Ohio at the Heart of It All – Even Renewables!

Alvin Compaan, professor emeritus
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UCS | August 16, 2013, 12:52 pm EDT
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When most Americans think about renewable energy, the Rust Belt state of Ohio might not be the first place that springs to mind. But Ohio’s claim to be at “The Heart of It All” holds true when it comes to wind and solar manufacturing.

Ohio’s aptitude for manufacturing innovation has put many of our small and medium size companies on the map as key suppliers of components to the solar and wind energy industries.

The origins of the photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing boom now underway in Northwest Ohio can be found in the region’s traditional industrial strengths in glass handling and manufacturing. In 1987, I started a PV research and development program at the University of Toledo that has played a key role in the region’s transformation into a hub for solar innovation. First Solar was founded in Toledo as Solar Cells Inc. just a few years later and has since grown into a global leader in thin film PV.

Ohioans support our growing clean energy industry, and that support is reflected in our state’s policies. In 2008, state lawmakers came together in near unanimous fashion to enact Ohio’s bipartisan Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS), which includes a requirement that utilities provide 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025.

Why I support renewable energy in Ohio

Like many people from my generation, it was the oil crises of the 1970’s that first sparked my interest in renewable energy. I soon became active in the Union of Concerned Scientists to advocate for clean energy solutions.

A firm believer in the value of renewables, I have applied what I’ve learned as a scientific researcher in my personal life. In 1998, my wife, son, brother-in-law, and I installed a First Solar PV system that provides nearly all of the electricity we need to power our home and charge the batteries of our now fully electric1982 GMC S-15 pickup truck, which covers 20 miles of commuting daily. My family now purchases less than $10 worth of electricity per month from First Energy, our local utility.

The GMC S-15 conversion was a family project of Al, his wife, son, and brother-in-law in 1998.

The GMC S-15 conversion was a family project of Al, his wife, son, and brother-in-law in 1998.

We were recognized for this project with the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Energy in 2005. I was also appointed to the Public Benefits Advisory Board, which works to ensure affordable access to energy for low-income households.

Defending Ohio’s Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard

I believe that democracy thrives when sound science informs sound decision making, and have worked closely with state policymakers to support Ohio’s AEPS. I have provided testimony on the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy, most recently in the form of an open statement signed by more than two dozen of my colleagues and shared with members of the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee.

I am inspired by the great success of Ohio’s AEPS in a state that depends heavily on coal for electricity generation (over 80%) and is therefore one of the states with the heaviest pollution footprints due to electricity generation.

Ohio ranks 4th in the nation for wind energy jobs and is among the top 10 states for most solar jobs. I am inspired by the success of renewable electricity standards now in place in Ohio and 28 other states, plus the District of Columbia. But Ohio is still dependent on coal for nearly 80 percent of our electricity, making our state one of the worst for toxic air pollution and carbon emissions. Our clean energy policies must be not only maintained, but ultimately strengthened, and innovative new solutions enacted.

I encourage my colleagues to join me and academic experts from across the Buckeye State as we put our passion and expertise to work supporting Ohio’s AEPS.

Gov. Taft with Al and Mary Compaan, and two small business owners in module installing and home construction.

Gov. Taft with Al and Mary Compaan, and two small business owners in module installing and home construction.


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  • Barry,
    When it comes to developing and manufacturing of thin-film photovoltaic modules, I would say that this region of the U.S. has been very successful. As I tried to point out inn the blog, this comes from several factors but chief among them are the rich history of the glass industry and the auto (manufacturing) industry in this region. These factors were critical to developing the new PV manufacturing technology. You must start with excellent ideas/technology but building a successful large-scale manufacturing business involves so much more.

    But your question, I think, really refers to the adoption and installation of PV modules. Here I would not want to claim that Ohio or the midwest is really a leader, even in the U.S. California, New Jersey are well ahead. Germany is the world leader. And getting to this leadership status requires a lot of hard work and persistence by many people committed to living sustainably. But since PV module prices are dropping so rapidly, arguing the case for PV is getting easier and easier. Of course, there are still plenty of die-hards and deniers and a firmly entrenched, politically powerful set of interests that have trouble accepting the logic and economics of renewables.
    Wishing you success in your struggle!

  • barry cahill


    I am most interested in your Ohio renewable energies piece. I am now living in Crete, Greece – where energy problems are worse than you can imagine! (I come from Britain, where you must know the energy situation has become a scandal.)

    BUT, first why does this mean that YOUR area of the US is unusually successful?

    Although I understand that there are climate and political variations, why is it my own country [Greece / Britain] has shown almost no understanding of the necessity for change?

    I do not expect you to respond to this cock-eyed email – but hope you do.