Archive for February, 2012

Study Finds Decline in Solar Costs

Posted on: February 29th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Solar power has the potential to hedge rising electricity costs, according to a study by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA). The 32-page report, “Levelized Cost of Solar Photovoltaics in North Carolina,” was released on Wednesday, Feb. 29 by NCSEA’s market intelligence team. The detailed analysis considers multiple scenarios to understand the impact of system capacity, type of electric service provider, system ownership (residential or commercial) and state and federal tax credits.

To a summary and to read the entire 32-page report, click here

N.C. Solar Center Offers New Certificate in Renewable Energy Management

Posted on: February 29th, 2012 by shannon No Comments
First non-degree program of its kind in North America

 Classes Start March 15th – Seats are still available!

Renewable energy and energy efficiency activity in North Carolina have been booming since the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard passed in the summer of 2007. In 2011, North Carolina’s clean energy sector employment grew by 18 percent from 12,500 employees in 2010. Meanwhile, participation for N.C. Solar Center’s photovoltaic training alone increase by 248 percent in 2010 as compared to the number of PV class participants in 2006.

The boom in the renewable energy industry has matured to involve more non-technical personnel who don’t necessarily have a renewable energy background. With tax credits and other incentives available, project development has become more competitive – and complicated. To help advance the market, the N.C. Solar Center is launching the Certificate in Renewable Energy Management (CREM) in March 2012 and is offering its Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma Series online.

“The N.C. Solar Center has always been at the heart of educating professionals and the North Carolina public on renewable energy technologies,” says Lyra Rakusin with the Solar Center’s Training Programs. “It was a natural progression to now offer classes for people involved in project management and sales. It also made sense to add online versions of our installer-focused courses to allow for more flexibility.”

The Certificate in Renewable Energy Management is a 40-hour hybrid program offered with both online and on-site components to maximize class communication and networking opportunities. Supported in part by Southern Energy Management and the Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network, this non-credit certificate program will be offered from March to May, and is the only non-degree program of its kind in North America that includes topics to help develop commercial-scale projects. A group project to be presented at the last day of class is required to complete the course.

The program is also taught in alignment with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Task Analysis for PV Technical Sales so that taking this in combination with our installer classes and other NABCEP requirements gives participants eligibility  to sit for the NABCEP PV Technical Sales Examination.

Bob Kingery, co-Founder and President of Southern Energy Management teaches the first two days of the program that focuses on technology. “As a business owner myself, I can attest to the importance of continued training for technical and non-technical personnel in this ever changing and growing industry,”” says Kingery. “When I learned that it was a program that covered topics on policy and finance, I was quick to offer my support.”

The focus of the CREM program is tri-fold: Technology, Finance and Policy. These areas are the main drivers that move the renewable energy industry forward. Topics include:


  • Overview of solar electric, solar thermal, wind, and other renewable energy technologies
  • Renewable energy policy landscape (learning to navigate the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (
  • Introduction to definitions, identifying revenue streams and financing options, and risk management and contract structuring


Elective topics on marketing, sales and understanding the utility will be offered.  Over 44 hours of topics are available, but one need only take 40 hours to earn the certificate. The more technical weeklong workshops under the Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma Series that are geared for installers are also available and can help give a more in-depth understanding of specific technologies.

The first online photovoltaic workshop is scheduled for April to May and will run for six weeks, including five hours a week of live, online classes, which is also recorded so it can be downloaded at a later time. Those who wish to get hands-on training can take the one-day, hands-on Solar workshop that will be offered throughout the year.

For those who are interested in shorter courses, one to two day workshops are available. Visit where you can view of a list of training and events.


Shannon Helm, N.C. Solar Center, 919-423-8340,

Maria  O’Farrell, N.C. Solar Center, 919-538-8287,



Chapel Hill company plans 15 solar farms this year

Posted on: February 27th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

By Ted Richardson
Johnny Evans, right, and Dan Shields install solar panels at a solar farm being built by Strata Solar in Chatham County. The company has about 10 megawatts in operation.


CHAPEL HILL — The thicket of aluminum crossbars, rising shoulder-high and gleaming in the sunlight, could easily fill several football fields. In less than two months, this geometrical framework sprouting in Chatham County will be covered over by an indigo meadow of solar panels.

With projects like this and bigger ones in the works, 3-year-old Strata Solar has rapidly become the state’s dominant developer of solar power. The Chapel Hill company has designed or proposed more sunshine-to-electricity projects than any of the state’s estimated 75 solar developers and installers.

Strata Solar plans 15 industrial-scale solar farms for completion this year – including three in Wake and Chatham counties – each with a power capacity of about 5 megawatts. Strata Solar executives are closing in on a deal that would be the state’s biggest solar farm, at about 20 megawatts.




Meanwhile, the 40-employee company is already looking beyond North Carolina, having opened offices on the West Coast in a bid to break into solar markets in California and Hawaii. Strata Solar’s domination in the state results from aggressively courting investors for major solar projects, leaving other developers to focus on smaller residential and rooftop projects.

The reigning sun king of this photovoltaic empire is Markus Wilhelm, 54, a former publishing executive who honed his business acumen in direct marketing and book club promotions. A German transplant to Chapel Hill, Wilhelm doesn’t display the apostolic fervor of longtime solar enthusiasts; rather, he’s fixated on bottom lines.

“He’s not a hippy trying to run a business, he’s a businessman trying to run a business,” said Stephen Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center in Raleigh. “And it shows in the way that Strata Solar works.”

Strata Solar is powering a solar boom that has resulted in 584 megawatts of electricity developed or proposed – about half the size of a nuclear power plant – since the state legislature passed a green energy mandate in 2007.

The rapid expansion comes at a time that the cost of solar panels is plummeting to historic lows and reducing the economic barrier to building solar farms. A fifth of the state’s solar projects were proposed just in the past seven weeks, mostly by Strata Solar.

Wilhelm says that falling solar costs eventually could render this country’s generous solar incentives obsolete, even though today more than half of the cost of a solar farm in North Carolina is subsidized with federal and state tax credits.

The cost of solar panels, including installation, has fallen from about $9 a watt to $3 a watt this year, and could fall to $1 a watt in several years, Wilhelm said.

“If we keep the current trend going, we are not going to be dependent on major subsidies by 2016,” Wilhelm said.

To meet state clean energy mandates, North Carolina requires Duke Energy, Progress Energy and other power suppliers to pay a premium – called a renewable energy certificate – for solar power bought from Solar Strata and other independent producers.

Just a few years ago, electric utilities paid more than 16 cents a kilowatt hour for solar energy, premium included. Today they’re paying less than 9 cents, Wilhelm said. The precipitous decline reflects the shrinking premium payment that solar developers have had to charge to make a profit. If that premium disappeared altogether, solar energy would cost about 7 cents a kilowatt hour.

“The price Duke Energy is paying for solar energy today is competitive with other renewable resources,” Duke Energy spokesman Jason Walls said. “With this drop in price, the company believes that solar will play an increasingly important role in meeting the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard.”

Wilhelm is plenty keen on the ideal of sustainability, but he is not inclined to mix business and personal causes unless there’s money in it. Wilhelm’s quarter-century of publishing experience includes stints with Bertelsmann AG, Bookspan and Doubleday Direct, and chairing the Direct Marketing Association.

“When an industry matures, the marketing people take over,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a business more than anything else.”

After leaving publishing, Wilhelm moved from New York to Chapel Hill, picking this area based on favorable news reports and its sophisticated vibe. He invested in green home construction but latched onto solar as the surest financial return.

Starting off small

In its first year, Strata Solar developed small solar projects for homes and small businesses. In its second year, the company expanded to larger, ground-mounted projects. Now it’s scaling up to huge solar farms.

The company has about 10 megawatts in operation and expects to be close to 100 megawatts by the end of this year. Because solar power is intermittent, working only when the sun shines, solar megawatts are not equivalent to round-the-clock power plants that use uranium, coal or natural gas as energy sources.

Strata Solar designs, develops and builds solar farms with financing from banks and other institutional investors. Strata Solar typically sells the projects to the investors and operates them. The investors make money on electricity sales to utilities that buy green energy to meet state targets. Strata Solar makes its money by selling the solar farms and operating them. The investors are the ones that take advantage of the 35 percent state tax credit and 30 percent federal tax credit.

Strata Solar’s site now under construction in Chatham County is on the smaller end of Strata’s solar scale, totaling 1 megawatt, a size unheard-of in this state just a few years ago. It’s designed to withstand 90-mph sustained winds and will take less than three months to build.

1 gigawatt foreseen

On a recent visit, a crew of several dozen supervisors and contractors were at work, moving metal sections into place, as others power-drilled solar panels at 25-degree angles to maximize sun exposure.

The project is in various stages of construction: metal beams rammed 8 feet deep into the piedmont loam, aluminum support racks erected, photovoltaic panels attached, and electric conduits connecting the setup to the power grid.

Company executives now talk about closing in on 1 gigawatt of solar power, the equivalent of a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant.

“By 2013 we can build at least 100 megawatts a year,” said John Morrison, Strata Solar’s chief operating officer. “In the course of a decade, we should be able to build 1 gigawatt of solar. Do you know how long it takes to build a nuclear plant? About 10 years.”


Written by: John Murawski, The Raleigh News & Observer

Triangle Business Journal Energy Symposium – 2/23

Posted on: February 23rd, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Are you interested in hearing the experts’ predictions on where the Triangle fits into future growth plans for energy opportunities?  Come here what the experts have to say at the TBJ Energy Symposium!

Steve Kalland, Director of the N.C. Solar Center, serves as one of the panelists at the event on Thursday, February 23rd.  Other panelists include experts from ABB, N.C. Department of Commerce, Advanced Energy, and SAS.  The panelists will discuss a variety of hot-button environmental issues that affect a number of local industries.


Date:  Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

Location:  Wake Technical Community College (First All-LEED Certified College Campus in the U.S.); 9101 Fayetteville Rd.; 401 South; Main Campus; Raleigh, NC 27603

Register: On site

Apple Plans 20MW of Solar Power for iDataCenter in N.C.

Posted on: February 21st, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Apple has revealed new details about the operations of its huge data center in Maiden, North Carolina, including plans to build a 20-megawatt solar power facility to support its operations. Apple also plans to use a fuel cell powered by biogas that could generate up to 5 megawatts of power.

The Apple facility would be the largest solar array dedicated to data center operations, surpassing a 14 megawatt array being built to support the McGraw-Hill data center in East Windsor, New Jersey. Apple disclosed its renewable energy ambitions in Maiden in the company’s latest environmental report.

Although Apple’s solar plans are making headlines, the report also sheds light on many aspects of Apple’s data center operations. Until now, the company has made general statements about the efficiency of its data center, without discussing specific techniques used within the facility. Apple’s approach includes:

  • Apple uses a “free cooling” system that employs water-side economization, in which cool outside air is incorporated into a heat exchanger to supply cold water for the data center cooling systems. The company estimates that it will be apple to use the economizer system for about 75 percent of the year.
  • When it is too warm to use the economizer, Apple will use a chiller, a large system that refrigerates water for use in cooling servers. Apple will use a chilled water storage tank to reduce its power bill by running the chillers at off-peak hours, when electricity rates are cheaper. Chilled water from the storage tank can then be used during peak hours, reducing the overall energy cost.
  • Apple says it is using a high-voltage power distribution system, which increases efficiency by reducing power losses due to conversions to step the power down within the data center. Similar designs have been used by Google and Facebook in their data centers.
  • Apple is using containment “pods” in which airflow is regulated using variable speed fans, allowing the company to closely match the fan speed to the temperature and pressure inside the containment area.

None of these technologies are new, but they represent important best practices in the operation of large-scale facilities like Apple’s 500,000 square foot first phase in North Carolina. “Our new data center in Maiden, North Carolina, demonstrates our commitment to reducing the environmental impact of our facilities through energy-efficient, green building design,” the company said in its environmental statement (PDF).

Apple disclosed that the facility has earned Platinum, the highest level attainable under the LEED ( Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system for energy efficient buildings. The company used 14 percent of recycled materials in its construction process, and diverted 93 percent of construction waste from landfills. Apple also sourced 41 percent of purchased materials within 500 miles of the Maiden site, which reduces the environmental impact from trucking materials over long distances.

“We know of no other data center of comparable size that has achieved this level of LEED certification,” the company said. “Our goal is to run the Maiden facility with high percentage renewable energy mix, and we have major projects under way to achieve this — including building the nation’s largest end user-owned solar array and building the largest nonutility fuel cell installation in the United States.”

Apple said the 5 megawatt fuel cell facility, located adjacent to the data center, will be powered by 100 percent biogas, and provide more than 40 million kWh of baseload renewable energy annually. The facility will be among the largest data center initiatives using fuel cells, Last year AT&T said it would install Bloom Energy fuel cells at 11 sites in California to generate 7.5 megawatts of power. A T-Systems data center in Germany has been using biogas in a fuel cell in its data center since 2009, and a similar system is being used by Infinity in the UK. The primary barrier to use of fuel cells in data centers has been the economics and the up-front cost of the units.


Author: Rich Miller, Feb 20th, 2012

Nonprofit to host solar panel system

Posted on: February 16th, 2012 by shannon No Comments
Investor to rent roof space at Dorcas Ministries.


CARY – Dorcas Ministries’ new home came with a valuable asset: roof space. The west Cary shopping center owned by the nonprofit will be topped soon by one of the county’s largest solar panel systems.

The thrift store and charity is using an increasingly popular model to power the installation. An unnamed outside investor will pay for installation of the project, then profit from sales of the solar energy. Dorcas, meanwhile, will get increasing rent revenue, starting at $2,000 a year, and an eventual option to buy the 236-kilowatt, 845-panel system.

“We bought the shopping center in 2008, and we’ve actually been thinking about it ever since then,” said Howard Manning, the nonprofit’s director. “We consider ourselves a green business.”

The 21,000-square-foot installation would be the largest hosted by a nonprofit in Wake County, and possibly in the state, according to its planners. It also would be among the largest solar plants in Cary, only significantly trailing the 2.2 megawatt solar farm at SAS Institute, which produces about ten times as much energy.

A 3-year-old Cary company, Yes! Solar Solutions, will install the panels. Kathy Miller, vice president, said the construction of the Dorcas project this month will be one of the company’s largest efforts.

This is Dorcas’ third attempt to bring in solar panels, following two failed negotiations with other companies. This time, N.C.-based Argand Energy Solutions brokered the deal with a third-party investor, helping Dorcas overcome the prohibitive up-front cost of the plan.

The investor will pay about $900,000 for the installation, but state and federal tax credits will return about 65 percent of that money over the years, according to Rob Lease, director of sales for Argand. He estimates the panels will generate about 30 homes worth of electricity, which the investor will sell to Progress Energy at an above-market rate for income of about $55,000 a year.

After about seven years, Dorcas will be able to buy the panels, which are under a 25-year warranty, for about $300,000. Eventually, the installation could feed power straight to the nonprofit instead of to the Progress grid.

“It’s kind of a win-win-win to the fourth level,” Miller said.

Betsy McCorkle, economic development coordinator for the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, said the investor model is particularly attractive for nonprofits because they can’t redeem the tax credits themselves. And in general, she said, “it’s gaining traction because people are figuring out how to do it.”

Argand retooled its business about 18 months ago to focus heavily on commercial-scale installations, and almost half of that business is now driven by third-party investors. For those who can afford it, a venture like the Dorcas panels offers about 12 percent return on investment and breaks even in about five years.

The town of Cary also has brought in an outside company to build and operate a large solar installation on town land. The investor model is practically the only way, McCorkle said, for nonprofits and governments to install large systems.

2012 NC MobileCARE Awards – Call for Nominations

Posted on: February 13th, 2012 by shannon No Comments
Call for Nominations: 2012 Mobile CARE Awards
         6th Annual awards will recognize leaders in reducing transportation related emissions


WHAT: Nominations are requested for the 6th Annual Mobile Clean Air Renewable Energy (CARE) Awards. Mobile CARE awards recognize initiative and leadership efforts at improving North Carolina’s air quality through alternative fuel, advanced transportation technologies and fuel economy practices.


WHEN: February 14th– March 23rd, 2012 ~ Nomination Period

Award announcements, April 19th at the 9th Annual Sustainable Energy Conference in Raleigh, N.C.


WHERE: Guidelines and application available at


WHO: The N.C. Solar Center/N.C. State University, with support from the N.C. Department of Transportation, is organizing the 6th Annual Mobile CARE awards as part of the Clean Fuel Advanced Technology Project. Applicants are sought in four categories: Individual, Fleet, Technology/Fuel Provider, and Policy/Organization Innovation. Applicants are encouraged to nominate themselves or a colleague for efforts involved with transportation efficiency and/or expanding the use of alternative transportation fuels such as biodiesel, ethanol, electricity, natural gas, and propane through direct use, business development, policies and organizational enhancement.


WHY: Over 6.5 million North Carolinians are at risk due to the health effect of poor air quality.  North Carolina’s reliance on imported transportation fuel contributes to air quality problems. The 2012 Mobile CARE awards will recognize exemplary efforts to reduce transportation related emissions and support fuel diversity options that benefit North Carolina.


CONTACT: Shannon Helm, N.C. Solar Center, 919-423-8340,

Anne Tazewell, N.C. Solar Center, 919-513-7831,

Chapel Hill solar farm proposed

Posted on: February 9th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

A Chapel Hill green energy developer has chosen its home base to build one of the state’s largest solar energy plants.

If approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission, Strata Solar’s proposed 40-acre solar farm in Chapel Hill would be the biggest solar farm in the Triangle.

It’s one of two 5-megawatt projects the company proposed this week and among more than a dozen Strata Solar has developed or planned to date.

Strata Solar also proposed a similarly sized solar project in Howard’s Creek, about 200 miles west of Raleigh. The company was founded in 2009 and has about 30 employees.

The 5-megawatt size has become a standard in this state for a large solar farm. Several years ago the barrier to break was 1 megawatt, which is now considered a medium-sized, industrial-scale solar farm.

The state’s largest solar farm, in Davidson County, is 15.5 megawatts, three times bigger than the Strata Solar proposals.

[Reposted from Raleigh News & Observer, Feb 9th, 2012]

Combined Heat and Power Plant at Fort Bragg Wins 2012 EPA CHP Award

Posted on: February 8th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Fort Bragg was honored with a US EPA Energy Star CHP Award on Tuesday, February 8th for its 5 megawatt combined heat and power (CHP) plant.  This award, presented at the International District Energy Association’s 25th annual Campus Energy Conference, recognizes the high energy and environmental performance of this CHP project.  The facility, which began operation in 2004, provides the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division with an efficient and reliable source of power, heating and cooling.  The heart of the system is a natural gas fueled combustion turbine generator with heat recovery boiler, that together operate twice as efficiently as a central utility plant, saving the base an estimated $1 million per year in energy costs.

The use of combined heat and power systems is an important means to increase the efficiency of electricity production, in which the heat is normally exhausted as waste.    CHP plants like Fort Bragg’s generate electricity onsite and capture the resulting heat, which in this case is used to produce steam or chilled water in an absorption chiller.  The steam and chilled water is distributed to the base through a district energy system, an underground piping network that connects multiple buildings to a central plant.  A total of 67 buildings are served by the Fort Bragg system, to the benefit of more than 10,000 soldiers, family members and base employees.

The use of CHP at Fort Bragg also has a significant impact on the base’s emissions, avoiding an estimated 12,300 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of 4,036 cars.

The Department of Defense and the US Army have developed strategic plans for increased energy security and independence, which Fort Bragg installation energy management professionals are implementing through the use of a combination of technologies that include onsite CHP, energy efficiency and renewable energy resources.  Ultimately, using more CHP as a constantly available resource in conjunction with available renewable energy resources, the base may generate as much power as it uses, with capability to operate as a secure and independent power island, called a microgrid.

The North Carolina Solar Center, housed at North Carolina State University, operates US Department of Energy Southeast Clean Energy Application Center (CEAC) as a key part of its mission to advance the use of clean power and renewable energy technologies such as CHP.  The US Department of Energy Southeast Clean Energy Application Center (CEAC) assists private and public sector entities to identify and develop the opportunities that exist for energy and cost savings through the application of combined heat and power, district energy and waste heat recovery technologies.   Organizations that use CHP and district energy in North Carolina include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, which is currently building an 11 megawatt CHP plant that will serve its campus.

Biogen Idec Installs Electric Vehicle Charging Stations in RTP

Posted on: February 3rd, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Move underscores commitment to environmental sustainability in the region

(Research Triangle Park, N.C. – February 2, 2012) – On February 7, at 10:00 AM, Biogen Idec will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for ten new electric vehicle charging stations at its campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Machelle Sanders, Vice President, Manufacturing and General Manager and Kathy Boyer of Triangle J Council of Governments will speak at the event.

Biogen Idec purchased the charging stations with support from the Carolina Blue Skies Initiative, a project led by Triangle J Council of Governments (TJCOG), with $12 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The charging stations at the Biogen Idec campus will supplement the company’s goal of reducing its environmental impact by encouraging employees to adopt an environmentally-friendly form of transportation. The charging stations will allow employees to completely charge their cars while at work. The ability to charge an electric car at work has been recognized as a critical factor in an individual’s decision to purchase an electric vehicle and is expected to encourage early adopters. Employees are able to charge their cars at no cost to them as a company-provided benefit..

“Biogen Idec is proud to be on the leading edge of encouraging adoption of environmentally-friendly forms of transportation for our employees. By providing these charging stations at no cost to employees, we’re pleased to be part of the larger effort to build out the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles,” said Hector Rodriguez, Director of Environment, Health, Safety and Sustainability for Biogen Idec.

The benefits of using electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles are:

  • Electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are less expensive to operate than a conventional vehicle. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, EVs usually cost $.02 to $0.04 per mile to fuel, compared to conventional vehicles, which cost $0.10 to $0.15 to operate. HEVs also cost significantly less (about $0.05 to $0.07 per mile) to operate.
  • Both hybrid and electric vehicles reduce U.S. reliance on imported petroleum.According to the Energy Information Agency, the U.S. imports more than 60% of its petroleum, two-thirds of which is used in the transportation sector. Light-duty vehicles (typical passenger vehicles) consume 76% of the energy used by the on-road transportation sector.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an HEV will generally see a 30-50% increase in fuel economy, a significant increase versus a standard gasoline vehicle.
  • Electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions and potentially zero lifecycle emissions if renewable energy such as biomass, wind or solar is used for electricity generation. (U.S. DOE)

The Carolina Blue Skies initiative will expand alternative fuel infrastructure in North and South Carolina and improve air quality. Currently, 24 counties in North Carolina are in non attainment or maintenance for National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The initiative will benefit both states by lowering harmful emissions while creating local jobs.

For Immediate Release
Kathy Boyer

Triangle J Council of Governments