Category Archives: Solar Power

New Report: Rooftop Solar Provides Benefits to Michigan’s Electric Grid

LANSING – Utility customers with rooftop solar systems, known as solar distributed generation (DG), are providing economic support to Michigan’s electric grid and should not be overcharged to support it. That is among the findings of an analysis by the Institute for Energy Innovation, “Solar Energy in Michigan: The Economic Impact of Distributed Generation (DG) on Non-Solar Customers.

The report was completed in advance of a study to be undertaken by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) required under Michigan’s new Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act.

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Michigan Tech Study Shows Ditching Coal for Solar Saves Lives — AND Money

HOUGHTON — In a new study published in the academic journal Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2017.05.119), a team from Michigan Technological University calculated the cost of combusting coal in terms of human lives along with the potential benefits of switching to solar.

Health Impacts

Tens of thousands of Americans die prematurely each year from air pollution-related diseases associated with burning coal. By transitioning to solar photovoltaics in the United States, the study found up to 51,999 American lives would be saved at $1.1 million invested per life.

“Unlike other public health investments, you get more than lives saved,” said Joshua Pearce, a professor of materials science and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. “In addition to saving lives, solar is producing electricity, which has economic value.”

Using a sensitivity analysis on the value of electricity, which examines the different costs of electricity that varies by region throughout the country, saving a life by using solar power also showed potential to make money — sometimes as much as several million dollars per life, says Pearce.

“Everybody wants to avoid wasting money. Just based off the pure value of electricity of the sensitivities we looked at, it’s profitable to save American lives by eliminating coal with solar,” he explains.

Pearce worked with energy policy doctoral student Emily Prehoda on the study, and their main goal was to better inform health policy. They gathered data from peer-reviewed journals and the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate U.S. deaths per kilowatt hour per year for both coal and solar. Then they used current costs of solar installations from the Department of Energy and calculated the potential return on investment.

Pearce and Prehoda also analyzed the geographic impact of coal-related deaths. “Here, we have solid numbers on how many people die from air pollution and what fraction of that is due to coal-powered plants in each state.”

Power of Solar

To fully replace all the coal production in the U.S. with solar PV, it would take 755 gigawatts — a significant increase compared to the 22.7 gigawatts of solar installed in the U.S. currently. The total cost of installing that much solar power totals $1.5 trillion, but that investment is figured into Pearce and Prehoda’s calculations, and is a profitable investment.

Said Pearce: “Solar has come down radically in cost, it’s technically viable, and coupled with natural gas plants, other renewables and storage, we have ways to produce all the electricity we need without coal, period.”

He says resisting the rise of solar energy is akin to if computer manufacturers kept using vacuum tube switches instead of upgrading to semiconductor transistors.

“My overall take away from this study is that if we’re rational and we care about American lives, or even just money, then it’s time to end coal in the U.S.,” Pearce said.

Next Steps

The World Health Organization reports that millions die each year from unhealthy environment, air pollution notably the largest contributor to non-communicable diseases like stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Future work can expand this study globally.

“There’s roughly seven million people who die globally from air pollution every year, so getting rid of coal could take a big chunk out of that number as well,” Pearce said, adding that another goal of future research is to dig deeper into the life cycles of coal production as this study only looked at air pollution related deaths. Doing so will continue to illuminate the multiple positive impacts of solar power and its potential to do more than keep the lights on.

Michigan Tech Research: Solar Can Aid Military Security Affordably

HOUGHTON — Vulnerabilities in the power grid are one of the most prevalent national security threats. The technical community has called for building up the resiliency of the grid using distributed energy and microgrids for stabilization. Power production from multiple sources increases the difficulty of triggering cascading blackouts, and following an attack or natural disaster, microgrids can provide localized energy security.

In a new paper published in the academic journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2017.04.094), an interdisciplinary team of engineering and energy policy experts from Michigan Technological University says the first step is to outfit military infrastructure with solar photovoltaic-powered microgrid systems. Their results found that the military needs 17 gigawatts of PV to fortify domestic bases — and that the systems are technically feasible, within current contractors’ skill sets, and economically favorable.

Additionally, the paper’s lead author, Emily Prehoda, who is finishing her PhD in energy policy at Michigan Tech, says boosting bases’ energy independence supports local communities.

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MSU Engineering Students Working On New Solar Project, To Save University $10M

EAST LANSING — Construction on a new solar array project – a venture that could save the university $10 million over 25 years – has started at Michigan State University. Continue reading MSU Engineering Students Working On New Solar Project, To Save University $10M

Solar energy jobs in Michigan jump 48% in 2016

LANSING – The Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, a trade association for renewable energy companies, announced Monday that a new report from the Solar Foundation found that jobs in Michigan’s solar industry jumped by an impressive 48 percent from 2015 to 2016.

During that time, Michigan solar companies added more than 1,300 jobs, for a total Michigan solar workforce of 4,118.

This positions Michigan second in the Midwest both in terms of growth rate and number of individuals employed in the solar industry, Nationally, Michigan now ranks 15th in the number of solar jobs, up three spots since 2015. (Ohio leads the Great Lakes are with 5,831 solar jobs, and employment grew there 21 percent in 2016. Indiana had the fastest growth rate, 72 percent, but has the smallest number of solar jobs in the region, 2,700.)

Nationally, the Solar Jobs Census 2016 reported that solar employment has nearly tripled since 2010 and was up 25 percent over 2015, with the industry adding more than 21,000 jobs in 2015 for a total of more than 260,000 solar workers nationally. This is the fourth consecutive year of more than 20 percent national solar job growth. Last year, one out of every 50 jobs created in the United States was in the solar industry. Notably, solar now employs twice as many people as the entire U.S. coal industry, and the same number as work in natural gas.

The Michigan EIBC represents companies across the full range of the advanced energy sector, including advanced materials, biomass and biofuels, energy efficiency, energy storage, lighting, smart grid, solar, transportation, and wind.

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Plug In For Renewable Energy

HOUGHTON — Support for solar energy is vast. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans want the US to put more emphasis on developing solar power. Most of the same people, unfortunately, can’t afford to install solar energy systems in their homes. Even after federal tax credits, installing solar panels to cover all of a family’s electricity needs can cost tens of thousands of dollars. For others, a home solar system isn’t a consideration because they rent, or move frequently.

But Michigan Technological University’s Joshua Pearce says he knows the solution: plug and play solar.

“Plug and play systems are affordable, easy to install, and portable,” said Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and of electrical and computer engineering. “The average American consumer can buy and install them with no training.”

In a study funded by the Conway Fellowship and published in Renewable Energy (DOI: 10.1016/j.renene.2016.11.034), Pearce and researchers Aishwarya Mundada and Emily Prehoda estimate that plug and play solar could provide 57 gigawatts of renewable energy – enough to power the cities of New York and Detroit – with potentially $14.3 to $71.7 billion in sales for retailers and $13 billion a year in cost savings for energy users.

Sounds great, right? Well, there’s one problem: in many parts of the United States, electrical regulations don’t allow consumers to plug and play.

Small investment, big return

Plug and play solar panels connect to an ordinary electrical outlet. You’re still on the grid, but you’ve become a “prosumer” — a consumer of energy who also produces it. The panels range in wattage and are relatively affordable, with some costing just a couple of hundred dollars. A prosumer can start small, with just one panel, and slowly build up over time to a system that produces 1 kilowatt of energy, the equivalent of powering 10 100-watt light bulbs.

The panels are also portable. So, for example, if a college student buys one 250-watt plug and play panel each year for four years, reaching 1 kilowatt of energy by senior year, that student can unplug the four panels when she graduates and take them to her next destination.

Pearce estimated that plug and play systems could generate more than four times the amount of electricity generated from all of U.S. solar last year.

“The vast majority of this energy never leaves the home,” Pearce said. “It’s the equivalent of handling a hair dryer load. We’re talking about almost nothing on the electrical grid – but that nothing adds up. It’s an appliance with a high rate of return.”

Safe, simple — and largely prohibited

In the U.S., a patchwork of local jurisdictions and regulations make it difficult to figure out if and where plug and play panels are allowed.

“You can buy the panels, but you might not be able to plug them in, depending on your utility,” Pearce said.

In a paper published earlier this year in Solar Energy (DOI: 10.1016/j.solener.2016.06.002), Pearce, Mundada and researcher Yuenyong Nilsiam reviewed all regulations in the U.S. that would apply to plug and play systems. They found no safety or technical issues with the equipment on the market.

“This is an area where less regulation could really help renewable energy,” Pearce said. “We know that the technology is safe, and the law should reflect that.”

The risk, according to Pearce, is putting too much current on one circuit, so he recommends that homeowners keep their plug and play systems to a kilowatt or less. Simple precautions make this easy — if a panel is plugged into an outdoor outlet, for example, safety plugs on all other outdoor outlets on that circuit can prevent overload.

While some jurisdictions have recognized that there are no major safety or technical issues with plug and play panels, paperwork holds up the process. Potential prosumers often have to fill out complicated forms to fulfill utility requirements, and the paperwork and associated fees vary by utility. To simplify the process, Pearce and colleagues automated it, by writing open-source computer code that fills out every possible technical requirement. Utilities can easily use the free code on their websites.

“Some utilities have embraced plug and play, and some have ignored it because they think it’s a pittance,” Pearce says. “But plug and play solar is something that can help most Americans.”

Ford Exec To Keynote Clean Energy Industry Gala

LANSING — The Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council announced that John J. Viera, global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters at Ford Motor Co., will give the keynote address at the fourth Annual Michigan Energy Innovators Gala, scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 10 in East Lansing.

The gala will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center on the campus of Michigan State University, 219 S. Harrison Road in East Lansing. Tickets are $150 for EIBC members and $185 for non-members. For tickets, visit this link.

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Leave The Grid In The UP? Michigan Tech Team Finds It Feasible

HOUGHTON — While Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is not the sunniest place in the world, solar energy is viable in the region. With new technologies, some people might be inclined to leave the electrical grid. A team from Michigan Technological University looked into the economic viability of grid defection in the Upper Peninsula.

Known for snow rather than sun, the region could still support a significant network of solar photovoltaic energy systems. Solar energy alone in the Upper Peninsula is seasonally restricted. However, solar coupled with cogeneration and batteries could overcome any cloudy, cold winter day.

Michigan Tech engineers and sociologists explored what this new triple-threat technology, and the role of demographics, could mean for energy alternatives in the Upper Peninsula in a new study published in Energy Policy. Their analysis found that by 2020, leaving the electrical grid is a viable economic option for the majority of seasonal households (92 percent) as well as single-family owner-occupied households (65 percent). The study was published in the journal Energy Policy.

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Energy Business Group Sets May 4 Member Meeting

LANSING — The Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council says new panelists are confirmed for its fourth annual member meeting, to be held Wednesday, May 4 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing.

Non-members may also attend the meeting. Tickets are still available at this link. Tickets are $100 for EIBC members and $175 for non-members. There is also a $50 government rate.

The meeting will feature an opening dialogue with Patricia Poppe, who will become president and CEO of Jackson-based Consumers Energy on July 1, and Sally Talberg, chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission.

This full-day conference provides attendees an opportunity to network, learn about innovations in advanced energy, and get an overview on the latest policy developments in Lansing.

Panel discussions during the day will include:
* Innovations in Transportation: Electrification, Lightweighting, and Connected Vehicles
* Taking Advantage of the ITC/PTC: What Are the Next Five Years for Renewable Energy
* Media Perspectives Panel: Discussion of All Things Energy Related -Political Landscape, Legislation, and 2016 Elections
* How to Think Big in Small Places: Energy Innovations in Rural Communities, Industrial Parks, and Downtowns
* The Changing Landscape of Energy Efficiency: Demand Response, ESCOs, and Where We Go From Here

A partial lists of scheduled panelists includes:
* Andy Balaskovitz, reporting fellow at Midwest Energy News, Grand Rapids
* Mathias Bell, manager of market development and regulatory affairs at the Minneapolis utility software developer Opower
* Lawrence E. Brown, executive director of the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute
* Myles Burnsed, director of business development at Oakland, N.J.-based groSolar
* Liesl Eichler Clark, president, Michigan EIBC
* Lawrence Drzal, director, Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, Michigan State University
* Mattnew Felan, president and CEO of the Bay City-based Great Lakes Bay Region Alliance
* Scott Ferguson, project executive, director of sustainability, Rockford Construction, Grand Rapids
* Zachary Gorchow, editor, Gongwer News Service, Lansing
* Robert Jackson, loan and renewable energy program manager, Michigan Energy Office
* Emily Lawler, capitol and business reporter, MLive, Lansing
* Andrew S. Levin, founder and managing partner, Levin Energy Partners LLC, Detroit
*  Marc Lewis, vice president, regulatory and external affairs, AEP Indiana Michigan Power, Ft. Wayne, Ind.
* Doug Luciani, CEO, TraverseConnect, the parent company of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and the multi-county economic development corporation Venture North
* Tim Mahler, vice president of operations, ClearResult, an Austin, Texas-based designer of energy efficiency programs and a provider of other services for utilities.
* Melanie McCoy, superintendent of the municipal utility Sebawaing Light and Water
* Kyle Melinn, news editor, Michigan Informaton and Research Service Inc. (MIRS), Lansing
* David W. Palsrok, government policy advisor, Dykema, Lansing
* Jim Saber, vice president, business and technology development, NextEnergy, the state of Michigan’s advanced energy industry accelerator
* J.R. Tolbert, senior director of state policy at the Washington, D.C. nonprofit Advanced Energy Economy
* Shane VanCise, energy solutions account executive, Johnson Controls Inc., Saginaw

Sponsorship opportunities are also still available, and most come with the opportunity to exhibit at the event. Please contact Nicole Forward at for more information.

Sponsors of the event include Consumers Energy, CleaResult, Invenergy, ITC Holdings Inc. and the Michigan Agency for Energy.

Ikea Fires Up Expanded Solar Array In Canton Township

CANTON TWP. — The home furnishings retailer Ikea Wednesday energized an expanded solar energy array atop its 9-year-old store in Canton Township.

The 40,000-square-foot solar panel addition consists of a 242.1-kilowatt system built with 781 panels, and will produce 293,502 kilowatt-hours more electricity annually for the store.

The solar expansion sits atop a 44,000-square-foot store extension completed in spring 2015. With the addition, Ikea Canton’s 1,219.7-kilowatt solar installation of 4,941 panels will generate 1,408,445 kilowatt-hours of clean electricity each year, the equivalent of reducing 971 tons of carbon dioxide, eliminating the emissions of 204 cars or powering 134 homes.

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