Ypsilanti going solar

SolarYpsi, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to promoting the usage of solar power, hosted tours and discussions Saturday in six spots across Ypsilanti to promote the increasing usage of solar energy.

All six locations — the Corner Brewery, Riverstreet Bakery, Ypsilanti Food Co-op, Ypsilanti city hall, Adams S.T.E.M. Academy and an apartment unit located at 403 S.Huron — are already running partly or fully on solar power.

The Food Co-Op was the first building in Ypsilanti to have solar panels installed. The Co-Op currently runs on 40 percent solar power produced by its 12 solar panels.The SolarYpsi tour has been held annually during October since 2005. Since then, more than 1,400 people have attended the tours.

According to Lisa Bashert, a SolarYpsi volunteer, a major benefit of solar power is it is generated on-site rather than being produced at an energy plant where energy is lost in simply moving the power from one place to another.

“In the process, ten percent is lost, just moving that power,” she said. “That’s ten percent of the coal that we dig out of the ground and burn, it’s just wasted in transmission. So if we have solar panels on every flat roof, there is no lost in transmission. The power comes right into the building.”

Once installed, solar panels remain in working condition for an average of 30 years before they need to be replaced. Although lake effect clouds produced by the Great Lakes make Michigan one of the least sunny places in the country, enough sunlight is still available to produce the power necessary to run homes and buildings.

“Even in the worst parts of the country you can still generate enough for a business,” Bashert said.

Solar panels also eliminate the need for batteries.

“Batteries will increase the cost of your system, they’ll lower the efficiency of your system, there’s monthly maintenance that has to be done,” said Dave Strenski, SolarYpsi’s founder. “When we have too much power, instead of sticking it into a battery, we sell it right back to the grid and someone else uses it. So it’s never stored, it’s just used someplace else.”

Due to the sun’s constant movement, overcast skies and rain, there remains an average of about only four hours a day in which the sun is in the ideal position for panels to absorb light.

“The national renewable energy lab says I can pretend on average that the sun is parked right over my panels for four hours a day,” Strenski said.

Solar panels are installed always facing south, to catch light as the sun moves east to west, and positioned at 38 degrees based the difference of the sun’s height in the sky during summer and winter.

Panels are placed in elevated places such as roofs where they are less likely to be blocked by tree limbs or falling debris and away from chimneys that can block the sunlight from reaching a panel. After having panels installed, the utility company installs three meters to measure the energy coming off the panels, and two to measure the input and output energy of the panels.

“I get a junky old laptop, and I wire the data wires from the utility meters into the parallel port on the back of a junky old laptop and I run some software I wrote and I’m able to read the meters and able to find how much power is going through each meter,” Strenski said.

Strenski is willing to install solar power beyond business and into private housing.

“It’s all money. I mean, if anyone wants to give me a grant, I’ll install wherever you want.”

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