Hiram College

On Sunday April 22, 192 countries worldwide will celebrate Earth Day, and coincidentally, Hiram will be making a huge environmental statement by beginning work on a new development of solar panels on campus aimed at reducing its “carbon footprint” and offsetting as many energy and operating costs as possible with clean, renewable energy sources.

Carbon Vision LLC of Shaker Heights will start installing the first of more than 1,400 solar panels on a total of about 2.5-acres of land at the north end of campus and east of State Rt. 700.

The new solar array will have the capacity to produce a minimum of 410,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, enough to provide about 70 percent of the power needs of the central services building, and the Gelbke Art Center, to which the panels will be connected. The new  array is much larger than the one installed by Carbon Vision last year atop the Coleman Sports Center, which has resulted in significant savings in electric costs.

“This new ‘solar field’ is the next step in our commitment to sustainability and being environmentally responsible,” said President Thomas Chema. “We’ve done our inventory and we know what our carbon footprint is. Our first array has worked so well that we wanted to continue looking for ways to reduce our energy costs and preserve the environment.”

John Utech, Chief Financial Officer of Carbon Vision said unlike the Coleman array, where solar panels are mounted on the building’s roof, the new array will feature panels mounted on racks several feet above the ground and tilted at a 30-degree angle toward the southern horizon to maximize the collection of energy.

“Actually roofs heat up, and solar panels actually work more efficiently if they are cooler, so these ground mounted panels should be even more efficient,” Utech said.

The Coleman array has generated over 90,000 kilowatt hours of electricity since February 2011, and savings have added up to the equivalent of the cost of more than 7,000 gallons of gasoline. An average residential home uses about 10,000 KWH per year. To monitor the Coleman panels’ performance, follow: http://live.deckmonitoring.com/?id=hiram_college

Utech said the new array should be installed and ready to operate by the end of May, and that on and off-campus observers will be able to monitor their performance too.

While saving on electricity and reducing Hiram’s “carbon footprint” are laudable goals, many might doubt that Northeast Ohio’s gray winters yield enough sunshine to make solar generation practical or even possible.

But Utech said Ohio’s solar production potential is underrated.

“We have nine projects in Ohio,” he said. “And all of them have been successful in achieving savings.”