Plugging into the sun
by Bob & Jorja Feldman
From the December, 2019 issue
The residence in our photos, 538 S. Fifth St., is on a city block that exudes quintessential Ann Arbor. But one feature is definitely not quintessential, though it may be in the future: solar panels to generate electricity.
John Rietz and Rachel Thompson went solar in 2016. They were motivated by their concern about climate change, and hoped that the visible display of their commitment might inspire others to do the same. "We are bathed in energy," Rietz says. "The trick is to capture it."
Homeland Solar sold and installed the couple's roof top system. Manager Dave Friedrichs explains that when sunlight strikes the panels, electrons separate out and move through a circuit, creating electricity in the form of direct current. A device called an inverter converts this to standard household alternating current for the household's use.
On sunny days, Rietz and Thompson's system can produce far more electricity than they use. That excess is fed into DTE's electrical grid through a specialized electric meter that measures electricity going out as well as coming in. Over the course of a year, Rietz says, those credits just about equal DTE's bills for the energy they use at night and on darker days. (Newer installations get smaller credits, so your results may vary.)
Residential installations are at small end of the solar-panel spectrum. At the other are DTE's "solar parks." DTE Energy's Cindy Hecht and Brian Calka explain there are four of these in the immediate Ann Arbor area: two on U-M properties off Plymouth and Fuller roads; one at Domino's Farms, visible from US-23 just north of M-14 east junction; and the one featured in our photo, off Scio Church Rd. east of Wagner.
The largest and newest is the one at Domino's Farms: 4,032 panels generating enough energy to power 174 homes. The smallest is the one off Scio Church: 270 panels generating enough energy to power ten homes. By comparison, DTE's two solar installations in Lapeer
combined consist of 200,000 panels and produce enough energy to power 11,000 homes.
Those panels are a little larger in size than typical residential units. After being converted to alternating current, the power they generate is stepped up to high voltage for transmission, then stepped down at its destination for use as household current.
Solar is currently 7 percent of DTE's renewable energy portfolio, contributing to its announced goal to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030, 80 percent by 2040, and net zero by 2050.
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