Alternative energy essential to Ohio commercial, industrial facilities

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO
Alternative sources are important for the commercial and industrial facilities that consume the most energy in Ohio

Ohio's commercial and industrial facilities are the leading energy consumers in the state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In fact, in 2012 more than half of the energy consumed in Ohio was attributed to commercial and industrial customers. The EIA also found that in 2013, Ohio's electricity generation was primarily fueled by coal (69 percent), followed by natural gas (15 percent) and nuclear (12 percent). While the majority of Ohio businesses continue to rely on utilities and fossil fuels to source their energy, others are already using or considering alternative energy sources. For example, 0.4 percent of Ohio is currently powered by hydroelectric energy while another 1.8 percent is generated by other forms of renewable or alternative energy.

At a high level, alternative energy refers to energy sources thatcanreplaceor supplement traditional fossil fuelsources,such ascoal,oilandnaturalgas. Alternative energy sources commonly generate energy with lower emissions, can provide increased fuel efficiency, help to improve power reliability, and can help to relieve grid congestion during periods of peak demand. Organizations with high energy consumption--including hospitals, universities, agricultural and manufacturing facilities--may benefit from using energy generated by non-traditional sources.

Alternative energy options


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has found that more solar energy reaches the earth's surface in one hour than is consumed worldwide in a full year. This solar energy is usually converted into electricity through photovoltaic cells, and because the sun shines during peak hours, solar power can reduce peak grid demand while providing clean and efficient energy.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, with 91 installed megawatts of solar capacity (21 MW built in 2013), Ohio ranks 16th nationally in solar generation capacity. The state's total solar capacity creates enough electricity to power approximately 10,500 Ohio homes. The largest solar installations in the state are in Upper Sandusky at 12 MW and Napoleon at 10 MW. The cost of solar panels and associated technologies continue to decrease as the efficiencies are continually increasing, which could continue to pave the way for additional solar adoption in Ohio and other states.


The amount of wind power generated worldwide has increased seven-fold in the last 10 years. The abundant and no-cost natural energy that wind turbines capture is converted into electricity through a generator in the turbine housing.

Many large wind farms have been constructed in northwest Ohio, providing a local and renewable source of power, and additional offshore wind installations are currently being considered. Ohio currently ranks 25th for total wind capacity installed at 432 MW, which is enough energy to power 100,000 Ohio homes. This represents 0.8 percent of Ohio's electricity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Biomass & Biogas

Based on 2011 data from the U.S. Department of Energy, Ohio ranks 26th in the nation for electricity generated from biomass at 722 million kWh annually. Biomass or biogas energy comes from organic materials including wood and crop wastes and wastes from consumer, municipal and agricultural processes. A number of Ohio's agricultural and food processing facilities currently capture the methane created during the decomposition process and use it to create heat and electricity for their facilities.

Electricity can also be generated by harnessing the methane gas produced by landfills. Items that are not recycled from municipal solid waste may be burned in combustion chambers, or the gas generated during decomposition of trash can be used to provide energy. The gas produced by landfills and waste treatment facilities is comprised of roughly 50 percent methane, which can be conditioned for use in gas-powered generation equipment.

For example, Combined Heat and Power, or cogeneration systems, can utilize this gas to power the engines to make electricity while also using the heat generated to improve the efficiency of the waste digestion and decomposition process. The use of a CHP system enables facilities to use one source of fuel to create two usable sources of energy, which can be significantly more energy efficient than traditional power sources.


By using running water to create electricity, hydropower is a no-emission energy option. It is also one of the older alternative power sources, having provided renewable energy for more than a century. Accounting for more than half of America's renewable energy generation, hydropower comprised almost 20 percent of Ohio's generated power in 2012, according to the National Hydropower Association.


Using heat created within the earth, geothermal energy has been used for more than 50 years to provide heating and cooling to homes and businesses across the country. While current use of geothermal energy is primarily focused in the western portion of the U.S., recent oil/gas production across the state has uncovered rock temperatures above 160°F, which could support geothermal expansion into areas previously not considered, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Businesses often evaluate alternative energy options because of a desire to:

    • Utilize more environmentally-friendly energy sources
    • Ensure a source of power reliability and backup generation
    • Improve their facility's energy efficiency
    • Further their corporate mission for environmental sustainability
    • Consider solutions beyond replacing/upgrading central power plant equipment

For businesses interested in alternative energy solutions, the DOE recommends:

    • Determining current and planned energy consumption and costs
    • Reviewing codes and requirements to ensure standards are met
    • Selecting the right alternative energy source
    • Completing a detailed cost/benefit analysis, either internally or with an experienced energy services firm

The variety of alternative energy sources available in Ohio give commercial and industrial consumers the opportunity to determine if an alternative energy is a fit for their facility. The benefits, from reducing environmental impacts like high carbon emissions to increasing efficiency and power reliability, may be significant depending on specific customer needs.

Patrick Smith is Vice President, IGS Generation.