Solar power driving North Carolina's clean economy, study finds

A new report from Pew Charitable Trusts has revealed that North Carolina’s clean economy transition is being fuelled by solar power.

The state now ranks third overall in the U.S. for new renewable energy capacity, having installed 343 MW of clean power in 2013. Of that figure, a massive 335 MW was new solar capacity, putting it way out in front in the clean energy stakes.

Assessed nationally the study found that North Carolina ranks behind California and Arizona in overall solar PV capacity installed, is third overall in terms of private investment in renewable energy, attracting $1.2 billion in 2013, and is the fifth-largest market for installed renewable energy capacity, with 557 MW under its belt.

And as energy-related investments and jobs continue to grow, Pew’s report noted that solar power is increasingly seen as "the new cash crop" in North Carolina.

The report gathered data from Navigant Research and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to assess the state’s clean economy growth. It found that North Carolina has emerged as a clean energy leader in the Southeast "because of its high-caliber academic institutions, robust public and private investments, and policies such as the renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standard," the report said.

In climbing the national rankings North Carolina has, in turn, attracted a raft of companies attracted to its potential and eagerness to employ smart and high-tech solutions to modernizing its energy mix.

Duke Energy has been a key driver for the state’s growth, and has recently announced a $550 million program aimed at driving yet more solar energy development across North Carolina.

The report also found that there were a total of 342 new projects linked to clean energy, of which 98% were solar-based projects. This year, growth has continued at a similarly rapid pace, with the state well-placed to continue the expansion of its clean economy.

"Given North Carolina’s ample renewable resources and skilled technical workers, the state is well-situated to continue growing its clean energy economy," concludes the report. "The state will be able to capitalize fully on these assets by preserving and strengthening state policies, such as the renewable portfolio standard; leveraging federal policies such as tax incentives; and continuing strong public and private investments in research and development."

Since adopting solar planning rules in 2007 – when not a single solar farm existed in the state – North Carolina now boasts 627 MW of installed solar capacity, which is largely considered the third-highest in the country.

In July, tech giants Apple announced it is to build its third solar PV facility in the state – a 17.5 MW installation costing a total of $55 million.