Letters to the Editor

Herbert M. Eckerlin: Concerns about solar energy

Regarding the June 2 Point of View “How solar could make N.C. the next Silicon”: Hugh McColl’s contributions to the North Carolina banking industry are well known. North Carolina needs more leaders like McColl. His comparison of the N.C. solar power industry with Silicon Valley, however, requires a bit of clarification.

As a long-term proponent of solar energy, I, like McColl, want solar to succeed. But I want North Carolinians to be realistic.

Solar power is available to us about five hours a day. That’s not a technical deficiency, it’s simply what Mother Nature gives us. Given that reality, McColl’s solar-powered banks would have a difficult time staying open for a typical business day. This five-hour window will affect all of our activities.

As we dream of the advantages of solar, we must also consider how we are going to live during the remaining 19 hours that solar power is not available. That’s almost 80 percent of the day. And as we dream about the development of another Silicon Valley here in North Carolina, perhaps we should educate our residents about the challenges that solar power faces in delivering power continuously at different times of the day under all kinds of weather conditions.

In a sense, Mother Nature forces us all to be more honest, with ourselves and with others. We all want clean, green sustainable energy, but achieving it is another matter.

McColl suggested that solar is close to competing with conventional energy sources such as natural gas, coal and nuclear. But without reliable, cost-effective energy storage, comparing a five-hour energy source with a continuous energy source makes no sense.

This disparity in performance capability also raises the question, “Should we really be subsidizing an energy industry that is intermittent and performs at the whim of Mother Nature?”

Even with all the subsidies, solar power faces tremendous challenges to provide continuous reliable power to our industrial society. McColl favors a continuation of North Carolina’s 35 percent renewable energy tax credits that subsidize the solar program. This program is an attractive investment option for major financial institutions such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Metlife, Babson Capital and TIAA-CREE. McColl’s affiliation with these financial institutions should not be overlooked.

McColl claimed that cost of solar power is coming down (becoming more competitive). Experience in states that are ahead of us in solar development suggests that the exact opposite is true. In California, for example, the cost of power for industry is $0.12 per kwh, nearly double our rate of $.065 per kwh. In Germany, industrial power costs from $0.29 to $0.39 per kwh. These power costs are frightening and are of concern to our industry.

If we continue down this path, industry will leave and more jobs will be lost. Let us learn from the mistakes of others. California and Germany have much to teach us. Why repeat their mistakes?

Herbert M. Eckerlin

Professor, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, N.C. State University


The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response.