The largest solar panel installation in Geauga County started producing clean electricity from sunlight recently in the town of Newbury. The 192 panels are located on the roof of Ralston Instruments, a company that develops pressure calibration devices. Dovetail Solar and Wind installed the 33-kilovolt system.
At a recent open house, Dovetail staff members said that the system should produce 50-80% of Ralston's electricity on an annual basis. The panels, manufactured by Sharp, come with a 25-year warranty and are known for their durability. In the 14 years that Dovetail has been in business and has been using Sharp solar panels, the firm has never had to replace one, although every now and then a meter must be changed out. The meters read the amount of power the panels have collected and also measure the amount of excess power that is fed onto the local power grid to earn the owner a credit.
One misconception is that solar panels are not practical in Northeast Ohio because of our cloudy weather, especially in the winter. According to the Dovetail staff, Northeast Ohio gets an average of 4.1 sun hours per panel on a daily basis, while places that are sunny all year long, such as Miami and San Diego, get about 5.3 sun hours per panel per day. Thus we get about 77% of the light intensity of the sunniest places, more than adequate for solar power. In addition, there is actually more sun in Northeast Ohio in the summer than in most other Midwestern areas, and users can store up energy credits during the summer and use them during the winter. The reflectivity of snow and ice during the Ohio winter also mitigates the effects of cloudy weather.
One of the most interesting things about the open house was the number of local residents in attendance. Many said they were interested in purchasing solar panels for their home - an idea that the Dovetail representative encouraged by pointing out that natural gas prices have risen 300% since 1999 and that oil prices rose over 200% between 2003 and 2008. Solar panels also increase the resale value of properties, and tax credits are available to help offset installation costs.