CHARLOTTE -- When it comes to renewable energy, North Carolina can produce a healthy amount of solar power.
The state's lack of large-scale solar projects was among the reasons solar panel manufacturer Sencera International decided to increase its presence in the state.
"North Carolina is stepping forward in the Southeast," said Britt Weaver, the Charlotte company's chief operating officer. "We wanted to be the first company to produce large scale modules in the what is now the progressive state in the region."
The company Monday announced plans to invest $36.8 million to build a factory in Charlotte where it will produce silicon thin-film solar modules, creating 65 jobs during the next three years.
Sencera, currently operating with 10 employees, opted to expand in North Carolina rather than relocate offshore or in the West, Weaver said. The company received a $62,000 One North Carolina Fund grant to help fund the expansion.
The expansion will make Sencera the largest of a small number of solar panel distributers and manufacturers in the state, said Steve Kalland, executive director of the North Carolina Solar Center. SBM Solar and MegaWatt Solar are also in North Carolina.
Kalland said the majority of solar projects in the state are small and residential. The state's solar industry got a boost in May when Duke Energy Corp., agreed to purchase all of the energy produced by solar company SunEdison in Davidson County.
Small industry, rapid growth
"It's a pretty small industry in North Carolina but a pretty rapidly growing one," Kalland said. "A lot of factors have come together to produce this uptick from policy incentives to external conditions."
North Carolina law requires all utilities to get 12.5 percent of their %electricity from renewable sources by 2021.
Solar energy's biggest opponent is cost, as one of the most expensive renewable energy resources. That cost is decreasing however, at a rate of 5 percent every year, said Weaver. He said the cost to consumers for energy from utility companies is 8 or 9 cents per kilowatt hour, whereas solar power averages 22 cents per kilowatt hour. The average household requires 4,000 kilowatts of energy a year.
Weaver said Sencera is able to manufacture panels faster, allowing them to provide them for a lower cost, 12 cents per kilowatt hour. Sencera then sells the modules to installers who can attach them to roofs of businesses and homes or use them on solar farms that produce electricity.
Still, Kalland said solar power continues to serve as the most environmentally friendly form of energy. He said there are also substantial benefits for the state.
"We have more than enough sunlight to make these products work effectively here," Kalland said. "The more we can use the more we have the opportunity to have that money stay in the state."
Weaver wants to see the state be a leader in the nation for renewable energy use.
"The future is bright for solar and North Carolina," he said.