Rajendra Singh believes South Carolina can do much better regarding solar energy. While some progress has been made, the Clemson professor says the state lags in solar deployment and should be doing much more. Since the cost of solar energy is dropping, it’s time for the state to embrace it in a much greater way.
Singh, director of Clemson’s Center of Silicon Nanoelectronics, was honored by the Obama Administration in 2014 for his efforts to promote solar deployment in residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. He’s spent more than 40 years studying and researching solar-related topics.
“Part of the reason is that South Carolina’s commitment to nuclear energy is so heavy,” Singh said. “Nobody can say that nuclear is generating cheaper electricity. The problem is deep-rooted. It’s like an elephant. What do you do to move an elephant unless an elephant wants to move itself? It’s that kind of thing.”
Singh laments that so many new buildings have been built on the campuses of Clemson and the University of South Carolina, but none are being equipped with solar panels.
“Solar is growing exponentially every year, but it’s not moving fast here in our state,” Singh said. “The public will drive growth. Electric bills keep rising. The public is not dumb.”
Singh is a member of the board of the South Carolina Solar Council as is Don Zimmerman, who has been involved in solar installations in South Carolina since 2008. He believes the industry has much promise. Zimmerman, president and CEO of Alder Energy Systems in Charleston, says momentum is currently being driven by the enactment of Act 236 by the South Carolina General Assembly in 2014. The bill allows homes and businesses to lease solar systems from independent solar companies. The bill also continues net metering in S.C., which allows consumers to sell power from their solar panels back to the grid.
“There’s been a big burst of residential activity based on that [Act 236],” Zimmerman said. “South Carolina has a great solar resource due to its sun exposure and our energy bills are so high that a lot of people can benefit from putting at least some solar on their homes and businesses. Between rising electric rates and the reduction in price of systems of late, you can get some great return on investment. There’s really been no better time to install solar. People now realize that South Carolina is open for solar.”
Colleton Solar Farm in Colleton County, which opened in 2013, is the state’s largest solar farm, providing 3MW of power. It was developed by Tig Sun Energy, along with The InterTech Group, South Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives and Santee Cooper. Much larger solar farms are being discussed for the state, including one planned for Allendale County by Charlotte solar developer NARENCO, which would generate 70MW of power.
Zimmerman said he has no doubt that South Carolina will soon be home to more and larger solar farms. As electricity costs continue to rise, solar farms will become more economically attractive.
“We [South Carolina] has some great locations that are flat and can accommodate solar,” Zimmerman said.
Palmetto Solar opened its Charleston office in 2013 and is currently located in the Cigar Factory on East Bay Street. The company has built or financed more than 5,000 residential solar installations across the U.S. About 40 have ben in the Charleston market and the company expects to do about 40 installations per month for the foreseeable future, says Sean Hayes, company spokesman. He says the company has experience building commercial and industrial solar projects, primarily in the Northeast and the U.K., and currently have several in the early stages in S.C.
“Solar in South Carolina as a whole really started to gain momentum this past January/February,” Hayes says.
Sara Hummel Rajca moved to South Carolina five years ago from Arizona, statistically the sunniest state and a leader in the solar movement. She worked to promote the industry in Arizona and is now doing the same in South Carolina as community outreach manager for Solarize South Carolina, a community driven solar promotion program that is part of SmartPower, a national nonprofit that promotes clean energy. Rajca is also chairman the South Carolina Solar Council and has a positive outlook about South Carolina solar.
Rajca said solar is exploding in South Carolina as a result of Act 236, and the state offers lots of opportunities for solar installation.
“We see strip malls, parking garages, county buildings, university buildings that all have huge roof space that could be examined for solar. The City of Columbia is looking into it. Part of our campaign is to get cities to look into solar. They are welcoming for me to give basic solar talks, but many people haven’t seen solar at all and there are some counties with no solar at all and people haven’t seen their neighbors go solar.”
The solarizesc.org website offers a guide for homeowners to determine if their location is conducive to installing solar panels. If the location is ideal, pre-screened solar installers will provide information on potential return on investment to install solar.