Sunday, May 30, 2010

Solar Power at the Market
Demonstration Project or Just Bad Investment?

On June 3, 2008 an articles in the Ann Arbor News by A. Nash had the headline: Ann Arbor Farmers Market invests in solar collectors .

The article reported:

The project is one step toward a city goal of having municipal operations running on 30 percent renewable energy by 2010, and about 20 percent of the entire community on renewable energy by 2015.

"It's a good place to show off the technology a little bit," said Mayor John Hieftje. "Part of the project is not just to power city government but to educate our residents about what can be done."

The 156 solar collectors will generate about $1,500 worth of electricity per year to be used by the market offices. The solar power also can supply the electrical needs of the vendors who set up their stalls at the market.

Downtown Development Authority provided $100,000 for the project at the Farmers Market, said David Konkle, the city's energy coordinator.

The solar collectors should be up and running by July.

It is now 2010 and time to evaluate this demonstration project. The following chart shows the utility costs for the Market

The utility cost would include water and sewage costs, but about half of the expense is for electricity. The market office uses electric heat and an electric hot water heater. The data for fiscal years 2006 through 2009 came from the audited financial statements of the city of Ann Arbor. The data for fiscal 2010 are from a hand out provided by the Market Manager at the February meeting of the Market Commission.

If the panels were operating in July 2008, that would have been the beginning of fiscal year 2009. The cost savings for the electricity should be very apparent in 2009. Obviously it is not, utilities in 2009 were greater than in 2008. If you look very closely you might claim that the increase is less than it would have been without the solar panels. But even this is only about $100, and it may just be a statistical fluctuation.

How could our city officials have gotten it so wrong? They simply did not stop to think or they did not want too. They calculated the value of total power the panels could generate, but you cannot store electricity. The Michigan state law is not very receptive to forcing the utility companies like DTE to buy power from small generators.

Mayor Hieftje commented:
The collectors are generating power and it's being used, said Hieftje. However, there's a dispute over whether the city or DTE should pay for a special electric meter. Until that's settled, the city can't push surplus power back onto the electrical grid.(1)

So basically it is use it or lose it. The Market uses most of its electric power in early morning when the vendors need lights for setting up or in winter for heating the market office. These are the two periods when the solar panel either do not work at all,or provide little power.What did the city get for $100,000? A nice sign at the market that proclaims Ann Arbor a Solar City.


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