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Jul 23

To Love And Be Loved Is To Feel The Sun From Both Sides

Comments (1) 5:00 PM posted by admin |

To date, 62 people have pledged money towards putting solar panels on Ypsilanti’s City Hall. If you are one of the 62, I want to thank you for your support. If you are one of the twenty thousand plus other Ypsilanti residents who haven’t signed, I’d like to encourage you to consider doing so. The reality of this project is that $10.2K will not be enough. We’ll need $18,534 for the installation. That means we don’t need 200 people signing the pledge, we need 371 signors, or 309 more.

Ypsilanti resident and solar folk legend, Dave Strenski, has done a tremendous amount of work designing the structure for holding the solar panels as well as the back-end electrical distribution design. The most important aspect of the project he’s completed, however, is the return on investment.

I won’t kid you. Cheap solar power from photovoltaic cells is further from the mainstream than I’d like. They provide less than one percent of the world’s electricity for many reasons, the biggest being cost. But costs will come down once there is a greater availability of the polysilicon material used to manufacture the cells (silicon refining took a dramatic downturn after the tech bubble burst in the late 90s). In addition, and as sadly ironic as it may sound, as soon as China increases their capacity to manufacture solar panels, the prices will continue to drop (China passed the United States to become the 3rd largest producer of solar panels behind only Germany and Japan).

Strenski’s calculations show that at a cost of ten cents per kilowatt hour, his proposed design would generate $10,620 worth of energy. On a $18,534 investment, solar energy comes at a premium of $7,914 over 30 years. It’s unlikely that energy costs will remain flat for the next 30 years. If energy costs were to increase at an annual rate of 4%, over the life of the panels, the project would generate $19,854 worth of energy.

Even with a break-even scenario after 30 years, is the project worth doing? Not on a cost-basis it’s not, but that’s not the only reason for doing it. As previously mentioned, if you could spend a small amount of money to help transform an image would you do it? I would.

Dave sets out three goals for the project:

  • generate a solar energy revolution within the City, encouraging more residents and businesses to install solar panels on their buildings
  • attract and grow new businesses, centered around renewable energies, that would locate in Ypsilanti
  • generate useful power for the residents of Ypsilanti at peak demand times, reducing our need for additional power plants

The completed design calls for 12 Sanyo HIT 205W solar panels on the south wall just above the visible windows. An aluminum frame would hold the panels in place and would attach to the wall with simple lag shield anchors and epoxy cement. The bolts would see a shear load of 1572 pounds under the weight of panels coupled with snow and wind loads. It should be noted these calculations will need the approval of a licensed structural engineer, but the math shows the anchor bolts, rated for a pull-out force of 2800 pounds, would be more than sufficient.

Strenski has also provided an easy-to-follow schematic that nearly anyone could follow and do this to their own home.

The frustrating thing about this is that it was just announced today that Ann Arbor was one of thirteen cities selected to receive a grant from the US Department of Energy to promote solar power. Granted it was for cities with populations above 100K, but you can’t possibly tell me Dave’s proposal doesn’t kick the Sun Dragon Project at Fuller Pool’s ass.

UPDATE: The complete project along with schematics and a bill of material can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

1 Comment »

  1. Comment by strenski
    July 24, 2007 @ 9:11 am


    I was showing my solar presentation to a friend and he pointed out that if someone were to install solar panels on their house, they would become part of the house and retain thier vaule even if the house was sold. So if solar panels cost $20,000 and the payback period was 30 years, you might not do it. But if you sold you house 10 years after you installed the panels, you could sell the panels for $15,000 at the same time and build the price of the panels into the house price, you effectly get back most of your purchase price for the panels. This would also make you house more unique in a depressed housing market. With energy prices going up, solar panels might be the premium that sells your house.

    Brian has done great summary. You can find the full design at:
    http://www.sustainableypsi.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/city_hall_solar_v02.pdf

    You can also read about the panels on the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative at:
    http://www.sustainableypsi.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/final_2005_760w_solar.pdf

    And finally here’s a presentation that I’ve been showing to local community groups:
    http://sustainableypsi.org/solar/SolarPresentation_2006_Dec.pps

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