It’s not just the tourists on beaches that are happy the sun is shining down on North Carolina. The booming solar energy industry in our state is also thankful for the nearly 250 days per year of sunshine. It wasn’t an accident of nature though that has made North Carolina a leader in solar. Many factors went into this development over the last decade and even before.
One factor that is often given a lot of attention in getting North Carolina’s solar energy sector started is the recently canceled Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards (REPS). These were put in place in 2007 to require that electrical co-ops and municipal utilities devote 10 percent of their power generation to renewable sources by the year 2018, and utilities that were investor-owned had until year 2021 to achieve 12.5%. The REPS standards were controversial politically though, so after a failed attempt to eliminate them in 2013, opponents successfully sunsetted them in 2015.
Despite this major source of solar innovation ending, REPS had a large impact in spurring growth and continues to after the fact. North Carolina only had around 1 MW of solar energy capacity in 2007 when the portfolio standards began, and by 2014 it had grown to 950 MW. In 2015, the last year the standards were in place, the installed solar capacity increased 1140 MW just that year, making North Carolina second only to California in the nation. So REPS and other programs to encourage solar use in the state have definitely had an impact. RTI International did a study that found that NC got $2.67 billion of revenue from the solar industry after only paying out $135.2 million of incentives. This showed overall, it was a great investment just from a fiscal standpoint.
It hasn’t just been the REPS standards that have catapulted North Carolina to the top of the solar market. There have also been $1.689 billion invested in the state’s solar companies from private investors. Blue Cross Blue Shield in Durham and Bank of America in Charlotte have been two of the state’s largest investors but countless others have seen the potential for North Carolina and made bets on a clean energy future.
After all the attention from government and business alike, North Carolina’s solar market is the envy of region. There are 5,950 jobs in the state connected to the solar industry from 213 different firms. Some of these are manufacturing, others project developers and others are contractors and installers. These jobs are all thanks to a booming solar industry that has made North Carolina a regional and national hub for innovation in clean sustainable energy. As solar continues to be a promising trend in the future of energy, this investment can only continue to pay off for the state.