Columbus Seeing Steady Growth in Solar Installations
Columbus may not be what anyone thinks of as a solar energy hotbed – especially in the midst of another gray and cold central Ohio winter – but local experts say that interest in solar panels is growing across both the residential and commercial sectors.
“Absolutely, the demand is growing,” said Johnathan Gioffre, owner of Modern Energy, a company that has been installing solar panels in the region since 2012. “I typically judge (demand) by the amount of leads we get weekly…and compared to five years ago, when we were lucky to do a lead per week, now we get five to 10 leads per week.”
That sentiment is born out by city-wide numbers from the Department of Building and Zoning Services. In 2016, the City of Columbus granted just 26 electrical permits for new solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, while that number grew to 66 in 2017, and to 75 in 2018.
Keith Dimoff of EcoHouse Solar, another local installer, agreed that solar power generation is “greatly increasing” in the region.
Some of that increase is coming from new rooftop panels in older urban neighborhoods, despite the challenges that often accompany such installations. Dimoff mentioned recent projects in Weinland Park, Linden and Olde Towne East, while Gioffre said that Modern Energy is currently working on a proposal for a home in German Village.
Because solar panels can significantly alter the look of a house, some historic commissions have raised objections to them. Another challenge in older neighborhoods is the abundance of tall trees that can block the sun.
Solar appears to be slowly catching on in the commercial development world too, thanks in part to the the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which provides financing for energy efficiency improvements.
Local developer Michael Tomko, whose Tomko Company renovated a historic downtown office building in 2015, recently utilized PACE funding to replace the roof on the building and install solar panels.
“We looked at the payback schedule for solar, and it’s really remarkable,” said Tomko. Combined with the new roof, which is much better insulated than the old one, he said that the new panels “will pay a substantial fraction of the electric bill for the property.”
Although most of Modern Energy’s business has been residential so far, Gioffre see a lot of potential for expansion on the commercial side. The company installed panels on the roof of Evolved Body Art in the University District, and hopes to grow that part of its business.
“We’ve worked with a few large companies, helping them explore their solar options,” he said, adding that “there’s a learning curve in the Midwest, but it’s becoming much more popular…the interest level keeps growing year to year.”