By Michael Puttre, Solar Industry Magazine
With results of a statewide poll showing a strong majority of North Carolina voters across political parties supporting increased use of clean energy – especially solar – Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), convened the Making Energy Work conference in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 1-2.
“It’s just absolutely phenomenal the abundance of options that are coming into the market and coming down in cost,” Urlaub says. “The overarching objective for us has always been to get the fundamental rules of the road right so the market can optimize and have flexibility in any given period to bring an appropriate mix of capital into play.”
Urlaub’s message is that we are living in a period of technology integration. Solar power is being integrated with electric vehicles and storage. Electric vehicles are being tied to the grid as potential resources . Building applications are coming to the fore. Solar can be coupled with natural gas micro turbines.
While all of these developments are true, the real effects of many of them are in the future. The fundamental clean energy issue – and one that has the greatest potential to unlock development – is the desire to employ distributed energy generation to diversify the electricity resource options . Ultimately, renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, perhaps in concert with each other and conventional sources and storage, is the one avenue where diversification of power generation is realistically achievable.
“We’re looking at a future that is significantly constrained,” Urlaub says. “Building new coal and nuclear is extremely difficult. So, it is an economic imperative that we have a policy construct that empowers the market, entrepreneurs and the utilities to get the cost of solar and other distributed energy resources down to the least cost as soon as possible so that we can diversify our resources and, thereby, have more secure and resilient electricity backbone to our economy and to our global market activity.”
The fundamental argument underpinning renewable energy development is sufficiently clear that North Carolina voters back the concept so strongly. The poll of North Carolina registered voters that the NCSEA conducted with Fallon Research early this year reports that 86 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Independents support clean energy policy in their state. Only 5 percent of all voters believe clean energy policies are responsible for rising energy costs, the poll says.
Urlaub says working with the legislature, state regulators and decision-makers at the municipal level is essential for stabling renewable energy as the key to energy diversification. “To reduce the soft costs of solar, we can’t just reduce it through volume; we have to reduce it through learning,” he says.
Last year, the NCSEA worked with the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center to develop a model photovoltaic power ordinance for local governments evaluating utility-scale solar projects. According to Urlaub, the model has been an excellent tool for municipalities, which are seeing an explosion of project proposals.