12/29/20: “Ohio seeing a surge in interest in solar farms” Part 2

by Beth Burger and Mark Williams of the Columbus Dispatch

I previously posted a blog on this column questioning whether it makes much sense to invest heavily in solar farms considering the normal climate Ohio experiences. While the weather implications of Ohio’s climate varies somewhat depending on what part of the state you are referring to, the overall climate is basically the same. For winter it is colder temperatures, cloudy days and moderate precipitation, often in the form of snow. But that weather pattern is typical of much of the northern tier of states in the United States and much of Canada. It’s also the weather pattern of much of the northern section of the Northern Hemisphere including much of Europe and Asia.

I do some strange things and one of them is occasionally check out the projected weather for ten cities in Ohio. I did that around 8:00 on the January 3rd. Here is a chart of what I found.

Source: IPhone Weather AP

The first thing that stood out was the fact that there were no clear SUNNY days predicted for any part of Ohio over the coming seven days. That doesn’t bode well for generating electricity from solar farms! But that has been a pretty consistent theme to our weather since sometime in October.

The next thing that stood out was how few partially cloudy days were being predicted. Some cities had none while the most any had was two. That means the state would be blanketed by heavy cloud cover for most of a week.

I did a search to see how well solar farms do in producing electricity during this type of weather. The first thing I checked was whether solar farms produce electricity during non-daylight hours (night time). As was suspected, the answer was a resounding “No!” The second thing I checked was whether solar panels can produce electricity in cloudy weather. I found the following:

Myth: solar panels don’t work when it’s cloudy.

Short answer: Solar panels do produce electricity in cloudy weather. They don’t produce as much electricity as they do on sunny days, but they have been shown to produce 25% of what they produce on a sunny day, or 10% when it’s very cloudy.”

So with the seven day forecasted weather for the the ten cities in Ohio one would expect approximately 13% of the optimal electricity production over that period of time. But since there is no electricity generated at night and winter nights are longer than average, that means the solar panels will generate less than 5% of their optimal production capacity. This type of weather is not all that unusual for Ohio’s winter.

Doesn’t that mean that solar farms will generate very little electricity for a quarter to a third of each year in Ohio? It appears it does! Maybe that’s why the largest company promoting solar farms is located in the “Sunshine State”, Florida.

So are solar farms really a good investment in Ohio and a good use of otherwise prime agricultural land?

The last thing that stood out was the wind speeds. If commercial wind turbines have a “cut-in speed” of 8 mph, only one of the cities could have been getting electricity from wind. That doesn’t bode well for dependence on renewable energy sources in Ohio.

But long time residents could have told you that!

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