Randy Wheeless, communications manager at Duke Energy, said Chapel Hill is one beneficiary of a Duke Energy program that funds over 200 electric vehicle charging stations around North Carolina.
“We were funding the station and the city can choose where to put it, and then the city will maintain and operate it as they see fit," he said. “I think as the transportation industry transitions to more electric vehicles that you need that infrastructure in place for drivers.”
Mayor Hemminger also said the town is attempting to overcome barriers to placing solar panels on homes and offices.
Connecting solar conduit can be challenging in completed buildings, but is easiest to do before walls are finished and sealed. Hemminger said the town of Chapel Hill is asking developers to lay the conduit during construction so solar panels can be connected if ever the owner wants to install them instead of having to replace older electric cables.
John Richardson, interim planning operations manager for Chapel Hill, said Chapel Hill, in partnership with Carrboro and Orange County, works with SolSmart, a national organization funded by the Department of Energy to reduce other barriers to solar power installation.
“Probably the biggest thing is we streamlined our permitting for small, photo-voltaic systems, which results in a faster turnaround time for permitting, so we actually reduce that to no more than three days,” he said.
Richardson said this is one way the SolSmart initiative tries to decrease “soft costs,” which are time and monetary expenses aside from purchasing physical hardware like solar panels.
Installing solar panels makes economic sense for companies because of the high levels of sunlight in North Carolina, Hemminger said.
“North Carolina is the second-largest solar energy producer behind California, so that’s interesting, but it’s still a very, very low percentage of where Duke Energy gets its power from,” she said. “In helping them move along, we help all of us move along, because most of their energy still comes from nuclear, which is not as renewable as we’d like it to be.”
One of the biggest challenges for widespread adoption of solar energy is the large surface area required to generate comparable amounts of power to a conventional power plant, Wheeless said.
By making it easier to install solar panels on rooftops, towns and cities like Chapel Hill can generate renewable electricity without consuming a lot of land with a solar power plant.
“I just think it’s really a way this community can move forward with renewable energy because we have a lot of sunshine, and we have a lot of opportunity and we have a lot of interest,” Hemminger said.