Solar energy a growing business in state

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 07:27 PM

OXFORD — Although the sun was hidden Wednesday morning, solar energy took front stage at the Sunrise Forum, sponsored by the Granville County Chamber of Commerce.

“Solar energy in North Carolina is a growing business,” said Tanya Evans, community relations manager for Duke Energy. The company is committed to providing safe, reliable and increasingly efficient electricity, she said.

Evans talked about past growth and prospects for future growth of solar energy in the state.

North Carolina ranks fourth among the 50 states in solar capacity, she said, with a total capacity of 200 megawatts. More than 2,400 megawatts of solar projects are being proposed by solar developers.

The number of rooftop solar installations has increased by one-third since 2011.

The cost of generating solar power is expected to continue dropping. The cost in 2014 is expected to be about one-half the 2010 cost. By 2020, the cost is projected to be about 20 percent of the 2010 cost.

In an arrangement called net energy metering, Duke Energy pays customers who generate electricity with solar panels for any surplus energy.

Rooftop solar panels typically supply about 20 percent of the energy needs of a home.

Evans cited the experience of Germany, which has made a concerted effort to develop solar energy and close its nuclear plants. The expectation is that 35 percent of the country’s energy needs will be provided by solar power by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The downside is, so far, costs have risen, with customers paying approximately three times more than previously.

A great need, Evans said, is for batteries capable of storing energy when the solar installation is not generating energy because of a lack of sunlight at night and on overcast days.

“We’re not there yet,” she said.

Another challenge to the industry is solar energy requires many times the amount of land to generate the amount of energy produced by a nuclear plant.

Looking at progress made in recent years in developing renewable sources of energy, Evans said, “We absolutely believe solar is part of the mix.”

But the company’s use of green energy wasn’t the only thing on participants’ minds. Duke Energy is dealing with a coal ash leak into the Dan River, and cooperating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the N.C. Division of Environmental and Natural Resources.

Asked about the leak from a coal ash pond in Eden, Evans said, “We’ve managed to contain the leak. We’re working with the EPA and DENR to clean up the mess and decide what we do next. We’re in it for the long haul to make it right.”

Attending the forum were a number of chamber members, including representatives of several Granville County municipalities.

Ginnie Currin, executive director of the chamber, reminded the group that a Small Business and Industry Appreciation Day will be held on this evening from 4-6 at the Granville County Expo and Convention Center. The chamber will partner with Granville County and the Vance-Granville Community College Small Business Center to host the event.


Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.