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
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.
More at www.mieibc.org.
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.”
ORION TWP. — Powers Distributing Co. Inc., a beer distributor in Orion Township, teamed up with Newman Consulting Group, Lean & Green Michigan, and Michigan Solar Solutions to complete Michigan’s first refinanced PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) project and the first PACE project of any type in Oakland County.
The project also made Powers Distributing the first beer distributor in the United States to finance energy efficiency with PACE.
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.
MIDLAND — The Institute for Energy Innovation, a nonprofit organization, is looking for proposals from solar energy contractors to “Solarize Michigan.”
Modeled on a solar energy promotion initiative in Portland, Ore. in 2010, the goal is to significantly increase small-scale solar energy installations in the Great Lakes Bay region that includes Saginaw, Bay City, Midland, and surrounding communities.
The effort is being conducted in partnership with the Lansing energy consulting firm 5 Lakes Energy LLC, and the economic development agencies Saginaw Future, Midland Tomorrow and Bay Future.
The full request for proposals may be found at https://www.facebook.com/solarizemichigan.
ALLENDALE — Suniva, Inc., a Norcross, Ga.-based maker of solar power cells and modules, announced the groundbreaking of Michigan’s largest community solar project, a partnership of Grand Valley State University and Consumers Energy’s Solar Gardens program.
The three-megawatt solar array, powered by Suniva, is the first of its kind for Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility. The array will span across 17 acres at Grand Valley’s Allendale campus, near 48th Avenue and Luce Street. The university will also participate in the Solar Gardens program as a customer.
BRIGHTON — CGE Energy (MKBY:OTCPink) announced that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority approved the name change of the company from McKenzie Bay International Ltd. to CGE Energy Inc. and to change its stock ticker symbol to CGEI.
The company also announced a 1-for-25 reverse split of its common stock.
BRIGHTON — CGE Energy (OTC:MKBY), the Brighton-based solar, wind and advanced lighting firm, Thursday announced a power purchase agreement with the YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo and a new sales office in Chicago.
The first phase of the Toledo installatino is a 511-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array at YMCA’s Storer Camps in Jackson. CGE Energy collaborated its manufacturing partner, Oregon-based SolarWorld, to provide a clean energy system with a lifespan of 25 years. Also part of the Storer Camp project was the installation of naerly 1,000 Cree LED lamps and fixtures.
ANN ARBOR — Suniva Inc., the Georgia-based manufacturer of high-efficiency crystalline silicon solar cells and modules, announced Tuesday that its first installation in Michigan with Madison Heights-based McNaughton-McKay Electric is live and powering the Washtenaw Food Hub in Ann Arbor.
The Suniva Optimus-powered solar system, owned by the Washtenaw Food Hub and installed by Homeland Solar, is interconnected to DTE Energy. The power generated from the ground mount and rooftop array will serve the multi-purpose facility’s energy requirements, primarily refrigeration and a commercial kitchen, and is projected to produce 50 megawatts a year.