New report puts numbers on Southern states' renewable energy potential

New report puts numbers on Southern states' renewable energy potential

New Bern, NC – INTRO - Twenty-nine states have Renewable Portfolio Standards a goal toward replacing a percentage of non-renewable energy sources such as coal with renewable energy such as wind and solar. Some who oppose standards believe their state's renewable resources are insufficient to meet goals, but a new report authored in part by a Duke University professor tries to put numbers on each state's potential. George Olsen has more.

The national average among the 50 states for the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources is 9.5%. The South's average 3.7%, with no Southern state above the national average. North Carolina is below the Southern average, generating just 3% of its energy through renewable sources.

"If the country and the state really want to move toward renewables, the potential is there, I've heard arguments say we don't have renewables. They're there."

Etan Gumerman is the co-director of the Climate Change partnership at Duke University and one of the five authors of a report on Renewables in the South. North Carolina does provide leadership in renewables in one area it's one of four Southern states listed in the report as having a Renewable Portfolio Standard 12.5% of the state's energy needs from independently owned utilities provided by renewables by 2021 with up to 40% of the renewable total allowed to come from energy efficiency. Co-op and municipal providers have to hit a 10% standard by 2018. It's one of the lower standards in the U-S for example, Delaware has a 20% standard to be achieved by 2020. Still, it would mark a 400% improvement in ten years time if it can be reached, and the report seeks to point out where the improvement could come from.

"One of the reasons we showed a growth for a potential for hydro-power wasn't because we were envisioning new dams at all. We were using data that we got that showed that there's I think over 80% of the existing dams aren't or aren't generating much electricity and just upgrading their existing dams to generate more efficiently or just to generate at all would be a way of avoiding any new dam construction which I assume is off the table so there may be potential on certain existing dams that aren't generating to kind of upgrade those."

One of the things that report seeks to do is separate potential from realizable potential. It's looking at a 20-year time span and that's why Gumerman says while the state has potential to produce wind energy it's probably unrealistic for now.

"We don't expect in the next 15-20 years off-shore wind to be anywhere near cost effective plus all the political problems. I don't know if you're aware but the Secretary of Interior just recently a few months ago gave the go ahead for a project near Cape Cod and I think its been under review for 9 years, so you can imagine It's going to take a while before we get far with off-shore wind but I think it is a part of the equation, just not in the short term."

Gumerman says solar energy might actually "come on stronger" than they're reporting. He notes some solar projects by independent utilities Progress Energy has seven photovoltaic arrays in the state while Duke Energy recently went on-line with a 1 megawatt project in Shelby County. But Gumerman says solar's largest effect might not be on the supply side but on the demand side.

"Solar hot water heating, that's one of the most cost effective solar technologies there and frequently if you install it in new buildings its going to be the most cost effective but even retro-fitting homes that or businesses that have the right roof angles to the sun is where you're going to get the biggest bang for your buck. They're just the collectors that are going to heat up the hot water for you and that's something we saw as a large cost effective potential for solar energy."

Anything from the solar side might be cause for celebration. The Renewables in the South report says throughout the South exactly 0% of renewable electric power consumption came from solar in 2008. The report concludes saying no single renewable source will fill the gap it will be several sources wind, solar, biomass, whatever. It goes on to say "paradigm shifts in how we generate and use energy" will be required to move away from fossil fuels. Nudging that solar number off zero might be the first indication that paradigm shift may be underway. Etan Gumerman is a co-author of the Renewable Energy in the South policy brief published by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance. I'm George Olsen.