Solar in Michigan? Really?
Nature runs on solar power and so can we! Contrary to popular belief, the sun in Southeast Michigan can provide a significant percentage of our community's energy needs. According to the US Department of Energy, this clean renewable resource is available to southeast Michiganders an average of 4-6 hours daily. If every residential building in Ann Arbor had a one kilowatt solar electric system on the roof, we could generate over 30 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity each year or about 10% of the Ann Arbor's 2000 residential electrical use.
Ann Arbor compares favorably to cities implementing solar programs in other parts of the country and is sunnier than both Germany and Japan, countries that lead the world in solar energy use. More specifically, Ann Arbor's solar exposure is:
- 97% of Madison, WI
- 98% of Chicago, IL
- 80% of San Francisco, CA
- 78% of Austin, TX
- 108% of Portland, OR
Solar Hot Water
A solar hot water system is one of the most cost-effective ways to use renewable energy in Southeast Michigan. In a typical solar hot water system, panels on the roof allow the sun to heat a glycol solution that circulates through a heat exchanger in the hot water tank. The picture at right shows solar water heating panels on the roof of Fire Station #1 in downtown Ann Arbor, which were installed with the help of a $6,000 grant from the Michigan Energy Office. The Fire Station solar system is expected to provide about half of the station's hot water needs and pay for itself in about six years. See the Final Report for this project.
Residential systems typically cost about $6,000 and are eligible for federal tax credits. Most systems pay for themselves in 6-10 years.
Solar Electric (Photovoltaics)
Solar electric (PV) systems are typically not yet as cost-effective as solar hot water systems in Southeast Michigan, with paybacks of ten years or more, but things are improving (see below!). Solar electric systems, however, are becoming more popular as a means for homeowners to reduce their reliance on heavy-polluting and centralized coal plants. Residential solar electric systems typically cost around $10,000 (more for systems with battery backup), not including applicable federal tax credits and new rebates and assistance from Detroit Edison.
Learn more about how you can take advantage of incentives available for solar PV by visiting www.dsireusa.org
A group of University students working with the EnHouse used aerial photographs to analyze the solar potential of single-family houses in Ann Arbor. Their study concluded that 86% of 22,000 Ann Arbor rooftops would be feasible sites for solar hot water installations.
Public Project: Sun Dragon Hot Water System
The Sun Dragon is the culmination of many years of effort to place a unique solar exhibit at a public swimming pool in Ann Arbor. The sixty-foot long multi-colored translucent plastic sculpture was dedicated on June 16th, 2003 at Fuller Pool in Ann Arbor.
How can renewable energy inspire children and adults to think about more efficient and creative ways to use our resources? The Energy Office of the City of Ann Arbor generated the initial plan of having a solar-heated shower installed at one of Ann Arbor's major recreational destinations, Fuller Pool. This solar shower operates by diverting pool water through solar collectors on the roof that are heated by the sun. Pool water absorbs heat while in contact with the solar collectors, and then returns to the pool as a warm shower. This simple heat cycle process is capable of heating a whole pool. However, the shower itself had nothing special about it to attract attention and make the public aware of its unique properties (see before and after photos).
In order to highlight this innovative use of renewable energy in a recreational setting, the Energy Office wanted to use public art to help the shower send a solar energy message. "We built the shower and the kids and adults loved to play in it," said David Konkle, Municipal Energy Coordinator of the City of Ann Arbor, "but no one knew it had anything to do with solar energy. It really needed something more to distinguish it from the rest of the pool facility. We envisioned a public art element to bring the whole process to the public eye."
Photo Before the Installation...
Local artist Margaret Parker (pictured below with Ann Arbor's Mayor John Hieftje) was invited to design an exhibit that would bring attention to the shower's energy source. She was selected for the quality of her thirty years of artwork which includes a piece in the permanent collection of the United States Capitol and the urban courtyard design at Liberty and Ashley. On the genesis of the Sun Dragon concept, she said, "My first impression was to use bright transparent color that would catch the sun. Then it seemed important to connect the showerhead to the solar panels way back on the roof where the energy was actually coming from. Transparent colored Plexiglas was the perfect medium to use because it is both lightweight and permanent."
The final design was a 60-foot long Sun Dragon that extends from the shower-head along the pipe then up to the roof towards the solar panels. Dan McGuire, Director of Fuller Pool, was delighted with the Sun Dragon--a symbol of the sun's energy put to good purpose that would be especially attractive to the thousands of children that attend the pool every summer. The design was reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Department and then taken to the Ann Arbor Commission on Art in Public Places where it passed through the Peer Review Process. Commission Chair Bob Elton said, "The Sun Dragon project is a great example of how City Departments can solve problems using public art. People all over Ann Arbor are beginning to see how to generate public art projects that address issues and interests in their own neighborhood."
Funding for this solar energy/public art project came from numerous sources including the Michigan Energy Office, Michigan Council for the Arts, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Christopher Graham, the Ann Arbor Energy Commission and the Ann Arbor Energy Fund. Thanks to these funds, local ingenuity and the City's energy program, the Sun Dragon is now a reality and is sure to be a landmark in Ann Arbor that raises public awareness of solar energy's potential uses.
Plastic Tech of Ann Arbor fabricated and installed the sculpture.