Clean Energy FAQs
NCSEA defines clean energy as energy derived from renewable, zero-emissions sources (“renewables”), as well as energy saved through energy efficiency measures. For more information, visit our "What is Clean Energy?" page.
For the twelve-month period from December 2018-November 2019, the energy mix in NC was as followed: natural gas - 31.6%, utility-scale solar - 5.4%, hydropower - 4.9%, wind - 0.4%, customer owned PV - 0.2%, petroleum liquids - 0.2%, nuclear - 31.5%, coal - 23.5%. Additionally, North Carolina has 1605 EV charging outlets (Level 2 and DC Fast Charge) throughout the state. Learn more about NC’s energy mix here.
The benefits of clean energy are numerous. For one, clean energy sources release little to no greenhouse gas emissions, compared to fossil fuel combustion which accounts for 75% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Also, renewable energy sources are often cheaper than nonrenewable alternatives - and the price of clean energy is continuing to decrease! Clean energy uses abundant resources, so we will never have to worry about renewable energy resources running out. Increasing our use of renewable energy will allow for more energy resilience, job growth, and economic development.
While the use of clean energy is very beneficial, there are some associated risks. One potential risk is a sudden price increase, which would motivate people to switch to another energy source, but as of now, clean energy has shown ample price stability. Renewable energy sources could also disturb ecosystems, but these risks are recognized and steps are taken to mitigate the risks. Despite any risks, clean energy is still far more favorable than any non-renewable sources. Studies show that clean energy has the potential to be more reliable than non-renewable energy – while also saving the environment.
In 2019, 32% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States were associated with electricity generation. In North Carolina, electricity generation accounted for 35% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. The use of clean energy could lower these numbers significantly.
From renewables to energy efficiency, clean energy offers a variety of employment opportunities for our state. North Carolina is home to over 112,700 clean energy jobs and the number of clean energy jobs has more than doubled in the past five years. What’s more, those who might struggle to find temporary work in rural areas now have easier access to good paying jobs, such as those in solar farm construction and operation.
North Carolina continues to operate under a monopoly energy market. The addition of clean energy has been vital in keeping our rates lower than they would be with only traditional energy sources powering our homes and businesses. Unlike fossil-fuel powered sources, the price of renewables continues to decrease – even as the technology improves. This is just one reason why homeowners, businesses, and utilities across the country are getting on board with renewables – and quickly. Fuel prices, unlike solar and wind, can fluctuate in price at a moment’s notice, highlighting clean energy’s price certainty. Continuing to support our growing clean energy economy is crucial in our effort to keep rates down in the long-term and increase state energy resiliency and security as more energy is produced inside the state.
Clean energy investments are a hedge against variable fuel costs – which could rise again at a moment’s notice. Because clean energy sources like solar and energy efficiency technologies don’t rely on fuel, there is much more price certainty. Clean energy generation increases state energy resiliency and security as more energy is produced inside the state and does not need to be imported from other states or countries. Bonus: unlike traditional, fossil-fuel powered sources, the price of renewables continues to decrease – even as the technology improves.
Clean energy policies, like the NC Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit (REITC) and federal Investment Tax Credit, have benefited all electric ratepayers in North Carolina – not just those who’ve taken advantage of credits to finance their projects. As of 2018, North Carolina had issued over $1 billion in renewable tax credits to customers and has programs to support low-income and rural communities.
Yes, it can. Before any wind energy projects that may potentially affect military operations can be approved for construction, the projects must be cleared by the stringent review process administered by the United States Department of Defense Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse. Existing state law in North Carolina and federal law also requires the Base Commander at major military installations to be consulted on all wind energy projects, making it among the strictest policies nationwide. The passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2018 further strengthened the DOD approval process. 35% of existing wind power operate within 50 miles of a military facility, but none are harming national security or military operations.
Sunlight that hits the photovoltaic cell is absorbed by a semi-conducting material, usually silicone, in the panel. The light causes electrons from the semi-conducting material to become loose and flow through the solar cell. This results in an electrical current. Metal plates on the solar panel collect the loose electrons and transfer them through wiring to a solar inverter. Solar inverters transform the electrical current from the solar panels into an AC which allows you to power your homes.
A wind turbine is composed of three parts: the blades, the tower, and the rotor, a oval shaped component piece containing a generator and a gear box. When wind blows, it hits the turbine which causes the blades to revolve. The revolving blades turns the gearbox located int the rotor of the wind turbine which activates the generator. The electricity flows down the tower of the turbine to a converter which transforms the current generated from the wind turbine to a current that can be used to power homes and businesses.
Clean energy policies, like the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), make up less than $1 on most customers’ average $100+ monthly bill. Taking into account this REPS charge, North Carolina customers saved approximately $8 on their 2014 electric bills. And these charges are also keeping our future bills down: a 2015 report estimates $651 million will be saved by 2029, thanks to clean energy’s presence in our energy mix.
There are many options for owning, purchasing, or supporting solar generation in the state. Check out NCSEA’s ncsolarconsumerguide.com for more information on the options for owning solar. If owning solar PV doesn’t fit your needs, community solar may be a great alternative. Depending on the community solar facility organization, multiple community members can obtain financial benefit and/or power from a subscription, or own a portion of the system. Find out more about this option on NCSEA’s Community Solar page. Many electricity providers also offer renewable energy options through your current bill. Ask your electricity provider what renewable energy options are available.
Net Energy Metering
Net energy metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity, most commonly through solar PV systems, to sell the excess energy that is generated back to the utility company. For example, if a residential customer installs a rooftop PV system on their home and this system generates more electricity than what the customer uses, the excess energy that is generated is credited to the customer’s account which can lower their energy bill.
Net energy metering is beneficial to customers because it frequently results in lower energy bills. During the day, especially in the summer months, solar PV systems oftentimes generate more electricity than what is used by the consumer. Net energy metering adds this excess energy back into the grid and the utility company credits the customer’s account for the amount of excess energy that is generated. This lowers the customer’s energy bill for future months.
Net energy metering also promotes job growth and investments in the private sector. It provides an incentive to customers to install solar energy systems in their homes or businesses. The increased demand for these systems results in more jobs being created within the solar industry.
Net energy metering policies vary from state to state. Some states have mandatory net energy metering policies, some have voluntary net energy metering policies, and others have distributed generation compensation rules other than net energy metering. You can check the Database of State Incentives and Renewables and Efficiency to see the current details of net energy metering policies in your state.
Net energy metering policies can vary depending on the eligible technologies, how customers are credited for excess energy generation, system caps that determine the maximum limit a system size can meter, and program capacity limits that set a maximum number of net energy metering technologies that can exist per region or utility area.
Get involved! You can write to your legislators to let them know that net energy metering policies are important to you, you can reach out to local organizations to learn about the work they are doing related to net energy metering policy, and you can vote during elections for candidates whose values reflect your own regarding net energy metering practices.
This is a common misconception. However, the United States EIA predicts that solar farms will only take up 3 million of the available 900 million acres of farmland in the US by 2030. North Carolina has lost one million acres of cropland to housing development but only 1% of that land was utilized for solar panels. The amount of land dedicated to solar needed to generate enough energy to power the entire country would occupy roughly as much space as coal mines currently take up.
Good news – many farmers and land-owners can keep their properties farmable, even when there is clean energy like solar installed on it. By leasing a portion of land for solar, landowners gain a steady stream of income, and as a result, can keep the land in its original form during hard economic times. For example, Sun Raised Farms showcases agriculture and solar working harmoniously together. This collection of farmers raises sheep to maintain the grounds of solar farms. A win-win! Pollinator Friendly Solar is another way to promote the growth of pollinators that are going extinct while simultaneously developing solar power. Check out NCSEA’s story on pollinations here.
Solar panel materials are enclosed and don’t mix with water or vaporize into the air – meaning there is no threat of chemicals releasing into the environment during normal use. In addition, the panels are manufactured to endure all weather conditions and are sealed shut to further ensure public safety. Almost all solar PV panels are made of tempered glass, pass rigorous hail tests, and are regularly installed in Arctic and Antarctic conditions. The most common type of solar panels are manufactured with crystalline-silicon, a non-toxic element, and currently make up 95% of the solar market.
Electric Vehicles (EVs)
Electric vehicles have electric motors which allows the car to be powered by electricity rather than fossil fuel energy sources known to release pollutants into the atmosphere. When an electric vehicle is charged, energy is pulled from the grid and stored in the car’s rechargeable batteries. When the electric vehicle is turned on, the batteries provide energy to the vehicle’s engine which propels the vehicle. Since the car is powered by electricity, there are no pollutants that are emitted through a tailpipe. Similar to traditional cars, electric vehicles have a range, a distance in which the vehicle can travel before needing to be charged again.
Tax credits reduce the total amount of income tax you owe. All electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles purchased new in 2010 or after are eligible for a tax credit up to $7,500. The actual credit amount will vary depending upon the capacity of the car’s battery. Look at this table to see eligible vehicles and full tax credit capabilities.
It depends. The price of owning any vehicle is dependent upon many factors including miles driven, initial cost and upkeep of car, depreciation value, and cost of charging or gasoline to power the car. The United States Department of Energy has a vehicle cost calculator that allows you to compare up to eight vehicles. Using this calculator can you decide your best financial option for a vehicle depending on your specific situation.
You can charge your electric vehicle at home using a Level 1 or Level 2 electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE). Your EV manufacturer will be able to provide you the best guidance and information about the required charging equipment best suited for your vehicle. It is also recommended to check with your utility company and a trusted electrician before installing EVSE.
The Level 1 EVSE is simpler of the charging models. It uses a 120-volt AC plug to charge the vehicle and adds about 2 to 5 miles of range to the vehicle per hours of charging time. A Level 1 EVSE is well-suited for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, but can also be used for an all-electric vehicle depending on the circumstance.
The Level 2 EVSE is more complex; it is faster and can be more convenient than a Level 1 EVSE, but it requires specialized, more expensive equipment. Level 2 EVSE’s charge through a 240-volt AC plug and adds approximately 10 to 60 miles of range to a vehicle per hour of charging and are well-suited for all EV’s. The price to an install a Level 2 EVSE usually ranges between $500 and $2,000 depending on state or utility incentives.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
Although EV charging stations are not as common as traditional gas stations, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t around. It is required that every EV vehicle is compatible with a Level 2 charger (Tesla’s have an adaptor that make them compatible). Level 2 chargers add approximately 20-25 miles to the vehicle's ranger per hour charging. As of October 2020, the United States Department of Energy has over 27,000 listed public Level 2 charging stations in the United States on their website.
For a quicker charge, you’ll need to look for a DC fast charge station which is capable of charging your electric vehicle to about 80% capacity within 30 minutes of charging. There are two standards of DC fast charge stations; Nissan and Mitsubishi cars use the CHAdeMO standard and all other manufacturers use the SAE Combo Combined Charging System (CCS) standard. Tesla has adapters that allow their vehicles to use the CHAdeMo standard. As of October 2020, the United States Department of Energy has over 4,000 of these DC fast charging stations listed on their website.