Photo Credit: NREL
Clean energy is becoming mainstream. According to FERC data, 100 percent of electric capacity added in the U.S. in January 2013 was renewable. And more solar and wind energy came online in 2012 than any other energy source.
Solar is outpacing other energy sources. According to Duke Energy, solar energy will surpass wind development in 2013, for the first time. The United States solar industry added a record 3.3 GW of new capacity in 2012, representing a 76 percent growth in the industry.
Solar is getting cheaper by the minute, and demand is high. The cost of solar panels dropped 60 percent over the past two years.  US demand for solar energy in 2013 is projected to rise by 40 percent, to 4.6 gigawatts. According to Bloomberg, solar energy will be the second biggest form of energy installed on the electricity grid in 2013.
North Carolina is becoming a clean energy powerhouse. Of the 30 utility-scale solar projects that were built in the Southeast in 2012, 21 were in North Carolina. That is more individual projects than in any other state in the US. And the projects will continue: Germany’s Geenex LLC plans to build a 4.6 MW solar farm in Halifax County, followed by an additional 35 MW of solar capacity, as well as a solar education center. SEIA ranks North Carolina 5th in installed solar capacity for 2012, with 132 MW coming online. That’s enough to power almost 12,000 homes!
Photo Credit: NREL
Solar projects provide North Carolinians with more than clean and renewable electricity. Clean energy supports more than 1,100 North Carolina clean energy companies, employing more than 15,200 full-time equivalent jobs. A new RTI study cites more than 21,000 job-years in clean energy. Environmental Entrepreneurs ranked North Carolina number two for green job creation in 2012, second only to California. This is the second year in a row North Carolina has been in the top ten.
Investing in solar energy creates twice the number of jobs as investing in coal, and almost three times more than natural gas. A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that solar and other “green” jobs grew four times faster in 2011, the most recent year studied, than in any other sector.
North Carolina is attracting global players. The Italian solar panel installer and developer Siser USA is opening its American headquarters in Charlotte, hiring a staff of ten. Schletter, a German company that manufactures solar mounting systems, is locating its US headquarters in Shelby, with plans to hire 305 people.
North Carolina is already home to prosperous renewable energy firms. FLS Energy, an Asheville-based solar energy developer, has been named North Carolina’s fastest growing company for two consecutive years, 2011 and 2012. Durham-based Semprius, a solar module manufacturer, has been named as one of MIT Technology Reviews “50 Disruptive Companies” for 2013.
Photo Credit: NREL
Local solar firms continue to invest in North Carolina. In February 2013, Strata Solar, a solar energy developer based in Chapel Hill, announced in February 2013 its plans to build a 100 MW solar farm in Duplin County. This project, employing 400 construction workers, will be the largest east of the Mississippi River, and eight times larger than any solar project currently operating in North Carolina. Eighty percent of the installers Strata hires and trains are based in the communities where the projects are located.
North Carolina is a leader in renewable energy policy. In 2007, North Carolina became the only state in the Southeast with a renewable energy portfolio standard. While some neighboring states have since established renewable energy goals, North Carolina remains the only southeastern state with a requirement for utilities to meet electricity demand with a percentage of electricity using a combination of renewables and efficiency. The REPS and the state’s generous renewable energy tax credit are driving huge growth in the clean energy sector here.
North Carolina’s leadership in renewable energy policy is a fiscally responsible investment strategy for the state. Every $1 in clean energy incentives generated $1.87 in state or local revenue, between 2007 and 2012. North Carolina’s clean energy policies have generated $1.7 billion in revenue for the state.
Photo Credit: NREL
North Carolina supports research and development of solar energy. In January 2013, NC State University and other partners were awarded $9 million in federal grants to create “plug and play” solar photovoltaics.
Continued solar innovation contributes to cost savings. To help meet the Pentagon’s “Net Zero” energy goal, the US Marines invested in solar thermal systems for 2,000 homes at Camp Lejeune. The systems provide up to 75 percent of each home’s hot water needs, at half the cost of doing so using electricity.
Clean energy is already saving utility customers money: Since 2001, nearly forty dollars of the increase on an average North Carolinian’s monthly electric bill is due to rising fossil fuel costs, while less than eight dollars is attributable to using renewable power. In some parts of the country, the cost of solar energy has dropped below that of conventional fuels, including coal.  In Raleigh, 37 “Big Belly” solar-powered trash compactors have reduced annual trash pick-up costs downtown from $53,000 to $1,700. By 2026, the impact of North Carolina’s clean energy policies will lead to $173 million in cost savings for electricity customers, equating to more than a dollar and month in savings for residential customers.
North Carolinians support clean energy. A 2013 North Carolina statewide public opinion survey conducted by Fallon Research found that 88 percent of registered voters supported seeking more solar to meet electricity demand - more than any other resource. Universal support exists among Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Almost 83 percent of those polled supported decision-makers seeking more alternative energy to meet electricity demand.