Renewable Energy Overview Shows Successes & Opportunities

Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight Feature

News posted Jul. 21, 2016 - 6:00 am
Solar Photovoltaic Installation

North Carolina’s clean energy sector has grown 45 percent since 2014. The City of Raleigh is part of that growth, joining the ranks of companies and organizations that provide close to 30,000 jobs in the state.

So far, the City has sponsored a range of renewable energy projects. They include employing solar thermal panels for hot water, biomass for the generation of biofuel, solar photovoltaic panels for the generation of electricity and geothermal systems for improved energy efficiency (see list below).

“It’s rewarding when someone calls you and says, ‘you really got it done?’” said Robert Hinson, the City’s Renewable Energy Coordinator, “And we say, ‘yeah we did.’”

What can the City do to improve its renewable energy program?

Despite these accomplishments, energy costs continue to be one of the City’s biggest expenses. The Office of Sustainability wanted perspective on the City’s efforts to move toward more renewables, and how they can be improved.

The Office of Sustainability partnered with NC Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) to review the City’s strengths and opportunities.

NCSEA, a non-profit organization, interviewed staff and collected data to generate recommendations in a Renewable Energy Overview for the City.

Hinson said the report shows three things: “One, there have been successes. Two, there are opportunities. And three, the landscape is ever-changing.”

Renewable energy technology and regulation are always in flux. Hinson said municipalities are cautious about spending money and taking risks on renewable projects “with good reason, because it’s not our money,” he said. But he also said the technology is constantly improving, even as the funding and regulatory structure varies by year.

“I’m hoping that we can encourage people not to be afraid, to do the research and take some risks,” said Hinson. “We’ve got to stay on top of it and explore the opportunities where it best suits the City.”

In order to do that, Hinson said the City is targeting these issues to improve renewable energy initiatives:

  • Data Hub: The City is implementing a centralized system for access and analysis of energy-related data in order to evaluate opportunities for the future.
  • Planning: The City needs to clearly establish a system to evaluate projects for renewable opportunities. Renewable energy projects require cross-departmental co-operation.
  • Funding: Although the City has financed projects in the past, no dedicated funding source exists for renewable energy projects in the future.
  • Communication: The City has an opportunity to improve communication on the benefits, successes and goals of renewable energy projects among staff and with the public.
  • Partnerships: The City has partnered with Duke Progress Energy in the past, and the City has an opportunity to strengthen existing relationships with universities and private companies to implement new technologies in the future.

Part of NCSEA’s report focused on the importance of energy data. Keeping track of the City’s electric consumption is important. “The City has 900 electric bills,” said Suzanne Walker, the City’s Energy Manager and part of the Engineering Services Department, “and we receive them monthly for each billing cycle.”

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so it’s important that we have a good system in place for tracking our energy use and that this data is available for analysis,” Walker said.

The report also details the City’s renewable energy successes:

Solar Photovoltaic
Photovoltaic cells—or solar arrays—convert sunlight directly into electricity. The electricity is then sold to the energy utility company. The City either owns the solar arrays or leases the space for them to renewable energy companies.

Solar Bus Shelters: The City owns a 6.28 kw solar array at its Capital Area Transit bus stop and employs solar powered real time passenger information signs at two additional bus stops.

Solar Charging Stations: The City in collaboration with Progress Energy developed two solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations near Raleigh Convention Center and upon the sale of the property donated the system components to NC State University for further research and development.

Anne Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park: City-owned, 2.5 kW solar array

Brentwood Operations Center: City-owned, 29.61 kW solar array

Wilders Grove Solid Waste Services Center: City-owned 73.5 kW solar array, supplies approximately 12.5 percent of the facility’s electric needs

EM Johnson Water Treatment Plant: The City leases space for a 250 kW solar array, enough to power 50 homes

Raleigh Convention Center: The City leases rooftop space for a 500kW array, enough to power 100 homes

Neuse River Resource Recovery Facility: The City leases 9 acres of land for a 1.3 MW solar array, enough to power 250 homes

Capital Area Transit Facility: City-owned, 5.26kw array

Solar Thermal
Solar panels absorb energy from the sun and heats fluid pumping through the system. The fluids heat water used by the building. The City has eight solar thermal arrays.

Fire Stations: Six stations installed solar thermal hot water heating systems to supplement natural gas units

Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center: Solar thermal helps offset the facility's hot water needs

Municipal Building: In 1985 the City installed a solar thermal system at the City government’s downtown administration building, which still functions today

Deep wells use the constant temperature of the earth to heat and cool buildings. The City owns three geothermal systems.

Transit Operations Facility: The City owns 150 geothermal wells, each 300 feet deep, that will pay for themselves in energy savings in six years.

Wilders Grove Solid Waste Services Building: The City owns 60 geothermal wells, each 330 feet deep. The wells save 30 percent of heating and cooling costs and 20 percent of hot water heating costs.

Pullen Park: A submerged system in Howell Lake provides heating and cooling to the historic carousel building.

Methane Recovery
Decaying landfill waste generates methane, which can be captured and used as an energy source.

Wilders Grove Landfill: In 1989 the City began selling landfill gas to a local manufacturing company

Plants with a high oil content (such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers) are converted into fuels. Used cooking grease can also be converted. The City is producing its own biofuels to power City-owned diesel vehicles.

Neuse River Resource Recovery Facility: Sunflowers and soybeans grown on City land will be processed by the City-owned mobile biofuel converter.

The City’s renewable energy initiatives are guided by the Climate Energy Action Plan (CEAP).

This Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight is one in a series of City of Raleigh sustainability stories.

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