Raleigh, NC – Over the last few years North Carolina has emerged as a national leader in solar power. But according to a new report by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center titled “Lighting The Way,” the story might not be as bright as often told. While North Carolina ranks fourth for solar installation in terms of overall capacity, the state ranks tenth per capita, behind cloudier states like New Jersey and Massachusetts. The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy to help capture the virtually unlimited and pollution-free energy from the sun.
North Carolina’s solar capacity more than doubled in in 2014, bringing the total capacity to 557 megawatts. Growth in the number of large scale “solar farms” built across the state is mostly responsible for the increase. North Carolina lags behind other leaders in residential and commercial rooftop systems installed.
“Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option here in North Carolina which exciting,” said Dave Rogers, field director with Environment North Carolina. “But there is so much more we can do. Solar panels on every possible rooftop means pollution-free power that will never run out. Solar power can also play a key role in North Carolina’s fight against global warming and meeting the requirements in the Clean Power Plan.”
Solar in the United States increased more than 120-fold in the last 10 years. In the first quarter of 2014, solar energy accounted for 74 percent of all the new electric generation capacity installed in the United States.
And as the solar industry grows, the cost for installed solar decreases, making it more accessible. The price of installed solar systems fell 60 percent between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2013. Jobs in the solar industry are also growing rapidly. In 2013, there were more than 140,000 solar jobs in the U.S., including 3,100 in North Carolina.
Another major driver for solar energy is that it produces no pollution; including climate-altering carbon emissions. According the report, solar power produces 96 percent less global warming pollution than coal-fired power plants over its entire life-cycle and 91 percent less global warming pollution than natural gas-fired power plants.
The report recommends several policies adopted by other leading solar states that would help more North Carolina homeowners and businesses to “go solar:”
- Enable third-party sales of electricity. Financing rooftop solar energy systems through third-party electricity sales significantly lowers the up-front cost of installing solar PV systems for consumers. The state should allow companies that install solar panels to sell electricity to their customers without subjecting them to the same regulations as large public utilities, such as Duke Energy.
- Improve the state’s net metering laws. Net metering helps ensure that small commercial or residential customers are fairly compensated for the solar electricity that they produce. Investor-owned utilities should be required to reduce “standby fees” to encourage large commercial customers to install solar panels, and co-op and municipal utilities should be required to offer net metering to their customers.
- Defend and strengthen the state’s renewable energy standard to require utilities to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and to increase requirements for solar energy production. The state should also require all of the solar power that counts towards North Carolina’s renewable energy standard to be produced within the state.
“Solar is shining brightly in North Carolina,” said Rogers. “But we have so much more potential. We look forward to working with North Carolina’s leaders to put solar on top of every possible home, school and business.”