In Franklin County alone, there are more than 200 registered sites equipped with solar panels, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Statewide, there are more than 2,600. There is no requirement to register.

Kevin Eigel believes there is likely twice that number in Franklin County. He started his business, Ecohouse Solar, 10 years ago installing solar panels on roofs, mostly for homes but occasionally for businesses. His company has installed solar panels at about 150 sites. The business continues to grow each year.

“The price does keep coming down. So that helps,” he said. “The company continues to grow every year. This year, we’ll probably have our best year.”

Yet one of the largest barriers to more people installing solar panels on their homes is the initial installation costs. To install the panels on a home can cost an estimated $15,000 to $25,000 for about an 8-kilowatt system, a good size to significantly reduce electricity costs, he said. Property owners can expect to see the system paid off through energy savings in about a decade.

At the beginning of the year, the Trump administration placed a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells, with the rate declining over four years.

“We did see a little bump up in prices,” Eigel said. “It was pretty insignificant and it’s already come back down again from where it was. It hasn’t had a major impact.”

There is a federal tax credit to give customers 30 percent back through next year. The amount drops to 26 percent in 2020, then to 22 percent in 2021.

In Ohio, there are no state programs to help property owners shoulder the costs.

“Ohio doesn’t have any incentives really right now. If you were in other states … (they) generally have a lot more activity than we have here,” Eigel said. “It’s really a matter of the economics.”

That initial capital investment keeps solar out of lower-income neighborhoods.

“If you stay in your house and have significant energy savings, it pays off. Many aren’t able to make that initial investment,” said Jane Harf, executive director of Green Energy Ohio, an education nonprofit group that advocates for renewable energy sources. “That is one of the real challenges with renewable energy in general: how to get it to the people who need it the most?”

Contrast that to other states such as California.

“Of all the solar in the United States, more than half of it is in California,” Eigel said. “They have really good state incentive programs to make it easier for people to do it.”

In 2017, coal still accounted for 58 percent of Ohio’s net electricity generation, 24 percent was from natural gas and nuclear energy made up 15 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Of the small percentage of electricity generated from renewable resources in Ohio, 53 percent of that came from wind.

Solar energy has no emissions, and it can be installed in most locations where there is an adequate amount of sunlight.

Even with Ohio’s often overcast gray skies, there is enough sunlight to fuel energy via solar panels, Eigel said. In San Francisco, there is an average of more than five hours of sunlight per day. Columbus has about 4½, according to federal data.

“Basically, all of the East Coast — New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, they have about the same amount of sun as Ohio — four hours per day on average,” Eigel said. “So we can use that data. We can calculate very accurately how much energy it’s going to produce.”

Homeowners aren’t the only ones looking to find alternative sources of energy. Solar farms have popped up that allow people to purchase energy credits, including one in Licking County, Harf said.

Local governments and utilities are making investments, too.

“I think we are all working toward the same goal,” Harf said. “We know there are significant opportunities that we need to take advantage of.”

By 2050, central Ohio is expected to add between 500,000 to a million residents. That growth will exert pressure on the energy infrastructure, according to a Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission energy study. The study recommends installing 1 gigawatt of solar power, which would supply 10 percent of Franklin County’s energy needs.

“Everyone is taking a look right now at the appropriateness of solar,” said Jon-Paul d’Aversa, an energy planner at MORPC. “Even though Franklin County has, I think, 7 megawatts right now of capacity, the pace and the speed that local governments want to see it incorporated is definitely increasing. That’s a great sign. There’s a lot of ambition.”

The city of Cincinnati announced that it is working on a 25-megawatt solar project that would power 25 percent of the city’s energy needs.

Last month, AEP filed paperwork with PUCO announcing a project in Highland County that will generate 400 megawatts of solar power in the southwest portion of the state.

“They are some of the best locations for sun throughout the state. We’re trying to be leaders in that area,” said Scott Blake, an AEP spokesman, who also cited plans for 500 megawatts of wind energy. “We committed to pursuing additional renewable resources a couple of years ago with support of the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council.”

bburger@dispatch.com

@ByBethBurger