The Springs Motel Goes Solar
By Megan Garrison
Anyone who has ever been to Yellow Springs, Ohio knows the little town for its environmentally friendly mindset, which is why it’s no surprise that the Springs Motel took the first step in solar panel technology.
Eric Clark, owner and operator of the Springs Motel for 10 years, recently added 20 solar panels to the roof of the quaint motel. The 20 solar panels provide the motel with about 4.7 Kilowatts (kW) of power a day. Clark pursued solar panels in the hopes of lowering the cost of running the motel while also limiting the motel’s carbon footprint. By June 22, Clark expects to be producing close to 5,000 watts.
“The ultimate goal for me out here was to put in several types of alternative energy so I could get as close to zero on my utilities as possible,” said Clark. “So solar panels were the first step, since I have an ideal flat roof.”
On a grand scale, one kW of power generated from solar panels prevents 150 lbs. of coal from being mined, 300 lbs. of CO2 from being emitted and 105 gallons of water from being consumed. The average solar cell efficiency is between 12 to 15 percent. The initial investment, however, is expensive. The rate of solar panel instillation can be anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 dollars. Clark hopes to eventually pay off the loan and begin looking into other sources of energy to run the motel, like wind turbines.
“I have all the land down to the intersection, which means I have the potential to add two or three wind turbines,” said Clark. “I hate to speculate because technology is going to change in just a year, but if I were to put three turbines in, I could make about 50,000 watts of power on a decent, breezy day.”
Clark isn’t just interested in the solar panels and wind turbines to save money; the technology has become a sort of hobby for him over the seven years that he’s been researching the subject. Five years earlier he had looked into the solar panels and the price was just too high, but this didn’t dissuade him in his pursuit.
“I look at the tops of houses and, you know, I just wonder what it would be like to put solar panels on every rooftop … how much energy could we save?” asks Clark.
In the meantime, Clark found other, inexpensive ways to use less energy. He hangs the sheets and towels used by guests and the staff on a line to dry instead of using the electric dryer, as well as minimizing the amount of electronics in the rooms, like microwaves and coffee makers. Unfortunately, Clark is at the disposal of his guests when it comes to energy consumption.
“I can install all the technology I want, but it comes down to the habits of the people staying here,” said Clark. “It’s really strange what we do as people … you’d think they wouldn’t turn on the air conditioning and heat at the same time, but almost every time someone checks out we’ll go in to clean the room and find both of them on at full blast. And they always plug in the fridge, whether they ever actually use it or not.”
Maybe solar panels won’t solve all of Clark’s energy problems, but they are definitely a step in the right direction. Solar array technology isn’t common among small business and home owners yet, but Clark has begun to lay some groundwork for the possibilities. Although he seems a little let down by the fact that his project is already done.
“I want to add twenty more panels,” said Clark. “When they came to install everything it only took three hours. Five years of planning and research and it was done.”
The solar panels have many attributes that Clark loves, but there just seems to be one major problem with them that Clark seems to laugh at every time he thinks of them.
“They don’t do anything exciting,” he said. “I mean, with wind turbines you can watch them rotate and that’s pretty neat, but solar panels just sit there. Everything cool that they do is internal.”
Despite the fact that Clark’s solar panels “just sit there,” or perhaps because that’s in fact exactly what they do, they get the job done. And even if they don’t spin around or do fun things to watch, they still look pretty cool.
In the end however, it’s much less about the aesthetics than it is about the practical benefits of having solar panels. No matter what your inner artist might think of the futuristic black and white grid-like patters of the tops of these panels, they’re working day (and night?) to help save our resources and minimize environmental damage.
Reach DCP freelance writer Megan Garrison at MeganGarrison@daytoncitypaper.com.