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Graham Givens,
Environment North Carolina

Commercial Rooftop Solar Vast Untapped Resource

Panels on shopping centers could increase solar power by 10-fold,
For Immediate Release

Charlotte, NC— On the heels of recent reports that solar power is growing in North Carolina, a new analysis from Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center demonstrates that commercial buildings in the state are a largely untapped resource for harnessing the power of the sun. The report, “Solar on Superstores,” shows how rooftop panels at shopping malls and big-box stores could increase solar capacity in the state by more than ten-fold.

 “It’s great that North Carolina is already among the leaders in the country when it comes to solar. But we have so much more potential,” said Graham Givens, Environment North Carolina Clean Energy Associate. “North Carolina should be a place where solar panels cover every possible home, business and store. Taking advantage of the mostly unused roof space on large commercial buildings like big box stores just makes sense.

Large commercial buildings, such as “big box” retail stores, supercenters and shopping malls in North Carolina are perfect locations for solar power due to their mostly flat, vacant roofs that are almost always fully exposed to the sun. Using available data to calculate the amount of available space for solar panels on commercial roofs and the amount of probable sunlight, the report finds that North Carolina could add more than 3,000 MW of rooftop solar PV capacity and offset the annual energy use of these building by as much as 60%.

That much solar power would equal roughly 9 percent of the state’s energy use. Currently, less than .5% of the state’s energy comes from the sun.

Stores across the country are already taking advantage of the benefits that solar can provide. Here in North Carolina, Admark Graphic Systems, Inc. has recently installed a 178 kW system to offset its energy use and provide cost saving electricity on hot summer days when the building’s air conditioning places a significant strain on the grid.

“Admark Graphics has already taken significant steps to go green and installing solar panels was just one more step in continuing our efforts”, said Larry Sloop, President of Admark Graphic Systems, Inc. “Solar has cut our energy cost by 50% with a double digit return on our investment annually. We’re excited to see what continued savings we can earn.”  

Solar power not only benefits the stores themselves and the grid overall, but can provide necessary jobs and a boost to the local economy. According to a release last week from the Solar Foundation, North Carolina more than doubled the number of people working in the solar industry; adding more than 1,700 jobs in 2013.  

"More rooftop solar projects like the one at Admark mean more revenue which will allow us to hire more employees”, said Clay Hartman, COO for Argand Energy Solutions. “Every open rooftop that you see when you drive around this great state represents an opportunity to create jobs and secure energy independence for our state. Argand looks forward to the day when solar has gone mainstream and most of the rooftops in NC have been converted into income generating assets."

The report highlights additional steps the state can take to encourage solar development, including allowing third-party sales, which would permit companies that install solar panels to sell the power directly to the store owners.

Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center, like Duke Energy last month, also criticized the state’s net metering laws. But while Duke officials told lawmakers they wanted to charge customers who put solar on their roofs more, the advocacy group said the program should be expanded and the current charges should be less.

“Investor-owned utilities should be required to reduce ‘standby fees’ that deter consumers from installing solar panels, and co-op and municipal utilities should be required to offer net metering to their customers,” according to the report. 

“The time to take advantage of this vast resource is now. Let’s power North Carolina with a homegrown source of energy that doesn’t pollute our environment and never runs out.” said Givens. 

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