“When there was no one else, long before there were other solar companies in this area, Dave was our go-to guy for solar. He spread the word and made people think about solar,” says Schreiber. “Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment is that he stood up for the City Hall project. He believed in the importance of the project and saw it through to the end, and thanks to his efforts, the door is now open for other solar projects to move into the historic district.”
The turning point for the City Hall project came in 2008 when Dave won two additional state grants, totaling $80,000. The grant funds—which were administered by Sikorski through the food co-op, since SolarYpsi is not a formal entity—fully funded the City Hall project. The remaining funds provided an additional 1.3 kilowatts in modules for the co-op, along with a 6-kilowatt PV system for the River Street Bakery, which sits next door to, and is owned by, the food co-op.
In 2010, once all the roadblocks had been cleared, Dave organized more than a dozen volunteers, mainly skilled tradespeople from town and members of the food co-op, to work with a licensed electrician to install the 2.5-kilowatt system at City Hall. The final design called for 12 PV modules running in one row along the upper portion of the four-story brick wall. While Dave had hoped to fill the whole wall, he is happy enough with the one row for now. “It’s a good start,” he says.
Dave also designed and built a monitoring system to measure the output of the PV systems. In speaking with an engineer at the utility company, he learned that he could tap into data available from the utility meters.
To access the data, Dave enlisted Nik Estep, then an undergraduate student at Eastern Michigan University, to build and maintain the SolarYpsi website, which posts the monitoring data in “near real-time.” The site features monitoring data for the systems at City Hall, the food co-op, and the bakery, as well as basic information for several other installations in town that were completed independent of SolarYpsi (see “SolarYpsi Data Monitoring” in this issue).
In keeping with the food co-op’s mission to serve as a demonstration system, Dave set up small, flat-screen monitors inside the store. Each displays graphs of PV system output and other information (such as energy purchased from the utility) as it appears on the website—and the response has been positive from day one, according to Sikorski.
“Putting up the PV modules on City Hall and here at the co-op has had a ripple effect throughout the community,” she says. “People come in and ask questions all the time, and more and more systems are popping up around town.”
Today Ypsi is home to more than 50 kilowatts of small-scale solar projects—including an 18-kilowatt system installed in late 2011 at the Corner Brewery, located in the historic district. While the town’s solar progress may be slow compared to other communities, Ypsilanti has come a long way for a small town in the heart of the nation’s automotive capital. “We are in one of the worst places for solar, but we’re getting there. I like to say that if we can make solar work in Michigan, it can work anywhere in the United States,” Dave says.
Dave continues to push solar education and is doing what he can to get a couple of systems installed each year. Next up is a 6-kilowatt demonstration system that will be temporarily installed at the park for the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival in August and then moved to a local homeowner’s backyard for permanent installation. This summer, he also plans to organize a crew to install an additional 18 modules on the co-op’s roof—made possible by a $0.78-per-watt closeout sale on Evergreen Solar modules through a local distributor.
At every step, Dave is adding more resources to the website, in hopes of reaching a wider audience. What keeps him motivated? “Coal, gas, and oil are all ‘fixed’ resources. We can argue about whether we will run out tomorrow, next week, next year, or 10 years from now, but we are going to run out sometime. Renewable energies, like solar, are just that—renewable; they never run out. We need to switch now.”
To learn more and experience Dave’s signature solar presentation, see solarypsi.org.