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Solar Panel Projects in Ohio

March 17, 2013

Recently I reviewed some examples of projects from SolarVision LLC, sold to various communities in Ohio since 2010:
• Evening Street Elementary in Worthington
• Newcomerstown Exempted Village Schools High School
• Newcomerstown Exempted Village Schools West Elementary
• Athens Community Center
• Washington Courthouse water treatment plant.

These 5 projects represent 742 KW of total photovoltaic (PV) capacity, and it is my understanding that they cost a combined total of $5.6 million, supported by grants and renewable energy credits (RECs) from the State of Ohio. They can be expected to collectively produce somewhat less than 1,000 MWh of electricity annually, which would represent a total return value of less than $100,000 per year; or in other words a ridiculous 56 year payback. It is worth noting that the expected service life of the PV panels is about 25 years, and they will degrade in efficiency each year; so no payback of the investment will ever occur.


For the same $5.6 million we could have gotten about 5,000 KW of closed cycle gas turbine (CCGT) capacity, which would be capable of returning about 39,000 MWh of electricity per year, worth about $3.9 million per year. In other words, we could get 39 times the electricity from CCGT and, in terms of coal usage and CO2 elimination, we could expect that the same investment in CCGT would eliminate roughly 20 times the annual CO2 emissions that the solar panels will eliminate.

Alternatively, we could have been spent the money improving the windows, doors, and insulation at the various community properties; or could have installed a state-of-the-art high capacity geothermal HVAC systems; or could have made distribution system upgrades to reduce loss and waste. Many of these things combined could have saved more than 1,000 MWh per year.


When presented with arguments such as this, opposing solar (or wind) energy implementation, many proponents of alternative energy counter that it is necessary for government to support R&D for the future. Please note I actually agree that real efforts at R&D are worth supporting. If anyone would propose a reasonable R&D effort that had reasonable promise of improving the performance of solar panels (or wind turbines) so they might become effective, I would not stand against funding those efforts. This, however is not what is happening with our current policies of pushing money into the pockets of the snake-oil salesmen of the wind and solar industries. This is not research, and has nothing to do with development or improvement. The politically connected in these industries are simply taking our money with no intention of returning a product that is worth anything.


The simple analysis presented here is already grotesquely generous to the case of the solar panels. Even still it shows that solar panels are economically ineffectual, ineffective at generating electricity in the concentration required, and even ineffective at displacing coal and reducing emissions of CO2 and other associated pollutants.

To repeat my theme, there is no doubt we in the USA need to alter our energy strategy. The question of how we will change it, however, needs to be determined by scientific evaluation of fact and logical analysis of performance and economics; not by emotion, political considerations, and “feel good” methodologies.

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