Real Americans Are Coal Killers: South Carolina Solar Market Gets White Hot

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Despite its rich solar resources, the great state of South Carolina has been relatively slow to hop on the solar bandwagon, but things are about to turn on a dime. The state recently broke a legislative logjam and the US solar industry is not letting the grass grow under its feet.

Earlier this month, major solar lender Dividend Solar paired up with the nonprofit energy marketing firm SmartPower, the utility SCE&G, and other partners to pre-launch a sweet solar financing initiative called Solarize South Carolina, and just last week they officially got under way in partnership with solar giant SolarWorld (yes, the solar tariff tiff SolarWorld).

SolarWorld Solarize South Carolina solar

More And Better South Carolina Solar

When Dividend Solar announced the immanent launch of  Solarize South Carolina on March 13, it promised that “there has never been a better way to go solar.”

That has yet to be seen, since the program has just barely rolled out in Charleston and a few other nearby communities before going statewide later this month, and some critics have raised questions about the solar options that SCE&G is offering. However, it sure looks good on paper, going by the participation of established solar industry leaders.

Dividend already has a track record nationally with its version of a power purchase agreement, which it calls EmpowerLoan™.

Dividend has also partnered up with two of South Carolina’s leading solar installers, Alder Energy Systems and Sunstore Solar Energy Solutions. Rounding out the Solarize program are deals on solar panels provided by SolarWorld and microinverters from Enphase Energy, both A-listers in the US solar industry.

The Solarize concept itself also has a solid track record in the US. It’s a group discount arrangement that keeps pushing prices down as more households join in. First conceived back in 2012 in Portland, Oregon (where else?!?), Solarize has spun off to communities around the country with the help of SmartPower.

The South Carolina solar version — Solarize South Carolina — is due to cash in on SmartPower’s reputation. The organization recently won awards from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) for its Solarize efforts in Connecticut.

We Are All Coal Killers Now

When Solarize South Carolina formally launched on March 19, it also put a name on the “better way” to go solar: the “Solar Freedom” package.

Not to dump on coal (but we will anyways), but it’s hard to imagine a utility partnering up with mining companies to offer a “coal freedom” package to its customers.

We’re thinking that Dividend and its partners recognize that the grassroots appeal of solar ownership transcends regional politics, and that US electricity consumers are beginning to recognize the limitations of fossil fuel dependency in terms of their individual households, ALEC or no ALEC.

When you factor in energy storage, you’ve got a coal-killing deal that also takes a swipe at natural gas, so in that regard it’s worth noting that SolarWorld has also recently announced a financing partnership for a household solar/energy storage combo in its home country, Germany.

Notably, at the Solarize South Carolina launch, SCE&G VP for Customer Relations and Renewables Danny Kassis has made no apologies for the utility’s support for solar at the expense of coal:

SCE&G is already leading the country in reducing coal-fired generation in favor of clean energy. Our support and investment in solar is also an important part of this effort to create a balanced energy portfolio that will serve our customers for the future. We are excited to see this innovative and award-winning program come to South Carolina.

What A Difference A Year (Or Less) Makes For South Carolina Solar

In May 2014, we took note when the company Canadian Solar made a point of drawing attention to its solar investment in South Carolina. The state had gained a reputation for solar-unfriendliness — fueled by the lobbying organization ALEC —  and we were thinking that Canadian Solar’s announcement was timed to nudge state legislators in a new direction.

You can’t blame coal for the anti-solar climate — solar also competes with nuclear energy in South Carolina — but the bottom line is that Canadian Solar’s strategy seems to have contributed to a much more active solar market in the Palmetto State.

We’re also wondering if the state’s vacation industry has been stirring the solar pot, too, as sea level rise has already begun to impact sensitive coastal areas.

For that matter, you could also see activity in the South Carolina wind industry pick up, especially if the Energy Department’s new funding package for next-generation taller wind turbines bears fruit.

Image Credit (screenshot): Courtesy of SolarWorld.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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