On Monday April 10th, Georgia Tech’s Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business (Scheller College of Business) and the GT Energy Club welcomed Luke Wilkinson, Director of Business Development at Silicon Ranch, a solar energy developer with a growing presence in Georgia and around the country. In 2014, the Nashville-based company built what was at the time the largest solar energy farm east of the Mississippi in Social Circle, GA. Since then, two additional facilities have been constructed and operationalized – twin solar facilities totaling 72 MW- in Hazlehurst, GA.
Luke highlighted two key trends: the rapid decline of production costs partly due to the accelerating pace of innovation, and the importance of community engagement when developing solar energy, especially in rural areas.
Since 2013, the cost of solar panels has dropped by at least 30%, and sunlight-to-electricity conversion ratios are also improving thanks to continued innovation. At the same time, the solar power industry grew at a compounded annual rate of 17.7%. At these rates, solar energy is expected to meet 27% of global electricity demand by 2050.
Beyond these favorable market trends, what makes Silicon Ranch’s work unique is its focus on community engagement at every step of the project cycle. The company holds townhall meetings prior to and after solar installations are completed to address the community’s concerns. The company also nurtures trust and partnership by engaging with local schools in the rural areas it operates in to host field trips and site tours. This gets young students excited about the underlying science of solar energy and helps stimulate interest in the solar energy industry.
I was struck by the resonance of the community engagement theme with the core emphasis of Georgia Tech’s Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative, a university-wide undergraduate initiative that will provide Georgia Tech students with opportunities to work on community-focused projects as part of a sequence of activities around an exciting theme—“creating sustainable communities.” I invite you to read a Technique editorial about Serve-Learn-Sustain here and join the growing Serve-Learn-Sustain community!
Usayd Casewit is a second-year Masters student in the School of Public Policy. His research and coursework focuses on energy and climate policy. He is a Research Assistant in the Office of the President Emeritus, supporting Dr. G. Wayne Clough’s global change and sustainability-related initiatives at Georgia Tech.