Community Solar

Solar Presentation

Luke Selfridge, Program Director from OHSun, presented his organizations approach to helping residents and small businesses obtain solar.  OHSun is a 501 (c) 3 that partners with local non-profits to present to the public the opportunity to bring solar electric panels to their communities. They are principally funded thru grants and fixed installer fees.  They have worked with municipalities in Ashtabula, Athens, Lorain, and Cleveland.  At the KEC Annual Meeting, the standing-room-only crowd of 50 was extremely interested in the information.

General Notes on Solar

Solar is very viable in Ohio.  Ohio has about 4.5 to 5 hours of available light daily.  While Florida has more light, the panels operate best in cool weather (such as our spring or fall, so we actually have an advantage over sunnier  states that are also hotter.

  • Solar voltaic cells are still 80% efficient after 25 year.  They are covered with hail-proof, wind-proof, sealed glass.  No snow removal is necessary.
  • They are usually 3’-6” by 5’-0” and supported on a roof by aluminum racks.
  • They can be mounted on just about any roof type – slate shingles being more problematic but still possible.
  • True south facing roofs are no longer necessary for satisfactory performance—with east and west facing roofs performing at only 10% less efficiency, and the number of panels used can be adjusted to accommodate  the directional challenge.
  • Ground mounted systems are also available but are slightly more expensive do to the cost of a “foundation” for the frame-work.
  • The average home requires approximately 200 s.f. of solar panels but this may vary greatly depending on demand.

How Solar Systems Work

  • When sunlight hits the solar cells, energy is created and conducted by a cable.  Power is produced in Direct Current and requires an inverter (which looks somewhat like a flat fuse box) to convert to Alternating Current. The cable then feeds this electricity to the house.
  • Inverter types include: central or string .  String inverters are large commercial grade inverters which convert electricity from multiple arrays and are not generally appropriate for use in residential projects.
  • Most systems are connected to the grid to assure uninterrupted performance and excess production is then supplied to the grid for consumer credit.
  • March and April produce peak performance in Ohio due to the efficiency of weather related cooling of the panels.
  • The inverter system is required to shut down the system in the event of a grid shut-down to prevent back feeding and potential injury to utility line workers.
  • This means that although a house is solar powered, its electricity will go off with all the other houses. A “SunnyBoy Inverter” is a device that prevents the house from sending power back into the grid when it is down but still allows solar power to flow to the house, but it is expensive, and most people do not opt for this additional device.
  • Batteries are required for back-up to produce 24/7 performance if not connected to the grid or for full solar reliance.  The batteries are big, expensive and need to be replaced every 10-15 years, so most people do not opt for them.
  • In older solar systems, if one panel went down or became shaded, all remaining panels would shut down, but this is no longer an issue. Modern installations  utilize an “optimizer” to prevent this type of shut down.

How the solar cooperative works:

OHSun does presentations such as the one sponsored by KEC on February 27th, of this year. A core group of interested people develops. Within a few months, if enough people show interest a co-op group can be formed.  The ideal number to be most cost effective is 100 homes or small businesses but the co-op group can be much smaller.

The process is as follows:

Full implementation of the process generally takes 4 – 8 months but could take up to a year depending on a number of factors including group process and installer availability. The following is a basic outline of the process:

  1. Information meeting
  2. Join the co-op
  3. Grow the co-op…tell your neighbors
  4. Schedule a site visit with installer

a. Co-op members choose a smaller selection committee

b. Co-op gets bids from installers

c. Co-op committee chooses an installer

  1. Contracts are signed
  2. Panels are installed
  3. Enjoy

OHSun brings regional installers into the picture, each with its own specifications. OHSun vets the installers and prepares a Excel spread sheet that includes all aspects of the bidding installers so that the co-op selection committee can make the best comparisons possible.  These would include criteria such as the price of panels, quality of panels, density of cells in panels, types of racks, labor, time required for installation, differences depending on roof types, the type of equipment used, company history, the company’s hiring practices, installer certification, references, etc.

This is a buying coop and does not involve any sharing of the produced power.  This co-op model doesn’t require strict geographic unity (For example, homes from Summit and Lake Counties joined the Cleveland co-op.  The advantages of the co-op system Include:

  • Camaraderie
  • Collective knowledge
  • Cost savings through group buying power

Costs

  • The cost of solar installation has dropped by 90% since the 1970’s.
  • Purchasing solar panels through OHSun cooperatives typically saves consumers 10-20% over the cost of an individual purchase.
  • A monthly fee is charged by utility providers to connect to the grid—from $8 to $23 a month, based on what OHSun has seen in other areas.
  • In reality solar electric production benefits all rate payers as it affords local production of alternative energy.  Ohio allows for net metering.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_metering.
  • An important metric is cost per watt.
  • 3 Kilowatt systems are the smallest desirable to the installer.  An average system is 7 Kilowatts and the panels for a system this size cover about 200 square feet of roof.
  • An array of four panels creates 1 kilowatt of power per hour.
  • Federal tax credits are available and rebates about 30% of the cost.
  • Eco-Link offers reduced interest rates for the installation of solar panels. http://www.tos.ohio.gov/ecolink_homeowners
  • The national Unitarian Universalist Church also sponsors low interest rate loans.
  • The average home cost for an installed system would be somewhere between $5,826  (a 3 KW system) and $17,478 (a 9 KW system), after all discounts, tax credits and the annual savings on electricity are deducted.

For more information see the OHSun website ( http://www.ohsun.org), or contact Luke Selfridge at solarteam@ohsun.org.

 

Submitted by Brad Brotje and Mary Greer

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