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Environment


Job growth predicted in Ohio's solar energy industry
A strong history in old manufacturing means new jobs in the state
by WKSU's TIM RUDELL


Reporter
Tim Rudell
 
Kent State's Field House, sporting a new array of solar panels on the roof
Courtesy of Kent State
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In The Region:

Ohio is 2nd in the nation in producing solar panels.  And, 200 companies in the state are now making equipment for renewable energy. WKSU’s Tim Rudell reports on how this new-tech/high-tech manufacturing surge came to be…and what it may mean for jobs and the future.

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Project chief Bob Misbrener talks over the sound of a half-a-million kilowatts of Sun generated power moving from seventeen-hundred solar panels newly installed on Kent State University’s field house roof.   The dark blue array covering an acre of light blue roof, is part of Kent’s master plan for sustainable energy projects on its eight campuses.

Misbrener and boss Steve Storck say this first solar project on the main Campus—a million-and-a-half dollar project--came to be because the economics worked. 

There was still some government funding—despite termination last year of the biggest federal support program for solar.  And, there’s money to be made with “RENEWABLE ENRGY CREDITS” from the state…called “recs”… or “S”-recs in the case of solar.   “Utilities have to buy or generate 12.5% of the power with renewable energy.  So, First Energy, for example, goes out and buys up these S-recs because they’re not capable of generating all of their own renewable energy.  Its like a stock, and there actually brokers who deal in these. And they’re a big part of the economics of it is selling the S-recs to help play for this investment.”

 

 

There is more to the current “economics” of solar power. 

Howard Learner of the non-profit Environmental Law and Policy Center says advances in renewable energy equipment and manufacturing are moving the industries toward cost competitiveness with fossil generation. 

And, he says, unlike conventional power plants a typical solar array doesn’t cost a lot when idle.  So, solar may fill the key niche of augmentation of the power grid at peak load.  To the benefit of our economy, that may be especially true here.  “Solar power is available at the time the power is most needed most.  On the host summer day, and it’s 3:00 in the afternoon, and everybody is cranking up their  air conditioning.  So it’s a very important resource at the point when the power generation market is at its height.   

 

The Solar industry has also created jobs in Ohio.  There are no specific figures, but in the Toledo suburb of Perrysburg alone there are five solar panel manufactures.  One recently ran aground financially--the state pulled its loans—but the area is otherwise growing in panel production.  Learner says that’s because of the expertise and workforce from the glass industry in northwest Ohio. 

Alamgir Karim of University of Akron Polymer Engineering says the same thing can happen in Northeast Ohio. …Partly because of a problem with a Rare Earth element called Indium means solar cells are going to have to made...with polymers.  “Indium; that’s what all the silicon based solar cells are using but there is not enough Indium in the world to support this next huge plethora of solar cells being planned.  

 

Karim says sorting out manufacturing will be the key to polymer solar cell and flexible electronics production.  And, he says, leading research programs in those fields at Kent State and the University of Akron and other area institutions, and the quality of work force favor Northeast Ohio.  

“We have all the partners here to just go twenty or thirty miles out of town and find a company and say, have you thought about making solar cells, now that we have the technology.  These discussions are already ongoing.”

 

Karim and Learner predict significant economic development in solar getting underway in Ohio in the three to five years

Related Links & Resources
Goodyear Polymer Center at the University of Akron

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Kent State University solar project

Polymer Science and Engineering, University of Akron

Kent State webpage re: research


Related WKSU Stories

Marines going green
Monday, June 18, 2012

FirstEnergy going solar
Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FirstEnergy seeks solar credits
Thursday, February 2, 2012

Solar Power at Jacobs Field
Friday, June 29, 2007

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