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Former Duke Energy CEO Sees Brighter And Cleaner World Ahead

More than 1.2 billion people in the world live without electricity. Former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers wants that figure to change. After a career at the helm of the largest electric power company in the United States, he is determined to bring power to developing countries.

He proposes his plan in a new book, "Lighting the World" (St. Martin’s Press/2015). Rogers says part of the solution in the developing world, as well as in the United States, lies in renewable energy sources. In North Carolina, Rogers calls for an increase in solar energy.

Host Frank Stasio talks with former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers about his book, his idea to power the world and his thoughts on the future of energy.

Former Duke Energy CEO, President and Chairman Jim Rogers is a big proponent of renewable energy. Despite a career leading a company that relies mainly on fossil fuels, Rogers says solar energy will be a key part of the world’s future in power.

In an interview with The State of Things host Frank Stasio, Rogers confessed that no energy source is perfect in terms of affordability, reliability and cleanliness. 

“The issue to me is not whether you have solar, it’s how it fits in the mix along with everything else,” Rogers says.

North Carolina was the first state in the Southeast to require utilities like Duke Energy to generate a certain portion of power from renewable energy sources. The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) mandates 10 percent of sales in 2018 must be renewable energy. The requirement increases to 12.5 percent in 2021.

A bill passed by the House this year would reduce the standards to six percent in 2018 and then halt the program altogether. The measure is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Rogers says legislators proposing to stop REPS are too short-sighted.  

“It would be a mistake in North Carolina to freeze the renewable portfolio standard where it is,” Rogers says. “Because we have the right government support, we’ve been able to really accelerate the deployment of solar in this state. That should not be stopped.”

Proponents of the standards elimination say the costs associated with renewable energy are too high. Replacing current infrastructure with resources that produce renewable energy is cost-prohibitive relative to nonrenewable energy sources.

“For solar providers and wind providers to compete against such low costs is tough,” Rogers says. “It’s easy to compete in California where the price is high. Easier to compete in New York where the prices are high, but difficult to compete in North Carolina.”

But Rogers says most power plants in the state will be need to be replaced. As that occurs, companies will have to consider if the cost of installing solar technology as a replacement is a worthy investment.

Lighting The World

Renewables play a big role in the future of America’s power, but they also are vital to electrifying the world. Rogers’ new book, “Lighting The World,” explores his ideas on how to bring power to 1.2 billion people who live in rural areas of low-income countries.

“I believe that solar electricity will be cheaper than building huge central station plants, transmission lines and distributions,” Rogers says. “It matches perfectly with capability to pay because you can scale up solar technologies as people get on a trajectory of increasing earning capability and increasing power needs.”

The electricity model in the United State uses central power plants with lines running out to different areas — an inefficient model for rural areas. Instead, Rogers envisions smaller-scale microgrids intended to power remote villages on its own. Solar power could provide a sustainable way to power those microgrids in hard-to-reach areas.

In his plan, governments would create franchises in rural areas. But governments often lack the funding to support franchises financially so those would be auctioned off to private companies with capital.

On government funding, Rogers says an ideal plan is complex. 

“They subsidize kerosene or they subsidize power,” Rogers says. “They make it more difficult to import the equipment to provide solar. They put tariffs on it to make it more expensive.”

Rogers acknowledges the lofty goals will take decades, billions of dollars and endless human desire to complete. It requires collaboration between governments and the private sector, he says.

Still, Rogers is optimistic.

“My belief is it’s going to take time, it’s going to take capital, it’s going to take different business models, but we can do it, and we need to do it,” Rogers says. “Think about how many Thomas Edisons, how many Steve Jobs, how many Bill Gates that are in the 1.2 billion people and how they could transform our life.” 

Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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