Posts

Is our region Solar ready? Should we be?

Guest writer Travis Miller is the Regional Planning Manager at the OKI Regional Council of Governments, an organization which we partner with frequently. OKI recently developed an interactive online Solar Ready map for people to get an initial idea of a building’s solar potential. Here’s a great post by Travis advocating solar in the OKI region:

Is our region solar ready?

Should we be? I love the sun! To me, there’s nothing much better than spending time outside on a sunny day – just soaking it in. Regardless of the season, sunny days just seem to be better days. I’d never really thought about the direct benefits of the sun or given much consideration to solar as an energy source… certainly not here in the Midwest. Today, I am going to share with you some pretty interesting findings I have come across regarding solar power. First, power from solar energy is something only viable in the far south or southwestern regions, right? Not true.

Where in the world is Solar Suitable?

Consider this – Germany is the global leader in installed solar capacity, yet, when you measure the level of solar energy hitting the earth’s surface on an annual basis, Germany has a very similar solar resource to that of Alaska. The bottom line is that solar works in every state, regardless of temperature.

 

Map_Post_Solarize_NREL-Solar-Resource_sm

 

Okay, so we have a fair amount of solar energy landing in our region, but it’s expensive to install solar panels is what I have heard.

Maybe it used to be expensive, but today solar power is becoming significantly cheaper. The cost of solar panels has dropped 99% since the 1970s. The total installed costs for solar PV at the residential level has followed and prices fell by over 50% between 2009 and 2014 alone. Declining prices has resulted in impressive growth rates. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) Solar Market Insight Report 2014 Q4:

  • Installations of solar PV in the US were the highest ever in 2014 – up 30 percent over 2013.
  • 12 times as much solar was installed in 2013 as in 2009.
  • More than one-third of all cumulative operating PV capacity in the US came on-line in 2014.
  • The most rapid growth segment forecasted in 2015 is in the residential market.

The chart below shows the amount of solar PV installed each year in the US – as you can see, it’s been exponential.  To put this in perspective, 12,000 Mega Watts installed in 2013 is enough to power about 2 million homes.

Chart_Post_Solarize_US-Installed-Solar-Capacity_sm

Chart_Post_Solarize_US-Solar-Average-Installed_sm

Solar is the fastest growing energy generation technology in the U.S., growing even faster than wind power or natural gas. Nationally, rooftop solar PV (photovoltaic) systems are becoming more mainstream and, based on the amount of investments being made by homeowners, businesses and even utility companies, solar is more than a short-term trend.

With the recent advent of home batteries able to store power generated from rooftop solar panels and operate household appliances, the future potential of solar is even more interesting.

Solar In Our Region

Here in the Tri-State, installations are also expected to continue to increase in the foreseeable future. Here at OKI we’ve been monitoring national trends in solar development since 2012 and have worked with local and national partners to develop tools for our local communities use to better manage the expected increase in installations. OKI’s primary interest in solar is to ensure that communities in the region are armed with the best information and best tools available as they and their residents consider solar.

If you think you may be interested in making a solar investment on your home, be sure to visit the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance’s website. GCEA is one of OKI’s Solar Ready partners and has recently launched the Solarize Cincinnati program. Their program provides a free home solar assessment and opportunities for reduced installation costs for participants – visit www.greatercea.org/solar for more information.

Solar In Action

Here are some pretty cool, local solar projects.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s parking lot canopy is the largest publicly accessible solar system in the WORLD!

The IKEA store in West Chester Township has the largest rooftop system in the region.

Pic_Post_Solarize_IKEA-Roof_sm

Many of the Walgreens stores in the region have solar arrays on their roofs. This Walgreens is located in Deer Park on E. Galbraith Rd.

Pic_Post_Solarize_Walgreens-Roof_sm

 

For more information on solar in our region, including an estimate of the solar potential of your home or business in the OKI region, visit solar.oki.org and find your rooftop on our interactive map.

OKI staff is currently available to provide technical assist to any community in the region interested in applying any of the best practices found at solar.oki.org.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or to inquire about how your community can get assistance at tmiller@oki.org

Hope you enjoy a sunny day soon!

-Travis

 

Basic Solar FAQs

What are the components of a solar PV system?

Solar array: Solar arrays are made of a group of solar panels strung together. Each panel is composed of solar cells used to capture the sun’s energy.

Inverter: The electric grid utilizes AC (alternating current) electricity while solar panels generate DC (direct current) electricity. The inverter is a device used to change the DC electricity into AC form. Once your inverter has performed this conversion, the electricity can feed directly into the electric grid and your home.

Remote monitoring system: A monitoring system that helps to track the amount of energy being generated by your system. This enables the contractor to ensure that your system is operating effectively.

Cells, Panels, and Arrays:

 

Solar Equipment Terminology: Solar Cell, Panel, and Array

How does a solar panel create electricity?

Solar panels generate electricity when sunlight hits the surface of a cell. Electrons in the silicon absorb energy from the sun. These energized electrons jump from their atoms to a conducting material in the cell, which creates an electric charge. This charge is then captured by solar panels that have been wired together.

 

General illustration of how energy from the sun turns into electric current.

Does Cincinnati receive enough sunlight for solar panels to work properly?

Yes. Not only does Cincinnati have more than enough sunlight to generate electricity with solar PV panels, but we receive more sunlight than Germany, the global leader in the use of solar energy. Solar maps can tell within a few percent the amount of sunlight that will hit a specific spot on the earth’s surface in a given year.

How is solar energy measured?

The energy produced by solar panels is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). The average sized home uses approximately 900 kWh of electricity per month. This number will vary based on age of home, heating and cooling systems, and other features.

Where should my solar panels be installed?

To collect the most energy, solar panels need to face the sun and not be obstructed by shade. This makes a roof the ideal location to install an array. A 1 kW array takes up 90 to 100 square feet of space, and a 5kW array requires about 500 square feet to produce about 6,000 kWh per year. In some cases where a rooftop installation is not possible, it may make sense to install an array on the ground.

Will there be a battery with my system?

Most solar PV systems do not have a battery backup included. Battery technology can help retain energy for use when the sun is not shining or during an electric grid outage, but can add significant expense to the cost of a system.