For the past few years, residents of North Carolina have been paying higher power rates. Some however are looking to offset that expense by a different means of energy production: Solar panels. Utilizing what is arguably the best source of energy possible, these people have begun to use the sun for clean, perpetual energy.
When light from the sun hits a surface, it gives off heat, but with the use of the right technology, the heat can be turned into electricity. Taking steps toward achieving this type of efficiency by harnessing solar energy can lead to a variety of payoffs for the consumer. A state tax credit as well as a federal tax credit is available for the purchase of eligible solar technologies like solar water heaters, solar pool heating, active solar space heating, passive solar space heating, solar thermal process heat, and solar thermal electric.
North Carolina offers a tax credit of 35 percent of the cost of renewable energy property constructed, purchased or leased by a taxpayer and placed into service in the state during any taxable year through 2015 according to N.C. State University's Solar Center.
The federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit for the purchase and installation of photovoltaic (PV) systems and solar water heating property for residential use. For systems that were installed before Jan. 1, 2009, the tax credit is capped at $2,000, but there is no cap for those installed after. To be eligible for the credit, equipment must be placed in service before Jan. 1, 2017.
North Carolinians who use PVs may also participate in Duke Energy's Sun- Sense® Solar PV program. PV is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity using semiconductors. This method employs the type of solar panels that can often be seen throughout the state. The panels are composed of solar cells that contain the photovoltaic material—moncrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicone, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide/ sulfide.
As of 2012, more than 150 N.C. residential customers produced power from rooftop solar PV panels and were enrolled in Duke Progress' SunSense program. Participants receive an upfront payment of $1,000 per kilowatt (kW), and monthly bill credits of $4.50 per kW for the first five years.
“We’re committed to offering our customers programs that help reduce their personal environmental impact and advance the development and deployment of renewable energy technology,” said Lloyd Yates, president and CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas. “We’re pleased to have reached this milestone and encouraged by the continued customer interest in our energy- efficiency and alternative-energy programs.”
The month of June was proclaimed to be Solar Energy Month in N.C. by Gov. Pat McCrory, based on the significant solar energy potential. In fact, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, N.C. ranked fifth in the nation for installed solar energy projects, and is on pace to be ranked fourth in 2013.
“North Carolina is home to one of the fastest growing solar industries in our nation,” said McCrory. “It is important that we recognize the impact the solar industry is making in our state, not only in terms of being another valuable piece to an ‘all-ofthe- above’ energy plan, but also the highquality jobs the industry creates for hardworking North Carolinians.”
Though few people would disagree that solar energy is a good idea, that doesn't mean that it is a viable option for everybody. Homeowners should make sure that the dwelling is energy efficient with good insulation, caulking and weatherstripping. There should also be a relatively open view of the sky to the south of the home, especially during the winter months. In ideal situations, the sun would need to shine on the panels from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. from late September until late March.
The potential of solar panels continues to grow in North Carolina as the demand for PV power systems increases with technology breakthroughs. Along with the evolution of the technologies being used, the prices have also begun to decrease.
According to the N.C. Solar Center, rural communities could potentially use the growth of alternative energies to their advantage. Landowners may be able to benefit from leasing large tracts of space to project developers that are building solar farms. There may not be large tracts of property that fit the preferred standards for solar energy conversion, but small tracts can be used as well like one in St. Pauls, N.C. A seven-acre solar thermal farm was installed at Prestage Foods at no cost and in return will cut their utility cost for heating water by more than 35 percent.
Western North Carolina has begun to see an increase in solar "farms" pop up despite the mountainous terrain. ESA Renewables, LLC, a leading turnkey solar system provider has seized the opportunity to turn unused land into energy producing tracts of solar panels and in 2011, opened a central office in Hayesville.
"As ESA Renewables continues to design, engineer, construct and operate solar farms in Clay, Cherokee and surrounding counties, it has become necessary to have a centralized office in the region," said Jeffrey Burkett, president of ESA Renewables. "The town of Hayesville was an ideal fit for our needs."
As of 2012, ESA had commissioned five megawatts of photovoltaic energy generating solar farms in Cherokee and Clay counties as well as Union County in North Georgia.
As the public becomes more educated about various forms of alternative energy, there's a certain amount of optimism that fuels local perception.
“The fact of the matter is that solar energy is becoming more and more efficient for the residents of North Carolina. Hopefully, as time passes, more people will look to the sun for their energy,” said Franklin resident Grant Dawson. “Maybe it doesn't seem like an immediate pay out, but in half a decade or so with a little work and attention, people could cut out their power bill completely or even get paid for the energy they produce. The sun will always be here, coal will not. People have to wake up and take advantage of this amazing resource that we have.”
Solar energy facts
• Solar PV is a good neighbor – solar PV installations are just like agriculture in that they are not quite as high off the ground as a crop of corn, so they do not interfere with sightlines. Once “planted”, they sit quietly, with no noise and no moving parts and generate electricity for 20-30 years or more.
• Emissions-free electricity
• Reduction of cost volatility because the fuel is stable, free and virtually limitless
• Ability to locate projects within the distribution grid, avoiding system losses and costly new transmission
• Shorter project lead times and rapid deployment potential
• Solar PV requires virtually no maintenance and once built costs only about two to three cents per watt each year to operate.
• Solar PV produces electricity during the daytime, which is the peak period for usage, and produces maximum output during the summertime when utilities experience their peak demand and incur their highest costs. Thus, solar PV lowers utility power costs during their most expensive period.