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Solar challenge (not) accomplished, and that's OK

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/14/07 @ 4:10pm

The whole point of the 1 Megawatt Solar Challenge was to set a target and to light a fire under Northeast Ohioans to buy into alternative forms of power like solar. The "1 Megawatt" was a red herring-even if only 120 kilowatts of new solar photovoltaic and solar thermal are in the pipeline or installed-the challenge lead to positive outcomes like gaining momentum and some high-profile installations.

Some 25 projects-including a 30-kilowatt solar canopy in front of the Great Lakes Science Center and an 8.4-kilowatt beer pavilion at Jacob's Field-are giving a boost to the local renewable energy economy.

Small businesses like solar photovoltaic installer Erika Weliczko and Doty & Miller Architects designed and installed the Jacob's Field solar pavilion and a 3.4-kilowatt solar panel awning at the firm's Bedford office. (The panel was part of a more comprehensive green building effort for Doty & Miller, which includes removing pavement for drought resistant landscapes and a shower and bike locker facility). Local businessman Bill MacDermott installed 2.7-kilowatt "solar shingles"-thin film photovoltaic sheets that mimic roof tiles-on Geauga resident Keith Kornell's house.

The challenge also attracted area big business. Fairmount Minerals, a $100 million company operating under a Sustainable Development Business Model, is installing solar panels, says Bill Doty, adding Preformed Line Products, Ampex Metal Products, Mayfield Village Police Department, Summit County Metroparks, and Cleveland Housing Network to the "going solar" list.

What would help make up the difference? A state policy known as a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)-legislation that 23 states have passed-would call for a percentage of energy to come from renewable resources like solar and wind. An RPS would create a guaranteed market for renewables and attract investment, particularly from European manufacturers.

"Most of them don't realize that Ohio makes 50% of the components for the Clipper wind turbines already or that we're connected to the ocean," says Cleveland Sustainability Program Manager Andrew Watterson. "They only ask if we have an RPS. When you say, 'no,' they move on."

Ohio's General Assembly is currently considering several bills aimed at increasing the state's drive toward alternative energy use. Rep. Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood), for example, has introduced a bill (HB 247) calling for an RPS that requires power companies to generate 3% of the supply mix using wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar energy by 2007, increasing to 20% by 2021.

Meanwhile, Cleveland will launch a solar thermal initiative, starting with the installation of a $15,000 system of six solar panels and two super-insulated 105-gallon tanks for domestic use at Fire Station 20 on Pearl Road.

The fire station unit will be studied by the city and Cleveland Public Power to determine if the equipment costs could be absorbed by energy savings for residential customers, Watterson says.

"We want it to equal a 20% savings for the customer," he says. "The return on investment is significantly faster for solar thermal (than solar photovoltaic) in this region because our domestic water supply from Lake Erie has to be heated from 32 to 100 degrees and that takes a lot of energy."

Solar thermal projects are part of the city's Capital Projects plan, which means each time a fire station or recreation center with a swimming pool needs a roof replaced, it will get a solar thermal unit.

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