BLOG: North Carolina Leading By Example
By Richard Payne, Managing Director, ReNew Petra
North Carolina is a leader in renewable energy. Overall, North Carolina has 6,882 MW of installed renewable energy capacity with 8,468 renewable energy systems, like solar farms, landfill gas-to-energy sites, and wind turbines. While clean energy may only account for approximately 10 percent of our electricity mix, it is continuing to grow. We’ve seen an increase in utility-scale projects, commercial and industrial installations, and residential solar due to falling installation costs. Beyond providing safe, reliable electricity to the grid, clean energy benefits North Carolinians by creating over 34,000 jobs through employment opportunities, lower electricity bills, and healthier communities.
North Carolina produces the second-most solar energy of any state, trailing only California. That’s a significant accomplishment considering Texas, Nevada, Hawaii, and other states have long been known as solar energy leaders in the U.S. What’s more, annual solar energy production in North Carolina increased by 36 percent in 2018 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), producing 7.2 million MWh, enough solar energy to power over 600,000 homes. However, North Carolina is home to more than just solar farms. The state has the largest wind farm in the southeast. Built in 2017, it has a generating capacity of 208 MW from 104 turbines.
So how did we get here?
- Policy: North Carolina’s renewable energy industry grew quickly due in part to the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). REPS was signed into law in 2007 and requires investor-owned utilities in the state to have 12.5 percent of their energy needs met through renewable energy or energy efficiency measures. Plus, in 2018, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order mandating that North Carolina cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025. The North Carolina state government leads by example by requiring all state-owned buildings to meet specific efficiency standards. Energy storage, including battery storage, is also on the rise in the state.
- Local Support: There is a strong push within the renewable energy space for increased renewables in the state of North Carolina, with organizations such as North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) working to accomplish that goal. NCSEA is one of the most widely recognized sources for activism and analysis regarding North Carolina’s evolving energy market. NCSEA advocates for renewable energy-friendly policy to improve regulations and markets for renewables in the state.
- Environment: Despite only average solar irradiation of the state, the opportunity for solar has grown to make North Carolina the second largest state in the country for this emerging industry. However, of the 75 million acres of cropland in the state, solar projects occupy just 0.2 percent of it. Not only is there ample space for increased renewable investment, residents should not worry about potential environmental issues. North Carolina has a plethora of local and environmental permits that must be obtained to develop projects to mitigate any risk to our pristine natural habitats.
And we’re not stopping there. According to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, the solar industry expects a 14 percent growth in 2019 over 2018. Plus, capacity is forecasted to double over the next five years. While these numbers represent the whole U.S., we believe North Carolina will continue to be a renewable energy leader for years to come.