Talented, funny installers from Strawberry Solar — Will Held, Connor Lark and Joe Nagle — attach panels to our garage roof in rain, sleet and snow.

For about the price of an average used car, we’ve decided to install solar panels on our garage roof.

I’ve heard many, many times that solar power just doesn’t work in Michigan. It’s too gray, it’s too cold, it’s too fill in the blank.

But if you can grow gladiolas, you can go solar. Putting it a little differently, Germany leads the world in solar production. Yet they get about the same amount of sunshine as Seattle, Portland and the Pacific Northwest — long perceived as America’s cloudiest climes. In fact, last July, Germany set a record by hitting 78% of their day’s electricity demands by using renewable energy alone.

Not to put too fine a point on it, as I wrote in an article a few years back, “Just how effective can energy from the sun be in the Great Lake State? Incredibly effective. To offer a comparison, Detroit has roughly 2,375 hours of sunshine per year. Sun City Center in Florida has about 2,927 hours. Those thousands of hours warm the state like a cozy mitten in winter and offer a tremendous source of free energy all year long.”

Over the years, as we’ve watched the planet get warmer and have seen the disastrous effects of climate change, we have wanted to go solar. But there have been obstacles set up in our path. Large energy corporations, coal and oil producers, rich, old, white men and their political allies have done their best to throw shade on solar power.

But our tulips have been blooming now about a month ahead of normal. And a storm is dumping inches of snow atop them and their daffodil sisters out front. At the risk of sounding too righteous, we wanted to do something about it. If there’s some small part we can play, we’re gonna play.

A federal incentive allows home owners to slice 30% off their income taxes as a solar energy credit. Plus, our electric company will give us credit for the energy we produce; it should take roughly a dozen years for the system to pay for itself.

Though we are convinced that very soon, all power companies will be forced to provide more incentives for alternative energy. They will also have to supply more green electricity. When our electricity supplier (DTE) briefly did that a couple years ago, they gave large incentives to individual customers to produce electricity. That program (Solar Currents) will definitely come back, but it will just be icing on the cake for us. If you live where Consumer’s Energy supplies electricity, they are currently running a solar incentive program for their customers. We think things will make even more economic sense very, very soon, though we aren’t calculating on that happening.

The best way to think about our panels right now is like this: we are just a tiny substation, generating electricity for DTE. The electrons we produce on our roof, shoot right back to DTE and the grid, for now. But only for now. There are whole home batteries being produced as we speak. Once the price of these batteries come down a bit, we will snap one up quicker than you can say Nicola Tesla. Estimates tell us that for $3,000 – $4,000 installed, these batteries will charge up during the day, then run our home at night. Any additional electricity we need will still be supplied by the grid. But in essence, we’ll be making our own electricity, then using our own electricity.

Yes, in the long run we’ll eventually save money. But for now, it’s an ethical/moral decision. I know it makes us sound like silly, high-minded liberals. But I guess we kind of are. I’ve repeated the fact over and over again that if only 1/4 of the world’s structures had solar panels, they would power the other 3/4 of the planet. When you think of it that way, saving the planet is a lot easier to envision.

I’ll end my proselytizing with a few more fun facts:

 

RESIZED 3
Joe Nagle looks down into our house through a rooftop “Skye”light.

RESIZEDSHADOW
On Day 1, Joe Nagle from Strawberry Solar perches atop our garage, measuring out the panel placement.

RESIZED 2
Joe Nagel and Connor Lark work on installing the rails that hold the solar panels.

Solar panel shadow
Will Held’s shadow waves from the ladder as the sun tracks his movements around our garage.