RALEIGH – North Carolina comes in third nationally for growth of energy produced through solar, a new report finds. But in other areas of renewable energy such as wind and sales of electric vehicles the state isn’t a current leader but is showing strength.

So says the “Renewables on the Rise 2021” report published Tuesday published in part by the Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.

“We are a leading state in renewable energy growth,” Krista Early of the Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center, tells WRAL TechWire. “Our solar growth and progress in other areas puts us in league with states like California, Texas and Iowa. North Carolina has seen a more than  265-fold increase in the amount of electricity it gets from the sun since 2011 and we’ve seen a notable increase in electricity savings from energy efficiency programs.”

Early also notes other areas of growth.

“Our report ranks North Carolina 10th in the nation in energy efficiency progress from 2011 to 201,” she explains. “This analysis comes as North Carolina just passed a bipartisan energy bill that sets goals to reduce heat-trapping carbon pollution. Beyond top-ranking growth in solar energy, North Carolina has also seen an 546 GWh [gigawatt hours] increase in wind power.”

The report cites a decade of “explosive growth in clean energy,” and in one area North Carolina- the nation’s 9th largest state in terms of population – has emerged as a clear pace-setter.

Over the last decade, North Carolina has increased its solar capacity to nearly 9,293 gigawatts in power from only 35 gigawatts, good for No. 3 in the U.S. in terms of growth, the report notes.

One gigawatt is enough energy to power about 750,000 homes, according to calculations made by tech news site C/net. 

North Carolina ranks just behind Texas (9,442 GWh) but California (45,377 GWh) leads by a wide margin.

Early says there are numerous factors driving North Carolina’s solar industry.

“Supportive state policies, like NC’s renewable energy standard, have been key drivers of progress,” she says. “Roughly half of all growth in renewable electricity in the United States since 2000 has been attributed to state adoption of renewable electricity standards.”

There are other reasons for growth, such as “improvements in technology, rapidly falling prices, and also supportive federal policies like clean energy tax incentives, which have helped make renewable energy technologies more affordable.” A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory report found that clean energy prices have fallen by as much as 82%, she points out.

Growth in solar in North Carolina reflects a growing trend nationally.

“In 2020, solar power generated 2.3% of America’s electricity, over 23 times as much as in 2011, and a 24% increase from 2019,” the report says. “Solar power provided enough electricity to power over 12.4 million homes.”

The report adds that the United States is “on track to get at least a third of of our electricity from solar, wind and geothermal power by 2050.”

Overall, the state produces a combined 7.6% of its energy between a mix of solar and wind capacity. That ranks 27th. the report notes.

Under state law, North Carolina investor-owned utilities are required over time to “meet up to 12.5% of their energy needs through renewable energy resources or energy efficiency measures,” according to the state Utilities Commission. Other power providers must provide 10% of their energy from renewables.

Many others are doing much better, including three where the renewable energy mix tops 50% in electricity sales: Towa at 69%, North Dakota at 61.7% and Kansas at 61.5%.

While North Carolina continues to explore the possibilities of offshore wind production, the fledgling efforts onshore to data have produced 546 gigawatts, ranking North Carolina 26th.

Texas leads in wind power at 92,989 GWh.

Nearly 24,000 electric powered vehicles have been purchased in North Carolina. The national total was some 318,000, the report notes. The sales total ranks North Carolina 17th. And Early sees more growth coming.

“North Carolina’s EV market grew by 5%  between 2019 and 2020 and this is, in large part, due to the strong stakeholder engagement that is driving EV support in Raleigh,” she says, “Governor [Roy] Cooper’s E.O. 80 set statewide goals to deploy 80,000 EVs by 2025 and expand the EV charging infrastructure.”

The report also found efforts to improve energy efficiency ranks North Carolina 24th.

North Carolina lags in battery storage efforts, ranking 21st, However, Duke Energy is working with international power firm ABB in launching a pilot program for massive batteries that could boost storage for power produced by renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

“Prices are coming down and battery technology has come a long way, so it’s poised for growth in the years ahead,” Early says, “Supportive policies, like tax incentives and rebates (national and/or in state) and ambitious targets would help pick up the pace even more.”

NATIONAL TREND

The report says growth on multiple fronts is helping change the United States” energy footprint.

“In 2020, America generated almost four times as much renewable electricity from the sun and the wind as in 2011, with wind and solar now producing 11% of the nation’s electricity. Advances in energy efficiency, electric vehicles, battery storage, electric home heating and other technologies mean that it is now more possible than ever to envision a future powered by renewable energy,” the report says.

Some examples:

  • Solar energy: America produces over 23 times as much solar power than it did in 2011, enough to power more than 12 million average American homes.
  • Wind energy: America has nearly tripled the amount of wind power it produces since 2011, generating enough to power over 31 million homes.
  • Energy efficiency: Electric efficiency programs across the U.S. saved over 17% more energy in 2019 than in 2011, as states ramped up their investments in efficiency. In 2018, these programs saved enough electricity to power more than 2.5 million homes.
  • Electric vehicles: In 2011, just over 16,000 battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles had been sold in the U.S.  As of December 2020, that number had grown 100-fold to nearly 1.7 million vehicles. By mid-2021, cumulative plug-in electric vehicle sales had surpassed 2 million.
  • Battery storage: In 2020, the U.S. had over 1.7 GW of battery energy storage—a critical technology to unlock America’s vast clean energy potential. The nation’s battery storage capacity grew more than 18-fold from 2011 to 2020 and grew by 67% in 2020 alone.
    Heat pumps: The efficiency of electric heat pumps has improved to the point where they are now an attractive and realistic option for heating and cooling homes across the country. In 2015, 12% of all U.S. homes with heat used heat pumps, up from just 8% a decade earlier. Shipments of efficient air-source heat pumps from U.S. manufacturers nearly doubled between 2011 and 2020, increasing by 10% in 2020 alone.