Dovetail Solar & Wind built the 3,200-watt solar array on this Marietta Home. The Cleveland-based company began building more solar installations in other states after Ohio lawmakers "froze" the state's renewable energy rules. Now, lower prices for solar panels and bulk buying operations are increasing Ohio's solar business.
on July 05, 2016 at 10:00 AM, updated July 05, 2016 at 5:03 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Ever since former President Jimmy Carter put solar thermal panels on the White House, some Americans have been dreaming of turning their roofs into solar electric generators and slashing their utility bills.
Now, it's happening and growing at a pace that even the experts would have questioned possible five years ago.
Spreading the solar gospel as Green Energy Ohio has done for years has helped keep small solar alive even after a federal tax credit for consumers expired and installers moved to build larger arrays for commercial customers and institutions and sought business opportunities out of state where solar was more supported.
Falling prices for a technology that becomes more efficient, powerful and sophisticated every year is at the root of the new growth in both home and commercial solar. In other words, the technology is about to change everything.
And with Congress's December 2015 extension of the 30 percent tax credit for homeowners as well as businesses, an explosion in home solar installations is under way.
It's even happening in Ohio -- a state where the two largest utilities have challenged home solar "net metering" rules at the Ohio Supreme Court, and where Republican lawmakers are trying to extend a two-year freeze on renewable energy mandates first passed in 2014.
The additional accelerator here is OH SUN, short for Ohio Solar United Neighborhoods, a drive organized by the DC-based Community Power Network, a solar advocate with roots going back to 2007.
Community Power Network has organized buying co-ops throughout DC, in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The group has been active in Ohio since the beginning of the year.
The co-ops are essentially "a non-profit bulk buying group," said Bill Spratley, executive director of Green Energy Ohio, and an advocate for OH SUN.
"Solar has made the transition from a future technology to a here-and-now technology."
"This is the Century of Solar," he declared. "The future of small solar is happening now. If the Cavs can win, solar can win."
OH SUN will hold its first two public meetings in Cleveland next week, one on the East Side, one on the West Side, to explain how its organizing techniques can reduce home solar prices by up to 20 percent. (Meeting details are below.)
"We have 70 co-ops nationwide and have worked with over 60 installers," said Luke Sulfridge, OH SUN program director. "We are seeing the residential market transformed. It was not geared to homes when we started.
"We are installer neutral," he added. "We build a critical mass [of interested consumers] and then do an RFP [request for proposals] to choose an installer."
Mike Foley, sustainability director for Cuyahoga County, said he hopes that 200 to 300 residents will join the co-op here. "They need some scale," he explained, before seeking competitive bids from installers.
"People can sign up to join the co-op, but that does not commit them," Foley stressed.
That occurs after OH SUN has used satellite data to get an idea of how much power your roof would be capable of generating and after an installer is chosen through the RFP. The contract would be between the installer and the homeowner.
Because the co-op has in effect done the marketing, the chosen installers can offer discounts between 10 percent and 20 percent because they won't have the cost of finding customers, said Foley. And that discount is in addition to the 30 percent federal tax credit.
OH SUN organized its first co-op in Lorain County earlier this year, primarily in Oberlin, where more than 100 people signed up. The residents reviewed the five installers who answered the RFP and chose Athens, Ohio-based Third Sun Solar, said Sulfridge.
Geoff Greenfield, president and founder of Third Sun, said the Ohio solar market this year "is on fire."
"The biggest driver is simple economics," he said. "The electric rates customers are paying have gone up, and volatility is worse. The sunshine has not changed.
"But the cost of a project has really dropped And we are smarter and smarter about how we install," he said.
Greenfield thinks home solar will soon be as common as whole-house home air conditioning.
"Solar has made the transition from a future technology to a here-and-now technology, not quite boring but not mysterious," he said. "In five years nobody will talk about solar; it will be like AC. When people build a house, it will be installed."
OH SUN is also organizing the Delaware County Co-op and the Worthington Co-op. The organization is open to starting additional co-ops, if asked, according to its website.
Here are details on the two initial meetings of the Cuyahoga Co-op:
- Collinwood Recreation Center, 16300 Lake Shore Blvd., on Wednesday, July 13, 6-7:30 p.m.
- St. Joseph River's Edge, 3430 Rocky River Drive, on Thursday, July 14, 6-7:30 p.m.