Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Colorado. It was a trip designed to give me some much needed R&R and a chance to hike, run, and just be out in nature; the latter of which I should probably do much more often. Despite being a recreational trip, the energy consultant in me couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of renewable technology… everywhere. It was common to see turbines and solar farms or houses whose rooftops were lined with solar panels. It was an interesting contrast compared to Ohio.
I had asked my friend, a celebrated thought leader in the sustainability industry, how solar, wind, and other renewables became so prevalent around Colorado. The answer was really quite simple. People wanted it. From consumers to legislators, it was a function of demand and political will. There is a burgeoning industry of installers and a fair amount of incentives pushing people in this direction. And it almost seemed like the utilities were going along with it without a fight.
Back home, I am often asked by clients, if installing solar panels or erecting turbines is a good investment to make. The answer of course depends on why they are doing it. If the intent is to be used as a marketing tool, or simply because the company feels it’s the right thing to do, then yes. But if someone in Ohio today is pursuing renewables as a cost savings measure, then no, it is not a recommendation that I would make.
So why would someone who promotes energy efficiency and sustainability not recommend renewables? Let’s look at Ohio’s recent renewable history to better understand.
At the beginning of the decade, it appeared as though Ohio was making strides within the renewable sector. This included creating thousands of “Green jobs” along with massive increases in wind and solar production. Despite this, Ohio still ranked near the bottom in renewable electricity and generation capacity compared to the nation.
Over two-thirds of electricity in Ohio is derived from coal, and another twenty percent from natural gas. Only 1.5 percent was from renewable sources in 2010. To make matters worse, the renewable energy industry has shifted dramatically in just the last year. In 2014, the state legislature passed Ohio Senate Bill 310, imposing a two-year moratorium on Ohio’s renewable energy standards.
I am hugely in favor of developing renewable energy sources through improved technology and more cost effective production. The reality though is Ohio is not ready for that. Ohio is still a coal state and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Also, it’s probably going to take a federal effort along with public-private partnerships for investment in renewables to garner the necessary results.
When working with clients, my job is simple. Improve their energy portfolio and identify cost savings with strategies that are effective and efficient. Unfortunately, renewable options today don’t fit into that paradigm. Until they do, I will continue to advocate for smart efficient solutions that meet the unique needs of the businesses I work with.