The Ypsilanti Food Cooperative – A Solar PV Pioneer

Fifteen years ago the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative installed four 190 watt solar panels on the roof of their building and a 1800 watt Sunny Boy inverter. This was the birth of SolarYpsi, which would later help the City of Ypsilanti go from zero to 1.4 MW of solar power today. That initial system costs about $7.90/watt and was installed by volunteers. Today a solar installation cost as low as $2.50/watt when done by a contractor and even lower when done with volunteers.

The initial system cost $6000 and was funded by a grant from the State of Michigan. Not knowing what we we’re doing and in a bit of a hurry, we placed the panels right next to the chimney that blocks the sunlight on the right panel every morning.

Part of the grant was to give solar presentations to talk about the project and encourage others to install solar power. Later, we started to make a few dollars giving talks and that funded a fifth panel. With the fifth panel we also moved the panels in front of the chimney removing the shadow.

Winning a second and third grant from the State of Michigan we expanded the initial system to 12 panels, 2.3kW, added 6kW on the bakery roof and 2.5kW on the back of City Hall. With the addition of these seven new panels, we need to get a bigger inverter, so we sold the 1800 watt Sunny Boy on eBay and bought a new Sunny Boy 2100 watt inverter. A typical system today is 5kW or larger, so this initial system on the Ypsi Food Co-op is quite small in comparison.

Here’s Dayna flipping on the solar installation. The solar DC disconnect is on the right, the 1800 watt Sunny Boy is in the middle and one of the store’s breaker panels is located on the left. In these early days we were also using energy viewers to measure the power entering the store, leaving the store, and being generated with live displays on a wall in the store. Customers enjoyed “seeing” the solar power being generated. Later we figured out how to read the utility meters directly and made real time graphs of the power.

Another thing we learned along the way is that inverters (at least the older ones) make a slight buzzing noise when operating, so when we expanded the system we put the new 2100 watt Sunny Boy outside. Here’s a picture of the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative store manager, Corinne Sikorski, next to the DC disconnect and inverter as they sit today. At the time we were not sure about how rain would effect the inverter so we built a cute small copper roof to keep the rain off.

It’s a bit hard to read, but here’s the display showing the 5.6 years of runtime on the inverter. The manufacturing tag shows it was made in January of 2007.

SolarYpsi has had a wonderful 15 years helping people understand solar power, designing solar installations, and organizing volunteers to install many solar installations around town. It all started at the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative with four Sanyo panels and an SMA Sunny Boy inverter. SolarYpsi still calls it home today.

Here a short review of some of our accomplishments.

Videos
Time lapse and aerial videos of solar installations around town
Video that Google made about SolarYpsi
TEDxEMU talk about solar power in Ypsilanti
Final video from the Solar in your Community challenge

Articles
Building a Solar Community at a Michigan Fire Station
Finally Walking my Solar Talk
Anonymous Donor Funds Six Solar Installations
Harvesting Perpetual Light
Let the Sun Shine In, Cemeteries Turn to Solar for Power and Income

Awards
City of Ypsilanti selected for Smart 50 Award
City of Ypsilanti awarded SolSmart Gold Designation
Ypsilanti shining the Way for Solar Power

Podcasts
Review Deja vu – Solar Ypsi

Solar presentations
Presentation at Landline Creative Labs
Presentation at The Ypsi
Presentation at the Ypsilanti District Library with Spanish Translation