What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is energy that comes from natural processes like sunlight and wind that continue to occur and cannot be depleted. In North Carolina, common types of renewable energy are solar power, wind energy, and bioenergy from plant and animal sources.

(Source: NC Sustainable Energy Association, 2017)

Common Forms of Renewable Energy

Solar Energy

Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. Solar energy is the most widely available renewable energy as it is available anywhere a surface is unshaded. Solar power is generated by two main types of facilities in North Carolina: through customer-owned, “rooftop” systems or on utility-scale large installations (commonly referred to as “farms”). North Carolina is a leader in solar energy installations with most of this capacity coming from large, utility-scale installations. These large solar projects pay lease fees to landowners and significant taxes to the counties where they are sited. Learn more about solar here.

Wind Energy

Wind energy technology converts the blowing wind into mechanical energy used to turn generators that create electricity. Common wind technology uses large blades attached to towers that capture the wind above the ground where it is stronger and more consistent. North Carolina’s first utility-scale wind energy installation, Amazon Wind US East, is in Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties and consists of 104, 2 megaWatt turbines. Wind projects allow farmers to cultivate land near the base of each turbine and supply landowners with a lease fee and pay taxes to county governments. In addition to onshore wind energy, North Carolina has significant offshore wind energy potential. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy controls leasing and construction in these offshore areas. In the U.S., offshore wind energy is just getting started and an installation is underway off the Rhode Island coast.


Bioenergy includes the generation of heat or electricity from either the combustion of organic or waste materials or their conversion to biofuels. North Carolina is a national leader in “waste-to-energy” bioenergy, which involves converting hog waste, landfill waste, wood waste and forest residues,  and other sources into electricity by capturing methane gas or by direct combustion.


Hydropower uses the energy in flowing water to produce electricity or mechanical power. Historically, water wheels harnessed flowing water to grind grain or power other mechanical equipment. Now hydropower facilities use flowing water to produce electricity using generators that convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy. Hydropower facilities can be very big like the Hoover Dam or very small used to supply power for single house. In North Carolina, some hydropower facilities use a pumped design that uses large pumps that pump water uphill during low electricity use times where it is stored for use during high electricity use times when it is released to run downhill powering generators creating electricity when a utility needs it.

Learn about other forms of renewable energy and energy efficiency available in North Carolina here.

Benefits of Renewable Energy

In addition to being powered by resources that will not be depleted over time, renewable energy also saves money for electric rate payers, brings jobs to communities in all corners of the state, and adds reliable power sources to our state’s energy mix, to meet growing demand for energy statewide.

Renewable Energy and My Community

North Carolina is a leader in the Southeast and, increasingly, in the nation for its renewable energy industry presence and growing number of consumer adopters. With this attention often comes questions about the impact of renewable energy on different North Carolina communities.

Below are some resources designed to bring clarity to frequently raised questions, including the impacts of solar energy on NC crop land (as of December, just 0.2% of NC crop land was occupied by solar installations), as well as a look at the economic impacts ($6.4 billion in revenues generated in 2016!) of renewable energy.

Learn about other forms of renewable energy and energy efficiency available in North Carolina here.

Resources on Renewable Energy

Economic Impact Analysis of Clean Energy Development in North Carolina – 2016 Update – Local Economic Impacts

2016 NC Clean Energy Industry Census – Business Activity, Employment and Revenue

Clean Energy Misunderstood – Renewable Energy Claims vs. Facts