Growing Solar in North Carolina
Solar Power's Role in a Clean Energy Future

Executive Summary

Solar power is a real energy option for North Carolina, blessed with sunlight on nearly 250 days per year. North Carolina could replace at least 22 percent of its current electricity use with solar power by installing solar panels and solar hot water heaters on residential and commercial rooftops and by building utility-scale solar installations on barren land.

North Carolinians have already started tapping into the state’s solar energy reserves 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).

Solar energy can become a major source of electricity for North Carolina in the next two decades. Based on the rate of growth in solar installations achieved in other states and countries, North Carolina can install enough solar power to supply 2 percent of the state’s electricity by 2020 and 14 percent by 2030.

Using more solar power would reduce North Carolina’s contribution to global warming and make the state’s air cleaner. More solar power would 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.

North Carolina has the technical potential to install at least 22 gigawatts (GW) of solar power, which would supply 21.6 percent of its current electricity use.
• Installing photovoltaic panels on all rooftop suitable space on residential and commercial buildings would yield 15 GW of solar power capacity, producing enough electricity to supply 15.1 percent of the state’s electricity.
• Rooftop solar potential will increase over time along with construction of additional buildings and improvement in solar panel technology.
• Building utility-scale solar installations on all barren land, excluding protected land, could result in 6.5 GW of installed solar power, producing enough electricity to supply 6.5 percent of North Carolina’s needs.
• North Carolina has additional potential for solar power on the roofs of industrial and public buildings, parking lots, brownfields, highway medians, and other available land.

Solar hot water systems could reduce North Carolina’s residential and commercial natural gas consumption by 8.2 percent and total electricity use in the state by 1.5 percent.
• Installing solar hot water systems on 40 percent of residential rooftops and 60 percent of commercial buildings would save about 1.9 million MWh of electricity and 8.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
• Combining electricity generated from solar panels and electricity saved from solar hot water systems, North Carolina has the potential to replace 22.0 percent of the state’s current electricity use with solar power.

By 2020, North Carolina could install enough solar power to supply more than 2 percent of the state’s projected electricity use, rising to 14 percent by 2030.
• If all currently announced solar projects are completed, North Carolina’s solar power capacity could increase from 4.7 MW to more than 30 MW by the end of 2010.
• After 2010, if North Carolina’s solar market grows at the same rate that California’s has for the past decade, increasing 54 percent a year, solar power would supply over 2 percent of the state’s projected electricity use by 2020.
• 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.
• At these rates, North Carolina could install more than 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 help clean up North Carolina’s air and reduce 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 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 should:
• 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.
• 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 to be produced in state.
• Reinstate the renewable energy manufacturing tax credit.