Solar Has a Long Way to Go in North Carolina

I just returned from a holiday to North Carolina, barely missing the wrath of Hurricane Bill. My family and I stayed for a week on the Outer Banks—known for its sun and sand in the summer. The Outer Banks boasts good conditions for solar energy, direct sunlight with virtually no obstructions. The solar radiation, also known as insolation, is similar to that in Florida and parts of Texas. So where are all of the solar panels and solar water heating systems? There was barely a trace of any solar energy, except for a few solar lights scattered along the driveways of an occasional house. Despite the apparent good conditions, solar has certainly not made it to North Carolina.

The only exception to this virtual black-out on solar panels was at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Almost like a museum piece on display, the Memorial has a 1 kW array, which provides some of the electricity for the well air-conditioned halls of the museum.

Solar array at the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Solar array at the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the first controlled powered flight on this spot on December 17, 1903. The Memorial was a vivid reminder of how quickly technology can advance given the will and determination—and sometimes the exigencies of war. Within 12 years of the first flight, pilots were flying their planes at more than 100 miles an hour powered by engines of more than 250 horsepower. Within 40 years, jet aircraft that could fly up to 600 mph were flying. And within 63 years, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Technology is only limited by man’s imagination and determination.

What does this all mean for the solar industry? With renewable technologies in vogue, governments have now started to provide the support and financial resources to build the solar industry. We will not recognize the solar industry in 10 years from now. New technologies currently being incubated will lead the drive to go solar. We do not know whether crystalline technologies will continue to lead the solar industry, or whether thin film will gain a stronger marketshare, or whether a new technology will become dominant. But we do know that solar panels will become more efficient and may work even in the shade. You will not be surprised to see solar panels from Florida to Idaho, and you will see solar panels even on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

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4 Responses to “Solar Has a Long Way to Go in North Carolina”

  1. Jimo says:

    Very interesting blog. My prediction for the solar industry 10 years from now is as follow:

    • Solar will have achieved grid parity with fossils fuel
    • Renewable energy will increase from current 7% of nation’s energy supply to 20%
    • Solar energy’s contribution will increase from 1% of renewable energy to 15%
    • Thin-film solar panels will be on the roof of vehicles

  2. TFitz says:

    The solar industry is very much in the nascent stages of devlopment. With only 0.02% of the total energy output worldwide coming from solar technologies, I predict there will be tremendous growth over the next decade in this sector promoted by international emissions reducing protocol, government purchase and consumer incentive programs, increased efficiency due to technological research (the current efficiency levels for PV is 17-18%), and more cost effective systems per KwH driven by increased manufacturing and rising fossil fuel costs.
    One of the main constraints to solar energy is storage capacity. Advancements in infrared catalyst hydrogen fuel cells may well be the key to this problem, allowing the energy captured from the sun during daylight hours to be effectively stored and reused later in highly efficient low cost systems.
    With more than 16 times the annual energy consumption of humankind hitting the Earth everyday, the resource is readily available. At current efficiency levels, it would require less than 2.4% of the total Earth’s surface to capture enough power to run the planet.
    Hopefully, the international community will ‘see the light’ and embrace this technology for what it is, the power source of the future and more than 15% of the planet will be powered by solar technologies within the next decade.

  3. Moshe Rosten says:


    Here is my speculation. When you say 2.4% of the toal Earth’s surface, do you mean land surface or total surface? If it’s land surface then I believe that’s about 2.2 million miles of solar panels!! The entire USA is about 6.1 million miles. 15% of that is 33 000 square miles. Slightly more than half the state of NY. It appears there is a lot of work to do!!


  4. Tfitz says:


    I was referring to total land area. Total land area of the planet is 57 million square miles. 2.4% of this area is roughly 1.36 million sq miles. The total land area of the US is 3.537 million square miles(including Alaska).
    The US consumes 25% of aggregate planetary energy production, roughly 10% of the US would need to be covered by PV at current consumption levels for total demand. 15% of this would be 51,000 sq miles ~roughly 4000sq miles less than all of New York state! An astronomical figure, but only 1.4% of total US land. Or 5100 square miles annually which works out to be less than 1sq ft per person in the US per annum.
    I’m in full agreement–there is LOTS of work to be done. What these figures really highlight for me is how 5% of the world’s population consumes 1/4 of its energy resources and the impacts our consumption levels have on the planet. While implementing alternative energy resources is essential to the green revolution, reduction in consumption will play an equally important role.
    The argument in favor of solar panels here is that they could be installed on virtually every pre-existing roof in the US and the need for virgin land would be minimal. As a corollary, when people are directly aware of their energy source and are financially incentivized to minimize their own consumption thru utility payouts by contributing energy back to the grid for monetary gain. If you couple this argument with falling prices for more efficient panels, the total land area needed for this 15% target will steadily decrease over the decade.