The crowds who come to the Walmart in Liberty Township have little clue about the work being done just above their heads.
For the last three weeks, workers have been installing 1,927 solar panels on the roof of the business, said Steve Fife, from Joe Dickey Electric, job foreman for the project.
This is the largest solar project so far within the Mahoning Valley, say those involved in the work. Nearly the entire roof of the store is covered with panels that will convert solar energy to electricity and be used to help power the store.
In total, the panels will provide up to 455 kilowatts of energy per hour, said Dave Dickey, president of Joe Dickey Electric. The project will be completed in the next week.
“On a good bright day it will provide about half the power needed for the store,” Dickey said. “On an average day it will be about 30 percent.”
The panels are designed to last 25 years, about the same time as a roof. Based on the amount of power the panels will produce combined, it will take a couple of years for them to pay for the cost of the panels and installation, Fife said.
There won’t be any type of battery to collect power; it will just go straight into the grid, he said.
It just makes good business sense to put up the panels and reduce energy costs if you have the roof space, Dickey said.
“If you look at how much power they’re saving, it makes a huge difference in their carbon footprint,” he said.
Walmart has completed eight similar projects in Cincinnati and two in the Columbus, said Matt Giles, project manager from The Romanoff Group, a Gahanna, Ohio-based electric, heating and cooling company. Romanoff has overseen all the projects.
The panels work better in the winter, he said. They can continue to operate effectively when covered by as much as 2 inches of snow.
“We were very fortunate when we called the union and said we needed 16 guys to do this job, they were already trained,” Dickey said.
Both the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers unions in Warren and Youngstown have trained workers in solar and wind energy through their apprenticeship program.
In the 1970s when solar technology started to become available, it simply would not work in this area, Dickey said.
“It was just too overcast here. In the last couple of years, the technology has improved to the point where it works even if it’s overcast,” he said.
Ohio has the same number of overcast days as Oregon or Washington, which use a lot of solar power, Fife said.
“Germany, the No. 1 country for solar power, also has a comparable climate,” he said.
Solar-panel technology continues to improve as panels are being designed that produce more energy, Fife said. In addition the cost is about 75 cents per watt for the panels plus installation.