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Published: Tuesday, 9/25/2007

Solar power can fuel Ohio turnaround, officials say

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohio can be a leader in the solar energy industry that will revitalize the economy, research and business leaders said yesterday during the first meeting of the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization.

Known as the PVIC, the center plans to coordinate collaborations among university researchers, new and existing businesses, and nonprofit organizations to streamline the process of manufacturing solar panel systems, which will drive down the cost and make them more accessible.

"This gets everybody together," said Robert Collins, co-director of the Wright Center and NEG Chair in Silicate and Materials Science and professor of physics at the University of Toledo.

"The PVIC is here to help people scale up," he said.

The PVIC is the product of an $18.6 million Wright Center of Innovation grant to help with research, development, and commercialization of solar film technologies.

UT is the lead institution for the center, which includes Ohio State University, Bowling Green State University, 13 businesses, and four nonprofit organizations.

Yesterday was an introductory meeting for the members, who will get together about every six months. The session included brief presentations about what each of them brings to the table.

Most already are involved in the business of solar energy, with some focused on such aspects as optimum installation or ways that solar panels can be kept clean to maximize efficiency.

Through business collaboration and combining of intellectual property, large-scale systems can become a reality in a shorter time at a cost comparable to current energy systems, the members said.

The center has a five-step process to do that: novel materials research, advanced thin-film devices, low-cost system components, easy-to-install systems, and public awareness and education.

Some members of the PVIC already are working together, such as Solar Fields LLC in Perrysburg and Advanced Distributed Generation in West Toledo.

They teamed up to create Solar Kits USA that would create and install solar panel systems.

Norm Johnston, president and chief executive officer of Solar Fields, said that large photovoltaic arrays can be built in areas that are undesirable for other uses, such as former factory sites that likely would already be connected to the energy grid.

While natural gas prices continue to rise, the cost of sunlight won't increase, Mr. Johnston said.

"This is the time to do something about it, and we have the resources to do it," he said. "Now's our chance."

While all members agree that the solar energy businesses will bring profit and jobs to Ohio, the fact that it is environmentally friendly also appeals to members such as Bill Decker, president of Decker Homes.

Mr. Decker's company has been building energy-efficient homes since 1982 and has developed three model houses that incorporate solar panels into roof shingles - a process that makes the house 50 percent more energy efficient.

"There's no doubt in my mind we crossed a point where it is no longer a pie-in-the-sky idea," he said. "It's happening."

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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