suggestions on solar electricity system in Michigan

drbrucedale
By drbrucedale on Tue, Apr 5, 2016 - 6:00am

We live near Lansing, Michigan, perhaps not the greatest location for solar PV.  But we have a very large south facing roof that seems almost ideal for solar PV and it is nearing time to replace the roof anyway.  

After raising our five kids, it is just my wife and I in the house. We have a natural gas powered generator for back up power, and a wood burning stove for winter heat.  But I am interested in seeing if a solar PV system might make sense for us.  I would appreciate receiving useful links to learn more about the latest solar PV systems, and perhaps the contact information for reliable installers in this area. Any help and/or suggestions would be welcome.

Thanks very much.

8 Comments

tjwilhelm's picture
tjwilhelm
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 28 2009
Posts: 15
Reply on Lansing solar...

FYI, Germany kicks solar butt, and they have a solar resource on par with Alaska. You will be fine using solar-PV in Michigan. Go to the NABCEP website -- North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. I'm typing this from my phone at the moment, but I believe their website is www.NABCEP.org. If that doesn't work, you can find them via a web search.
At their site they have State by State lists of NABCEP Certified Solar-PV installers. NABCEP is the gold standard for this. I would also ask any potential installers for references from previous clients.
Because you are here, you will likely want a bi-modal PV system -- a hybrid of stand-alone (off-grid) and utility-interactive (grid-tied). Utility-interactive systems shut down when the grid is down. This poorly understood fact led to lots of pi$$ed off solar owners in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Also, keep in mind, this does not have go on your roof! While a roof-mount gets the array elevated above potential shading issues, I personally prefer a ground mount, pole mount, or pergola mounted array. The most important thing is to assure you have a clean solar window, where ever you put it -- zero shade from 9am to 3pm, from winter solstice to summer solstice. There are a few phone apps I've seen to help you assess this yourself, or you'll need to borrow (or hire someone with) a Solar Pathfinder or a Solmetric Suneye.
That should start you off in the right direction. Good Luck,
Tim Wilhelm

tjwilhelm's picture
tjwilhelm
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 28 2009
Posts: 15
Reply on Lansing solar...

FYI, Germany kicks solar butt, and they have a solar resource on par with Alaska. You will be fine using solar-PV in Michigan. Go to the NABCEP website -- North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. I'm typing this from my phone at the moment, but I believe their website is www.NABCEP.org. If that doesn't work, you can find them via a web search.
At their site they have State by State lists of NABCEP Certified Solar-PV installers. NABCEP is the gold standard for this. I would also ask any potential installers for references from previous clients.
Because you are here, you will likely want a bi-modal PV system -- a hybrid of stand-alone (off-grid) and utility-interactive (grid-tied). Utility-interactive systems shut down when the grid is down. This poorly understood fact led to lots of pi$$ed off solar owners in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Also, keep in mind, this does not have go on your roof! While a roof-mount gets the array elevated above potential shading issues, I personally prefer a ground mount, pole mount, or pergola mounted array. The most important thing is to assure you have a clean solar window, where ever you put it -- zero shade from 9am to 3pm, from winter solstice to summer solstice. There are a few phone apps I've seen to help you assess this yourself, or you'll need to borrow (or hire someone with) a Solar Pathfinder or a Solmetric Suneye.
That should start you off in the right direction. Good Luck,
Tim Wilhelm

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 66
an installer to avoid

I live near Grand Rapids, MI and have an off-grid solar system.  I believe my area gets more lake effect clouds than you do in the Lansing area.  Solar electric can certainly work in the area though if you want to be off-grid you will need a significantly larger system than you might in other areas of the country to get through our cloudy, overcast winter days around the solstice.

Off-grid works for me because I first learned to seriously reduce my power needs to 100 KWH or less in a month, so the system I needed was not too large.  Still, if economics are more of a concern for you then grid tied would likely make more sense.  At current electric rates my system probably won't pay for itself by the time I need to replace the battery bank.

I don't have any recommendations for reliable installers for you, but I have one I'd suggest you stay away from.  Solar Winds Power Systems, LLC. is who I had do my main house system (I have a second small system I did myself for an art studio).  I was NOT happy with them.  The system they left me with did not even meet their own solar engineer's specs for the minimum system required.  I ended up having to fix it myself.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1982
DSIRE

I suggest go to DSIRE--the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency--for tax breaks and incentives in your area. Very useful site; if available it will drill down to the county, town, village and power provider incentives. I believe you can get a $500 Federal tax credit for your solar system, and dsire.org may have more. Just put in your zip code.

tjwilhelm's picture
tjwilhelm
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 28 2009
Posts: 15
dsire

Good suggestion on the dsire database.  The actual website is http://www.dsireusa.org/.

Good info, there.

drbrucedale's picture
drbrucedale
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 6 2009
Posts: 9
thanks very much

Dear Wendy and TJ,

Thanks very much. I will check this out.  

Bruce

 

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 28 2008
Posts: 201
Too bad
Wendy S. Delmater wrote:

I suggest go to DSIRE--the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency--for tax breaks and incentives in your area.

Too bad it's only for Mercans!

gnltabor's picture
gnltabor
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 21 2010
Posts: 22
Solar PV in Lansing, MI

Bruce,

I have an array of 24x275 watt Solarworld solar panels with Enphase M250 microinverters on my home in Colorado Springs, CO which were installed in Apr. 2015.  While the array is sufficient to power my home and our 2013 Nissan Leaf, the production exceeds demand for Apr - Sept and falls short from Nov - Mar.  Since I'm Net Metered, I carry a surplus from May into the Fall and use the credits during the winter months when the sun is both lower in the sky and for shorter amounts of time.  As was pointed out, going entirely off grid would require a much larger array and a battery backup system.  This is particularly problematic when the panels become snow covered as production drops to near zero.  One thing I've been able to measure is that I average around 8kw/day of direct usage on average production of about 30kw/day, so the rest is net metered.  This is mostly because I charge my car at night when I'm home from work.  As was suggested by others, cutting your consumption is an important first step to sizing your needs.  I'd recommend replacing all light bulbs with LED's if you haven't already.  In my case, the savings was enough to offset what I needed to charge my car.  Of course, when the array is snow covered, I produce almost nothing until it melts off.  I've also noticed that production is highest in the Spring and Fall as the summer heat seems to affect production.  That was a surprise to me as my roof slope is only 26 degrees and should ideally be at 32 degrees.  My direction is also a bit more east than optimal at 155 degrees.  Optimal is about 12 degrees east of due South or  168 degrees.  With your location being further North, your optimal tilt is probably closer to 40 degrees but I'm not an expert and you're not likely to change the pitch of your roof, though you are about to replace the shingles.  I replaced my shingles in the Fall of 2014 so was confident the roof was in good shape before installing my array as well. 

 

You're entitled to a 30% Federal Income Tax Credit on the total cost of your solar array, minus any local incentives.  Of course, this won't come until you file your taxes the following year, but it's a quick payback.  I believe it's still in effect for 2016 and is likely to be extended though whether at 30% or a reduced level is up to congress. Not sure if there are any local incentives, but Lansing is probably as good a spot as any in MI for solar production.  I used to live in Holland, MI (10 years) and have family spread from Holland to Plymouth, so know your area well. 

One way to find local installers is to use the Enphase energy site; www.enphase.com  Enphase is a provider of micro inverters, which invert from DC to AC at the panel on a 1:1 basis.  This maximizes the power production, especially if you have any shading, since shading over part of an array sharing a centralized inverter will level production for all panels sharing the inverter.  Each M250 micro inverter has a 97.5% inversion efficiency with a maximum output of 250 watts and provides performance data on the panel/inverter pair.  Using their Enlighten base station, the system wirelessly reports performance data and will send alerts when production is not correct for your area.  I linked my system to a residential weather station in my vicinity so Enphase is able to project what the production for my system should be.  When the system was first installed, I had a bad inverter, which my installer was able to quickly identify, test both the panel and inverter by swapping, and isolate the part to be returned for warranty replacement.  It took a few weeks, but the problem was fixed.  I also had a wire come loose in the first month where half the array passed through the roof at the Soladeck, and was notified that production was low.  A check of the Enlighten unit showed only 12 of the 24 panels reporting, so I checked the breakers and reported a problem.  As soon as the installers came out, they found the loose wire and fixed the connection.  No other problems have occurred.

At the Enphase website, hit the Login button in the upper right.  Then select the "View Public Systems" on the left side of the screen.  It will bring up a map of installations across the globe.  Drill in by double clicking on the MI area until you get an icon with an e in the middle over Lansing.  When you click on that, you'll see a list of installations in Lansing (5 residential installations ranging from 3 panels to 66).  I clicked on the 26 panel installation and noted they are using 275w panels with a 180 degree orientation.  The page shows the color scale gradient used to measure daily production.  The upper bound reflects the highest daily production experienced since installation.  While there are 2 more panels than my system, they are producing almost as much (maximum) as I have produced in CO Springs.  There's also a shorter list in East Lansing and Okemos, but only two are configured for public viewing.   I noted 3 installers with the most frequent being a company called Peninsula Solar.  Another good way to locate reputable installers would be to contact your utility and see who they recommend.  They will also be able to explain if there are any local rebates available.  Your utility can help you identify installers who are using other inverter and/or micro inverter brands.  When you view an array, you'll be able to click on the calendar icon to see daily production for as long as the array was installed.  You can click on a single day and then click on the clock icon to view hourly production for that day.  Once in the clock view, you can move left or right with an arrow on the date window to see daily production over a span of dates. 

Best Wishes,

Greg

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