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In 1954, a Southern Company engineer named Donald Early tackled a problem: How to
calculate the most economic electric generation to dispatch to customers at a given moment in time. Early’s solution was an entirely new device, known as the “Early Bird,” that quickly captured the attention of utilities from around the world. The newfangled contraption saved money for customers and set a new standard of efficiency for power generation networks.
Early is part of a proud Southern Company tradition–men and women who overcome
challenges by thinking in new and different ways. Our employees helped develop the
lightning arrester and the unit substation; invented transmission clamps that enable crews to work on energized power lines; and pioneered backwater suppression systems that help hydro dams operate more efficiently.
Throughout the decades, Southern Company has invented, designed and engineered its way past the obstacles it faced. And beginning in the late 1960s, we turned our attention to an issue of growing public concern–the environmental impact of power plant emissions.
In the late 1960s, Americans became increasingly concerned about the impact of industrial processes on the environment. Included in this debate was the question of power plant emissions.
As usual, Southern Company acted quickly, establishing a comprehensive environmental research and development organization. Right away, the team started focusing on the main issue: How to derive the maximum amount of fuel from coal while reducing the level of byproducts it leaves behind.
One possible solution was to develop a method for transforming the substance into liquid form and reducing the sulfur content. That effort started researchers down a path that would one day lead to the next revolutionary step in coal technology–the efficient conversion of coal into gas.
Today, that process–called Transport Integrated Gasification, or TRIG™–is scheduled to make its U.S. debut in 2014 at Mississippi Power’s new coal-fired facility in Kemper County, Miss. The new plant is expected to operate with a carbon footprint comparable to a similarly sized natural gas plant and capture at least 65 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions.
Meanwhile, our system is increasing its use of other fuels, including natural gas and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. And we continue to reduce traditional coal-fired emissions–more than 70 percent since 1990, with an investment of more than $8 billion.
For nearly 40 years, Southern Company has been helping customers learn better and more efficient ways to use energy. Today, we’re reaching out in new and different ways–through social media, for instance–with ideas and suggestions for increasing the value of our product to those it serves.
Along the way, we’ve reduced peak demand by more than 3,900 megawatts through formal energy-efficiency programs–and we’ve committed to reducing another 1,000 megawatts between 2010 and 2020, at a projected cost of $1 billion. In 2012, we conducted more than 128,000 energy audits for homes and businesses in our service territories–a longstanding
practice that’s helped us reduce overall demand by more than 1.6 billion kilowatt-hours since 2000.
We’re also leveraging technology to make our transmission and distribution systems more efficient–installing “smart” devices that help speed information to system operators and reduce response times when outages occur. Systems like this improve reliability, and can even prevent outages from happening in the first place. Meanwhile, 4.4 million new smart meters are helping customers use energy more wisely.