Solar Energy

solar
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

North Carolina solar projects are big winners in the U.S. Department of Agriculture loan guarantees for renewable energy projects. In all, the USDA today awarded $43 million worth of loan guarantees to projects scattered across the country. But North Carolina was the big winner, as seven projects here pulled in more than half the total.

US Embassy Canada / Flickr Creative Commons

North Carolina is one of the leading states in solar energy. 

But the recent elimination of some tax credits and the possibility of solar permitting may slow the growth of solar energy in the state. And the Department of Environmental Quality is considering a change to the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards that could affect renewable energy production in the state. 

An image of the cover of "Harness the Sun: America's Quest for a Solar-Powered Future"
Beacon Press / Beacon Press

The use of solar energy is increasing in America, but the renewable energy source is not cost-free. Solar energy provides a cleaner alternative to other energy sources like coal, but still poses a threat to natural habitats and for homeowners who cannot afford initial costs.

The Latest On Paris Climate Change Talks

Dec 10, 2015
Justin Catanoso is covering COP 21 in Paris, where global leaders hope to finalize a universal agreement to fight climate change.
Eric. J. Lyman

Ice caps are melting, ocean levels are rising and coral reefs are dying. The way things are going, some scientists say the world could be unfit for human habitation by the end of century.

All eyes are on Paris right now as world leaders are negotiating an agreement to slow the effects of climate change. A deal is expected by tomorrow, but there are still big issues to resolve between the industrialized and developing nations. 

Faith Community Church
NC Warn

State regulators meet this week to decide whether to expedite the implementation of a new law that would change environmental standards.

It includes a cut to the number of air quality monitors in the state and allows companies to avoid fines if they self-report an environmental violation. 

Jim Rogers is the former CEO, President and Chairman of Duke Energy and wants to bring electricity to the developing world.
Duke Energy

More than 1.2 billion people in the world live without electricity. Former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers wants that figure to change. After a career at the helm of the largest electric power company in the United States, he is determined to bring power to developing countries.

solar
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Solar installation companies are calling on Duke Energy and the General Assembly to continue a tax cut they say is key to their future.

When combined with a 30 percent federal tax break, the state’s 35 percent tax credit has propelled North Carolina to become one of the top four states in the country for installed solar capacity, behind only California, Arizona, and New Jersey.

Solar Panels
Strata Solar

The North Carolina General Assembly is considering legislation to limit the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. Proponents say tax incentives and government mandates for renewable energy are crucial to continued growth in revenue and jobs. 

  Several large companies like Google and Facebook have urged the legislature not to roll back the measures. Opponents say solar businesses costs the state more than they generates and taxpayers end up footing the bill. 

One of Progress Energy's solar energy farms.
Duke Energy/Progress Energy

The General Assembly is caught up in a possible overhaul of the state’s commitment to renewable energy. A bill moving through the state legislature would scale back the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS).

 

REPS are important because they mandate how much renewable energy a company like Duke Energy produces as a part of its total electricity sales.

 

One of Progress Energy's solar energy farms.
Duke Energy/Progress Energy

Energy experts and business executives are in Raleigh today for the State Energy Conference. It's a comprehensive event looking at the future of energy production in North Carolina.

That future could very well include offshore oil exploration. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is in the early stages of possibly selling oil drilling leases off the North Carolina coast.

One of Progress Energy's solar energy farms.
Duke Energy/Progress Energy

Duke Energy has announced yet another solar farm to be built in North Carolina. But this one is unique: it’s the first solar farm the utility company has ever built on a military base.

The Camp Lejeune solar farm will be a 13-megawatt facility that could power as many as 3,000 homes. That is relatively small, when compared to the 65-megawatt Duke Energy facility under construction in Duplin County.

solar
Yes Solar Solutions

The small warehouse and loading area in the back of the Yes! Solar Solutions building in Cary is empty. And that’s a good thing. On this bright, sunny Fall day, it means all the crews are out on jobs, installing solar panels on houses.

Kathy Miller and her husband Stew started the company in 2009, after selling the Primrose Schools of Cary. They could have done almost anything at that point, but decided to throw their future into solar energy.

Turns out, the pre-school business and the solar business aren’t all that different.

Apple solar
Apple

When Apple makes an announcement – any announcement – the world stops and listens. And while it wasn’t a new product launch, when Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke last month ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit, it was a big deal.

“We have a huge data center in Maiden North Carolina,” Cook said. “There were no options to buy renewable energy. Our only way to do that, was to build it.”

seismic testing
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The days of oil rigs off the coast of the Outer Banks is still many years away, if it ever comes. But the state of North Carolina is already making plans that will allow oil companies to use seismic imaging to search for possible oil reserves.

Donald Van der Vaart, the Energy Policy Advisor with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told the North Carolina Energy Policy Council that seismic testing was last done off the coast of North Carolina in the 1980s.

solar panels
Strata Solar

Duke Energy is investing $500 million in solar power generation in North Carolina.

Three new large-scale solar facilities will be built in Bladen, Wilson, and Duplin Counties. The 65 megawatt facility in Duplin will be the largest solar plant east of the Mississippi.

Due to a state law passed in 2007, Duke and other utilities must source at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.

“We choose solar today because solar is the cheapest renewable energy certificate available to us,” said Duke Energy Vice President Rob Caldwell.

Solar Panels
Strata Solar

Strata Solar has constructed more than 60 clean energy projects across North Carolina, and they hosted a ribbon-cutting Thursday.

It’s just another example of how fast the solar sector is growing in the state.

Betsy McCorkle is Director of Government Relations for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.  She says solar represents $1.5 billion in investments across North Carolina, and growing.

Photo: The construction of a solar farm
Brookhaven National Laboratory

Environmental groups say hearings underway in Raleigh could determine whether North Carolina’s solar energy industry continues to grow at a rapid pace.

North Carolina has recently become one of the country’s top solar states. It’s number four, after California, Arizona and New Jersey.

Duke Energy and Dominion Power are required to make or buy certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources, including solar, wind and hog and poultry waste. The state utilities commission is reviewing how much energy companies should have to pay for that energy.

A solar panel, renewable energy
NCSU/CSE

Renewable energy generators have channeled hundreds of millions of kilowatt hours into the North Carolina power grid. That's since the NC GreenPower program was founded 10 years ago.

The initiative collects donations from companies, citizens and utility customers to buy renewable energy and diversify the state's power grid.

NC Solar Center Director Steve Kalland is on the board for NC GreenPower. He said the program has also helped utilities warm up to renewable power providers. 

Yan Liang / Energy Frontier Research Center UNC-Chapel Hill

The Frontier Research Center at UNC-Chapel Hill has built a system that converts solar energy into fuel, so power can be used even after the sun sets.  The US Department of Energy is funding the research.

Instead of storing solar electricity in an expensive battery, researchers use the sun's energy to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.  Two of the Center's papers about the process were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NCSU students study an array of solar panels on top of the NSF FREEDM Systems Center.
Marc Hall / North Carolina State University

The North Carolina Solar Center has become the fifth lab in the country approved to test solar hot water panels to the market standard.

The federal government requires home solar water heating systems to have Solar Rating and Certification Corporation—or SRCC—certification in order to be eligible for a 30-percent tax credit.

The Center has also been recently accredited to test efficiency and calibrate panels according to international standards.

Strata Solar

Policy-makers and business leaders say North Carolina’s economic future relies on energy.

Governor Pat McCrory was one of many speakers and panelists at the North Carolina Chamber's Energy Conference at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham.  McCrory said it’s time to follow the economic recoveries of Ohio, Pennsylvania and the Dakotas.

NCSU students study an array of solar panels on top of the NSF FREEDM Systems Center.
Marc Hall / North Carolina State University

Raleigh might soon have a group-purchasing program that would make it cheaper for residents to install solar panels on their homes. North Carolina Solar Center Director Steve Kalland  says solar power is popular among state utilities. They save money buying the costly technology in bulk. Kalland says homeowners are also interested in using cheaper, greener energy.

"The opportunity to do this has been somewhat constrained in North Carolina because the cost of these smaller-scale projects is somewhat higher than the large-scale projects," Kalland says.

Duke Energy provides electricity for most of North Carolina since the 2012 merger.
Duke Energy

Duke Energy is introducing a program to provide its largest customers with renewable power.   The utility's 'Green Source Rider' initiative would give companies that use large amounts of power an option to use renewable energy in their new or expanded facilities.

Duke Energy will ask participating customers what their new power preference is: wind, solar or some other source.  Spokesman Jeff Brooks says it's then up to the utility to find them ample amounts..

solar panels
Strata Solar

A new six megawatt solar farm is under construction the Orange County community of White Cross. When it’s completed, it will be the second largest in the Triangle. The project is being designed by Chapel Hill based company, Strata Solar. The firm's Blair Schoof says when it's up and running, the 35-acre farm will provide energy for about 750 homes.

Strata Solar is the state's largest solar developer, responsible for generating more than 145 megawatts around the state. Schoof says two farms in the Triangle area are already operational with eight more planned for next year.

EPA Air Monitor Bench
Leoneda Inge

The Environmental Protection Agency has developed a new way to monitor air pollution and it includes a park bench.  There’s a new bench outside the South Regional Public Library in Durham . It’s the only one of its kind in the country.  If you sit down – and look up – you see solar panels and a spinning wind sensor.  And you can use your smart phone to scan a QR barcode to get up to the minute air quality stats.

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