Ohio University hosts roundtable on solar and the “grid”

By Luke Sulfridge on April 13, 2018

Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs recently hosted a roundtable event to discuss the way we generate and distribute electricity. It brought together experts from Ohio and beyond. Dr. Gilbert Michaud, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Practice at the Voinovich School, facilitated the event.

“This is important topic when we think about the age of grid infrastructure, and how our current grid is not yet prepared to meet the demands of the future,” Michaud said. “This future will include an increased prevalence of energy storage, microgrids, electric vehicles, and distributed generation such as solar PV, and so infrastructural upgrades and modernization efforts need to ensure security and flexibility to respond to these forthcoming technological advances.”

The panel discussed how proper advanced planning, and the greater diversity of energy generation sources, can actually work to reduce stress on the electric grid while still meeting customer demand.

Voinovich School Executive in Residence Mike Zimmer, JD, pointed out that New York utilities are spending 40% of their annual budgets on demand periods that represent less than 10% service time. “My intuition is that Ohio is similar in 10–30% of annual spending,” Zimmer said.

Michaud continued, “technologies such as solar PV can be specifically optimized using energy storage and microgrids.  Many states and utilities are already taking steps to plan for a future where renewables can be integrated without causing grid disruptions.”

Dr. Damian Pitt, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, brought a national perspective to the discussion.

“There are potential grid challenges with integrating rooftop solar, yet those arguments are very premature at current penetration rates.” Pitt said. Pitt also stated that several national studies are showing that any penetration of up to 5%–10% will have no discernable negative impact on ratepayers. According to the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration, Ohio’s current solar energy penetration rate sits well below 1%. Pitt and the rest of the panel also noted that there are many positive benefits in deploying solar energy that result in savings for all customers.

Having the panel in Appalachia was not lost on those participating. “I believe this renewable revolution is our best opportunity for Appalachian Ohio, and represents the next chapter for our region. We want to be energy leaders in a new economy,” said panelist and UpGrade Ohio Executive Director Sara Conley-Ballew. Athens County has the highest number of solar arrays per capita in the state, and many jobs have been created as a result.

Michaud, an economist and public policy expert, concurred, “Southeast Ohio actually provides an interesting case study for these discussions, as it suffers from outdated grid infrastructure and a legacy of coal and natural gas electricity generation. The roundtable started the conversation of how the region can move forward with an advanced energy future that is more resilient to hazards, reliable to customers, clean, sustainable, and affordable to enhance economic well-being.”

Other discussion points included conversation of EV’s and the grid by Mat Roberts of the EV Cruisers Club and UpGrade Ohio. Eddie Smith talked about rate design and a local initiative by the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council to reduce the cost of energy for government buildings through solar.