Condo Blues: Why Solar Panels Won’t Work Year Round in Central Ohio

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why Solar Panels Won’t Work Year Round in Central Ohio

Recently I was discussing how to reduce city energy costs on an online forum. A user offered the opinion that once everyone had converted to producing electricity using only solar and wind energy that we would end our dependency on fossil fuels forever. Many others chimed in, everyone agreed solar, and wind for everyone is the way to go.

Great idea until I looked out my window and saw this.

The branches and what's left of leaves on the tree in my front yard are encased in ice from an ice storm

I noticed that the person who offered this opinion was from Costa Rica, where they have sun in abundance.

I got a little frustrated. Because well, I when I offered the opinion that some of us in the world have weather conditions that won’t allow us to get all of our electricity from those clean sources and that we need something that’s not dependent on the whims of Mother Nature as a backup a few folks got a little angry. They accused me of not being with them and told me I should just use less electricity.

Folks, I got The Condo down to using an average of 15 Kwh of electricity a day last year. I don’t think I can go any lower and not be sitting in the dark.

In Central Ohio, not only are 51% of the days of the year overcast but on those rare winter days when the sun in shining it’s usually after an ice storm. Ice coats everything, from the tree in my front yard to even freezing the flag I have flying from The Condo.

Freezing rain turned to ice and froze the cloth flag flying from my front porch solid

If I had to depend upon all of my home’s electricity coming from a solar panel and wind turbine on The Condo I’d be sitting in the dark right now because those suckers would be incased in ice. I’m not going to break my neck trying to climb up on the roof and chip the ice off the solar panels or wind turbine so I can make my morning coffee.

And people, to be clear, I’d do almost anything to insure that I get my first cup of Fair Trade starter fluid in the morning.

I’m not saying that a solar wind combo is a bad way to produce energy. I use passive solar heat as a free space heater in my bedroom. I also have solar powered garden lights. However, these things only work about 6 months a year in my overcast and icy part of the world.

So to invest in a very costly - and not subsidized by any entity in my city or state - solar array that may only work part time isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Sad, because Husband and I get positivity giddy at the prospect of The Condo’s electric meter running backwards.

I’m just saying that sometimes what works best for your region may not work for where I live. I get frustrated sometimes and I wish that more folks in the environmental big leagues would recognize that for many of us, the best way to be less dependent on fossil fuels is through the tried and true:

I might also add that these things are more attainable and less expensive for the average person to afford no matter where they live too.

You may disagree, especially if you live in a warmer and sunnier climate. That’s OK. In fact, I’d love to discuss with you. Face to face. In your warm and not so icy climate.
Sure looks pretty though.

What do you think? Do you use solar or wind to generate electricity for your home? Do you get frustrated at folks who try to push their environmental item/practice on you when it may not be a good return on investment for you or in your area? How do you handle it?

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Kristin - The Goat said...

I lived in Michigan for most of my life -- Lansing, MI as a matter of fact and that town shares the stage with Seattle & probably a few otheres, for the cloudiest city in the US. LOL Solar panels just aren't the huge hit in MI.

Good for you fro that 15KW - Cool!!

Silver Pen said...

I like what you said about Solar panals. I live at the same latitude at Seattle in Pullman WA and solar could work for half the year but not for the other half. I don't think a lot of people realize that electrisity is not somthing that you can store very well. If our electric companys bought the electrisity we diden't use and gave us credit for the times we did use electrisity that might work but there would need to be a better system in place before I was willing to invest as much as you need to for solar panals.

Did you know that a group of high schoolers here in Washington invented a methid of creating hydrogen to power a house. But only as much as the house uses? It was thru a WSU contest. I was thinking somthing like that might work better for places at higher latitudes.

Anonymous said...

Don't get the idea that you need 300+ days of clear weather or that you even need clear weather to generate pwer using solar panels but your right. It is a factor. Hopefully as solar gets more efficient we can expect better performance even on the cloudy days.


Guest said...

Just read this article as I'm looking into solar for our condo - which MANY buildings in Chicago are doing - and Chicago only rates a 53% sun per year - AND solar can power it all year long....not sure where you all are getting your info from.

Condo Blues said...

Hey, that's great for Chicago! But I don't live in Chicago, I live in Central Ohio.

The information about central Ohio cloud cover came directly from a local meteorologist. Also a LEED platinum spec home built in my city, has a conventional water heater, electricity, and home heating backups installed because the solar panels that power those items ICE OVER in winter where I live like the photo of the tree in my yard. The solar panels on my garden lights don't work when they are encased in ice. Where I live ice storms and ice freezing over panels make them a poor return on investment for the typical homeowner.

Of course if you'd like to give me free solar panels and install them on my roof to prove me wrong - feel free! :)

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