Promoting the use of solar-electric technologies

Energy from the sun shining in North Carolina in one day is sufficient to provide all of the energy for the entire state for a full year. 

The Million Solar Roofs Initiative, or MSRI, was established in 1997 as a national initiative for global climate change. The program supports state and local communities in promoting the widespread use of solar-electric technologies. These technologies generate electricity called photovoltaics, or PVs, and solar thermal for heating hot water and homes. The result will be reduced fuel costs and an improved environment.

Energy from the sun shining in North Carolina in one day can provide all the energy needed for the entire state for a year. North Carolina sends about $6 billion each year to other states and countries for our electricity. North Carolina citizens could be spending that money here in our state on housing, heating fuel, health care and education if we reduced the need to import our energy. Sixty percent of the electricity North Carolina uses is generated from coal, which causes greenhouse gases, air pollution and health problems. The movement toward renewable energy, on the other hand, is creating tens of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing and installation of hot-water solar collectors, PV panels and other forms of renewable energy. The sun is a clean, nonpolluting source of energy that is not subject to price increases and shortages caused by natural or human disruptions.

North Carolina has one of the best solar-income tax credits in the country (35 percent), and federal solar-income tax credits of 30 percent are available starting in 2006. The tax credits reduce the amount of income tax due. Both hot-water collectors (for water or space heating) and PV panels (to generate electricity) qualify for tax credits for residences. Higher tax credits are available for businesses and industries. The average cost for an installed hot-water solar collector to heat domestic water is about $4,500. Reduce this by about half with the money saved from tax credits, and add the balance to a new or existing mortgage, and the monthly savings can often exceed additional monthly payments.

According to research at the University of Wisconsin’s Solar Energy Laboratory, a typical household’s electric water heater annually produces about as much carbon dioxide as the typical family’s car. Using solar to replace the electric water heater would provide an environmental benefit equivalent to doubling the fuel mileage of the family car.

Many other states and countries are forging ahead with solar initiatives that will increase the installation of solar collectors. The Million Solar Roof Initiative in Western North Carolina helps educate the public about solar energy and its benefits. Using solar energy is just one opportunity now to be a part of the solution.

As part of the MSRI program, the Western North Carolina Green Building Council has a goal to identify 50 solar installations in the next year. If you have a solar-energy installation at your home, please register it at For more information about green building or how to become a member or volunteer with our council, visit our Web site at

[Matt Siegel is director of the WNC Green Building Council. He can be reached at 232-5080]