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Solar Challenge update

Kim Palmer  |  11/14/07 @ 6:12pm

"Does anyone have a football field they aren't using?" Erika Weliczko founder and president of REpower Solutions, a local renewable energy provider asked the solar-curious group at the training facility for International Brotherhood for Electrical Workers (IBEW) last week.

"We need some 100 kilowatt installations," she explains "And it turns out that the average big box is about 100,000 to 125,000 square feet. In fact, one megawatt of PV (photovoltaic) would take up only 3 percent of the space Crocker Park sits on or 3.3 percent of Legacy Village."

Weliczko was thinking out loud regarding the challenge set forth by the members of Green Energy Ohio (GEO), Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S) and the Cleveland Foundation at the first installment of the Solar Challenge at Great Lakes Brewing Co. on June 20, 2006. The challenge was to create at least 1 megawatt (MW) of solar energy in Northeast Ohio by July 2007, when Cleveland will host the ASES national solar conference.

On August 24th, the Solar Challenge workshop, sponsored by E4S and hosted at the IBEW training facility in Independence, brought participants from wide spectrum of disciplines. Representatives ranged from individual homeowners and small business people to employees of Cleveland Public Power, Forest City Enterprises, Mustard Seed Market and other building product manufacturers.

According to Weliczko, 1 MW of solar power is comparable to the energy content of 705 barrels of crude oil. One MW produces commercial electricity valued at $72,000 a year and $132,000 of residential electricity. Perhaps most importantly, Weliczko pointed out in her presentation that 1 MW of electricity creates enough energy to produce 18 kegs of Great Lakes Brewery beer per hour.

Other presenters at the Solar Challenge workshop talked about economic and tax incentives tied to solar energy. Sherry Hubbard of the Ohio Department of Development said that the amounts of the newest round of Energy Loan Fund grants for both residential and commercial buildings will be announced in the next few weeks.

The workshop included local architect, Bill Doty of Doty and Miller, energy efficient homebuilder Bill Decker of Decker Homes as well as solar power users from Crown Point Ecology Center and a representative from the Lake County Metroparks Farmpark.

Alan Frasz, from Dovetail Solar and Wind, talked about both the logistics and cost of solar PV and solar thermal installation. Frasz also did the math regarding a number of break-even timeframes and eventual return-on-investment of a variety of solar residential and commercial systems.

After pointing out that in order for Ohio to produce 1 MW of solar power the state would only need a little more than 2.2 acres of solar arrays Weliczko finished her presentation by asking the attendees, "What part of the two acres do you want?"

Things overheard at E4S Solar Challenge Workshop

Bill Doty, Doty and Miller Architects: "As an architect, I try to encourage my clients to integrate renewable processes and technologies into everything."John Schoeniger of ShoreBank Cleveland: "We realize that when it comes to things like solar energy, infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the entrepreneurs."

Sherry Hubbard, Ohio Department of Development: "More than 20,000,000 kilowatt hour of Ohio's electric power comes from coal and I believe that 60 to 70 percent coal is from out-of-state."

Alan Frasz, Dovetail Solar and Wind: "One of the best things about using solar is that, with electricity rate increases if you integrate solar, you are basically locking in a rate, your cost becomes more fixed."

Bill Decker, Decker Homes: "When it comes to comparing Germany with Ohio (Germany has the largest global use of PV solar power) Ohio definitely has more solar potential. If you look at a map of Germany it looks more like Alaska."

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