The company will construct a 50-kilowatt array of solar panels at its McAlpine Switching Station in south Charlotte and also will install a battery capable of storing up to 2,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Duke Energy spokesman Dave Scanzoni says the company hopes to roll out the pilot program by spring and have it in full swing when cool weather starts in the fall.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved the program on March 9, 2009.

The objective of the program is to lessen residential energy consumption by refining and controlling the use of power. It also will help Duke Energy determine how to integrate small solar generators and energy-storage technologies to reduce peak demand and improve reliability.

Customers can fine-tune their energy use themselves or allow Duke to do so according to options the customers set.

Duke declines to say how much the yearlong pilot program will cost. Participating customers will receive incentives of up to $10 on each monthly bill, in addition to any energy savings the program produces.

The program combines technologies that are key to several initiatives of Charlotte-based Duke Energy Corp. Save-A-Watt, smart grid and rooftop solar panels. It builds on a much more limited pilot program involving 33 Duke customers in Cincinnati.

Duke may also install smaller solar panels and storage batteries at residences and at sites along the McAlpine station’s local grid.

The small storage batteries could also facilitate Duke learn more about how it might be able to use batteries from plug-in electric vehicles as a source of stored energy. That could ease peak-time energy demand and reduce the need peak generating plants.

And the company expects the program will demonstrate ways Duke can improve the efficiency of its grid operations by losing less energy before power gets to home meters.

The program can be tried in south Charlotte because it is one of the few areas in the Carolinas that has interactive smart meters. Those meters provide the customer and the utility substantial information about how energy is utilized after it goes through the meter. And it enables for a more finely tuned control of energy use.

The program will aim for the four or five largest energy-consuming appliances within a residence. Typically, those items account for about 90% of the power consumed by a customer. Such appliances consists the heating and air-conditioning system, clothes dryers, pool pumps and entertainment centers, particularly those with high-end plasma televisions.

Once the high-consumption systems are recognized, Duke will provides ways to cut their use. Methods to do so could include cycling down air-conditioning units when a house is empty or reducing the power feeding to entertainment centers overnight.

Duke anticipates report results of the program to the commission by the end of 2010. After that, the program could be spread to other parts of Duke’s coverage area, as well as Durham and Chapel Hill.