MARQUETTE - A downstate alternative energy company was recently contracted to build its seventh photovoltaic solar and wind turbine energy generation and storage system in the Upper Peninsula, this time in Schoolcraft County.
Lake Effect Energy Corp., which is based out of Holland Springs and specializes in wind energy but is also able to install solar panels, has built six other systems across the U.P., from Wakefield to Sault Ste. Marie, according to spokesman Michael Adams.
Each of the seven systems are tailored to the needs of each home or business it is attached to, using a combination of wind and solar power sources that provide electricity to the home as well as to a set of batteries, which can be used as a back-up power source.
"In the instance that the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing, (they) also (have) the ability to rely on a large battery bank," Adams said. "That battery bank can absorb the electricity that is being created in excess of what (they're) consuming before it goes onto the public utility grid."
Private electricity producers can then provide their own, excess electricity to the public grid and typically earn credits on their utility bills from their local, publicly owned power company.
Adams said the entire process begins with a site analysis, in which optimal energy output is determined on several different scales, offering consumers a chance to choose how much or how little they'd like to do.
Adams said most U.P. homes would benefit best from a three-way system, which combines wind, solar and passive energy systems to create the most efficient possible outcome.
A wind turbine and solar panels - if they prove to be effective - would typically be installed on the property. Adams said most of Marquette County is able to provide a good level of electricity through wind power.
"Because of the proximity to the lakeshore, the vast majority of Marquette County ... is in a class three or four wind zone," Adams said. "There's a few spots in the Huron Mountains that are class five."
He said the rating, which runs on a scale from one to five, with five being the best, goes down as you head south in the county.
The third energy system would be a passive water heating unit, which is an atrium on the house along with a "hotbox," or a roof that absorbs heat from the sun.
Water is then pulled up from the ground and run through the hotbox, where its temperature can increase a full 20 degrees before being sent to the water heating unit.
Adams said many people are beginning to see beyond the environmental benefits of alternative energy - they're finding it can have a significant impact on their wallets as well, especially in wind-generated power.
"As technology improves, the efficiency improves," Adams said. "The installation costs tend to stay the same or fall. With each doubling of capacity of wind, the prices have been able to fall about 10 to 15 percent for the installation costs."
Though installation costs are falling, it still takes thousands of dollars to hook your home up to an alternative energy source.
Adams said the average homeowner looking for a full system that could provide 100 percent of the home's energy needs will typically see a price tag of about $30,000, though that cost can vary depending on a number of factors, including proximity to transmission lines and the scale of the project.
In this case, Adams said bigger is typically better, economically speaking.
"On the smaller scale, your cost per watt rises. On the larger scale, that's where you get the economy of scale," he said. "Each individual case truly does have its own set of variables that will impact the total cost."
However, with the federal government looking to invest in renewable energy sources, grant opportunities do exist to help pay for what Adams said was an investment against rising costs of conventional energy sources.
For more information on the Lake Effect Energy Corp., check out the company's booth at the U.P. Builders show in the Superior Dome over the weekend or visit its website at www.LakeEffectEnergyCorp.com.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.