Growing Solar in North Carolina

Solar power's role in a clean energy future
Released by: Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center

With sunlight on almost 250 days a year, solar energy is a real energy option for North Carolina.  Based on rate of growth in solar installations experienced in other states and countries, North Carolina can install enough solar power over the next two decades to supply 2 percent of the state’s electricity by 2020, and 14 percent by 2030.

North Carolinians have already started tapping into the state’s solar potential with new solar farms like the one in Cary, new solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses across the state, and the world’s largest solar heating and cooling installation in Fletcher.  In 2008, North Carolina’s installed solar capacity grew more than six fold, from 0.7 to 4.7 megawatts (MW).

North Carolina can continue this momentum and build its solar industry to become one of the state’s primary sources of electricity over the next two decades.

Using more solar power will reduce North Carolina’s global warming emissions and make the state’s air cleaner.  Solar power could also create jobs and boost manufacturing in North Carolina.  Putting policies in place to support solar power will allow North Carolina to start reaping these benefits today.

By 2020 North Carolina could install enough solar power to supply more than 2 percent of the state’s projected electricity use; by 2030 solar power could supply 14 percent of North Carolina’s electricity.

  • North Carolina’s installed solar power could increase from 4.7 MW to over 30 MW by the end of 2010 through plans for solar installations that have already been announced.
  • If North Carolina’s installed solar power grew at the same rate from 2010-2020 that California’s has for the past 10 years, increasing 54 percent a year, solar power would supply over 2 percent of the state’s projected electricity use.
  • Even if the growth in installed solar power in North Carolina slowed down significantly after 2020 to a 20 percent yearly increase, solar power would supply over 14 percent of the state’s projected electricity use by 2030.
  • North Carolina could install over 100,000 solar roofs by 2020, and 700,000 by 2030, assuming that at least 50 percent of the installed solar power is on rooftops.

Solar power is good for the environment and is an increasingly practical way to meet North Carolina’s energy needs.

  • Solar power produces no global warming emissions.  Getting a significant portion of its electricity from solar power would drastically reduce North Carolina’s contribution to global warming.
  • Solar power produces no air pollution.  Using more solar power will clean up North Carolina’s air, reducing emergency room visits, childhood asthma, and deaths from lung disease.
  • The cost of solar power has dropped 80 percent since 1980, and is expected to be cost competitive with other sources of electricity by 2015.

Increasing the market for solar power in North Carolina could make the state a leader in the regional solar power industry, creating jobs and boosting the state economy.

  • Installing one megawatt of solar power creates nine times as many jobs as installing one megawatt of coal or gas power.
  • North Carolina has the technological and intellectual resources to lead on solar, with our public and private universities employing some of the nation’s leading innovators and experts on solar technology, and a number of existing and emerging technological hubs such as Research Triangle Park.
  • North Carolina already has a budding solar industry.  Last year, the state was among the top 10 states in the country for new solar energy installations. And there are already over 45 solar installers, dealers, and project developers in North Carolina.
  • Solar companies nurtured in North Carolina’s technological hubs, and encouraged by the growing industry, are already emerging and creating jobs in the state.  Sencera, for example, plans to build a plant in Charlotte to manufacture the thin film solar panels it has been developing.  This plant will employ 65 workers in Mecklenburg County.  And Semprius, headquartered near Research Triangle Park in Durham, is developing a new semiconductor technology to make solar panels more efficient and inexpensive.

North Carolina should enact policies that allow the state to realize its solar potential. These policies include:

  • Help businesses and individuals finance solar power installations by enabling buyers to pay for their investment over time in property tax assessments.
  • Allow solar companies to lease solar power systems to home and business owners, enabling them to use solar power without paying the upfront costs.
  • Bring net metering policies up to standard and ensure that home and business owners with solar panels are fairly compensated for the electricity they produce by removing the extra charges utilities impose on businesses that install large solar PV systems, and allowing all net metering customers to keep their renewable energy credits.
  • Adopt feed-in rates that set fair and predictable prices for solar electricity produced.
  • Require solar power to be included or provided as an option on new houses.
  • Require all of the solar power that counts towards North Carolina’s renewable energy standard be produced in state.
  • Reinstate the renewable energy manufacturing tax credit.