Emphasizing bulk purchases coupled with financial incentives
In order to prepare those with an interest in solar energy for the next Feed in Tariff (FIT) program, and improving upon a more sustainable northern Michigan lifestyle, Eco-Building Products (EBP), located in the Warehouse District of downtown Traverse City, has formed a Solar-Living Co-op. The program is free, available to the community, and offers an array of opportunities for the average business or homeowner to harness solar energy.
Owner Jim Barnes was inspired to create the Solar Co-Op from a desire for simplicity in living. “I want to encourage others to start to live using the purest, cleanest, most powerful source of energy,” said Barnes. His primary goals are to make solar energy as affordable as possible, and to get started now. “The sooner these systems get installed, the sooner we start to heal mother natures wounds. One of the best ways to expedite the process is to prepare Co-op members for the next FIT program,” said Barnes.
Feed-in-Tariff programs have proven to be the most effective means of paying off PV systems in the shortest amount of time. When the programs are offered, they typically fill to capacity in less than a month. Being prepared for the FIT program with a system design is a key ingredient to being granted a long-term contract with the utility. “Not only will our Co-op members be prepared for the next FIT, but they will also benefit from decreases in system cost because their individual purchase will be part of a bulk purchase,” said Barnes.
Co-op members can attend Back to the Basics workshops to learn more about other incentives such as tax credits, grants and rebates, which make the investment of renewable energy a more viable option.
Other membership benefits include reduced rates during each state of the installation process. From grant writing applications, to solar site assessments that determine a locations potential solar energy production, to assessing energy efficiency, members will be discounted from service to service. The energy assessment will address consumption and what it takes to reduce it, beginning with small investments and moving towards larger lifestyle changes. Another benefit is the advantage of a professionally designed, installed and maintained solar system.
The Co-op also assures consumers the latest solar technology. Due to the fact that most PV systems are grid-tied, the new Enphase MicoInverter makes solar living both affordable and upgradeable. These mini inverters invert each panel’s DC power output to grid compliant AC power. They enable a solar array to consist of just one panel with the ability to expand one panel at a time. “Before the micro inverter hit the market”, said Barnes, “it only was cost effective to hook large solar arrays to large, centralized inverters. Now arrays can be small and simple with the ability to expand whenever desired.” Enphase MicroInverters are the most efficient inverters in the industry and because they come with a communication’s gateway, owners can monitor the production of each panel 24/7 online. Despite the immediate impact of a solar energy installation, a large change is not always a suitable first step.
Barnes also recognizes that small changes in lifestyle contribute to the overall goal. To accommodate less hefty changes, more affordable solar thermal products are available. These systems can also be personalized to suit the needs of the consumer. “Harvesting solar thermal energy is very efficient, simple, low-tech transfer of energy,” said Barnes. Learning how to incorporate this desire for simplicity and sustainability is at the forefront of the Solar Co-op movement.
Along with the solar electric and solar thermal systems, products like Solatube Daylighting Systems and SolarStar Attic Fans harvest the power of the sun to bring natural light to the dark places in homes and businesses, and to keep air circulating in attic spaces without any electrical drain. These options are small and affordable, an ideal first step towards a solar energy lifestyle.
The success of solar energy in northern Michigan has been illustrated by small changes in homes and businesses across the state, as well as on countless rooftops. In 2008, Cherry Republic owner Bob Sutherland saw the potential for solar energy production at his sunny, high-profile Glen Arbor location. With assistance from Eco-Building Products, Sutherland’s solar hot water system heats the water necessary to run the cafÈ at Cherry Republic and meets all hot water needs. “It’s a healthy, cosmic energy available to all and is full of good karma,” said Sutherland. But the sun’s energy is also practical for him, as he added “I love seeing low utility bills.”
The solar thermal impact has also been felt in residential settings. In March, Frankfort residents Ted and Marcia Curran installed a twelve panel solar thermal system onto their home with the help of Eco-Building Products. “We took this step after months of concern and study because we wanted to respond to the need all us of have to begin to reduce our dependence on carbon-based power production,” said Curran. With their home designed at a southern roof alignment, it is situated beautifully for the generation of solar power, even in northern Michigan. The 12-panel array is already approaching the fulfillment of half of daily electricity use on good days. “Solar panels are one way to allow all of us to begin making a contribution to the generation of clean energy for the sake of our families, communities and, yes, the nation,” said Curran.
Timothy Young, chef and president at Food for Thought in Honor, which provides organic, local and fair trade foods, also lauds renewable and alternative energy. Each year Young attempts to broaden the energy efficiency of his business and home. “Generating your own power, be it heating with wood, solar or other, demonstrates the value of energy. We see just what it takes to heat a home, cook our meal or light up a room,” said Young. “If we don’t participate in our own generation on some level, energy remains simply a commodity that we purchase in the market….and the impact of consumption can be very removed.”
For more information about the Solar Living Co-op and the changes you can make to create a more sustainable northern Michigan, stop by Eco-Building Products’ showroom located at 130 Hall St. in downtown Traverse City and ask for Jim Barnes.
“It is really rewarding to help people make a transition from fossil fuels to super clean and free solar energy.” Barnes said, “It just makes ‘cents.’”