Carolina Timberworks, a leading designer and manufacturer in the U.S. of architectural timber frames crafted from wooden timbers, announced the first phase of an initiative that has already achieved 95% Net-Zero Carbon Usage, by installing a rooftop solar array that will produce almost twice the electricity the company typically needs each week. The project is projected to pay back the financial investment in just 12 years–which is a 7.1% rate of return. And after 12 years, the power consumed by the company in creating timber frame structures at the facility will essentially be free. “The dollars saved are only one of the compelling reasons for this project,” explains Eric Morley, founder of Carolina Timberworks. “As we studied our situation, we learned that over half (54.8%) of the electrical power generated in North Carolina is created by burning coal or natural gas, and as a result of this project, we are now operating on a 95% Net-Zero carbon energy budget!” And, the risk of electricity shortages is rising throughout the U.S. as traditional power plants are being retired and the aging power grid is feeling the strain. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation recently warned that much of the U.S. could experience power outages this summer. Historically unusual weather patterns are placing stress on the grid, and the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better, and as a result, a growing number of businesses are taking steps to ensure a reliable supply of energy and avoid power outages. As fossil fuel prices rise and renewable prices have become competitive in price, Morley says there’s another benefit: “This is about locking in costs for us over the long term.” After the one-time capital expenditure, renewables like wind and solar completely remove the volatility of fossil fuel price spikes. A subsequent phase in the company’s initiative will be to ensure a reliable source of energy by adding battery storage to the new solar array. While the cost to add battery systems to a solar panel installation has plummeted, current availability is limited, so Carolina Timberworks decided to install the infrastructure (solar panels) now, and to add battery storage later. Carolina Timberworks is passionate about supporting the local community, and sometimes this is easier said than done. After barking up the wrong tree for six months, Morley phoned Dr. Dennis Scanlin, a professor who co-established the Sustainable Development Department at Appalachian State University, to ask for advice. Scanlin gave Morley the names of two reputable local companies that design and install solar panels. (Morley later learned that another good idea is to contact the local electric utility and talk with their people who actually do the work of connecting the systems to the grid–after all, they get to work with the good, and the not-so-good, solar installers.) “It’s not easy to find solar panels that are made in North America,” Morley notes. “But I didn’t want to listen to my son lecture me about the carbon footprint of solar panels made overseas.” To Morley’s relief, their supplier was able to source solar panels that were made in Canada. Reliability, locking in costs, and supporting the local community weren’t the only drivers for the decision. “This isn’t only good for our bottom line, it’s good for the environment,” says Morley. “Fixing our dependence on fossil fuels seems impossible, until it isn’t. In our case, we didn’t get to net zero, but we got really close.” Carolina Timberworks tallied its annual energy usage at its manufacturing facility (electricity, natural gas, diesel fuel for trucks and tractors, and liquid propane for forklift vehicles) and Collaborative Solar & Sunvolt Electric team converted the fossil fuel usage to the equivalent kilowatt hours of electricity. The new solar installation resulted in a 95% net-zero carbon energy budget. Morley notes that “the current array only covers half the roof, so there’s room for more panels later.” “At Carolina Timberworks, we’re passionate about the idea that changes in how we build can be a major part of the solution to climate change, including our commitment to re-using salvaged timber in our timber frame structures,” explained Morley, “And one of our customers recently commented: ‘So, now you’re building a product from a renewable resource, with renewable energy. Well done.’ ” 02:25 video: https://www.carolinatimberworks.com/solar/
Since 2003, Carolina Timberworks has worked with homeowners, architects, and general contractors / builders to create architectural timber framing for both residential and commercial projects throughout the U.S. (and beyond) from its base in Boone, NC. Timber framing is a traditional method of building with heavy timbers that have been continuously in use for almost two thousand years. It’s the best, longest-lasting, and most beautiful way to build that we know of, with the advantage that timber frames can be created from salvaged timbers reclaimed from previous timber frame structures. In 2019, Carolina Timberworks created a new manufacturing facility in West Jefferson, North Carolina. A gallery of images and videos of many of the hundreds of projects created over 19 years can be viewed here.