., the proposed project would combine a 10 kW solar installation with a Fluidic 95 kWh zinc-air energy storage battery at the site and ultimately provide all the energy needs for the tower. The tower is currently served by a single overhead electric line.

Duke Energy says that because the tower provides emergency communications for the park, the ability to operate independently from the energy grid is important to park communications. Details on the proposed project were recently filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC).

“This project would allow us to take advantage of renewable energy resources to serve a customer’s distinct need in a less expensive and more reliable way,” comments Robert Sipes, Duke Energy’s Western North Carolina regional general manager.

If the project is completed as proposed, Duke Energy says it would disconnect the facility from the energy grid and would no longer need to maintain the existing overhead electric line. About 13 acres of park land currently maintained as a utility corridor could be allowed to return to a natural state, the company says.

Duke Energy notes it has conducted a number of microgrid research projects, but this would be the company’s first microgrid outside the research realm. A microgrid is a collection of generation sources that operate separately from the energy grid – giving customers greater security and reliability, according to the company.

As a participant in the Climate Friendly Parks program, Great Smoky Mountains National Park belongs to a network of parks nationwide that are putting climate-friendly behavior at the forefront of sustainability planning.

“Although the National Park Service (NPS) will not make a decision about issuing a right-of-way agreement or authorizing construction of the solar-powered system until National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act compliance are complete, the park is pleased to be considered for this project, which could support the sustainability initiative,” says Park Superintendent Cassius Cash.

The project is subject to NCUC and NPS approval. If approved, construction could begin in early 2017, with the goal to be operational by the middle of the year.


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