Ohio State Professors Suggest Possibilities, Pitfalls of Turning Cleveland “Green”


Cleveland could become energy independent if taxpayers funded the right mix of “green” energy projects, according to a paper from Ohio State University professors Parbir Grewal and Parwinder Grewal. The result of their research, “Can cities become self-reliant in energy? A technological scenario analysis for Cleveland, Ohio,” appeared in urban planning journal Cities.

Grewal and Grewal envisioned three scenarios under which Cleveland could become partially or fully “energy self-reliant,” generating energy for government, residential, and commercial use with varying combinations of wind, solar, and biofuels. Their study examined Cleveland’s current energy usage, meteorological data for an area encompassing most of northern Ohio, and other variables related to the city’s energy needs and “green” energy potential.

While suggesting a significant degree of “energy independence” would be technologically feasible, the paper explored various reasons this goal is well-removed from reality. For instance, in the most feasible of the three potential scenarios, the City of Cleveland would have to install solar panels onto more rooftop surface than actually exists in the city.

To meet the city’s current energy demands, nearly 20 percent Cleveland’s entire surface area – 24 square miles, roughly the size of Lorain, Ohio’s tenth-largest city – would have to be covered with solar panels.

If the city turned to offshore wind turbines for its energy needs, the number of turbines needed to power the city would fill a nearly Toledo-sized portion of Lake Erie. An installation of turbines anywhere near that size could potentially affect northeast Ohio’s climate by increasing local nighttime temperatures and disrupting storms carrying precipitation.

Were Cleveland to look to liquid fuels derived from switchgrass or another existing biofuel process, the city’s fuel needs would require orders of magnitude more land than the city currently occupies.

Jenita McGowan, Chief of Sustainability for the City of Cleveland, is not ready to pull the city off the power grid just yet. McGowan told Dispatch urban-issues reporter Mark Ferenchik there were “many considerations that could affect the feasibility” of turning the OSU study’s proposals or competing green-energy plans into reality.

However, McGowan explained that the expected construction of an offshore wind turbine in Lake Erie, which will cost $50 million in federal taxpayer subsidies, proves the “momentum in the city in terms of on-site renewable-energy production, biomass waste-to-energy, using vacant land to increase sustainability, energy efficiency in the commercial and residential sector, as well as offshore wind and solar power.”

When contacted by Media Trackers, McGownan declined to comment on the potential cost or feasibility of any of the OSU study’s proposals, noting that she was not “familiar enough with the study to provide comment on the cost of implementation.”

While it may be theoretically possible to take Cleveland “off of the grid” and abandon politically unpopular but energy-dense electricity generation sources like coal and natural gas in favor of energy-sparse but politically correct fuels, neither Ohio State researchers nor city planners can project the cost of such an endeavor with enough confidence to say whether it would pay off in the long run.

“These numbers represent what Cleveland is currently spending upon buying energy from outside and that this leakage can be prevented if local sources of energy can be established,” Prof. Parwinder Grewal explained to Media Trackers. “The study shows the technical feasibility of achieving this.”

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