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Posted on Sat, Aug 27, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

Sunward Cohousing community installs shared solar panel

By Lisa Carolin


Sunward Cohousing recently installed solar panels on the roof of their commons building in Ann Arbor.

Angela J. Cesere |

Some residents of Ann Arbor's Sunward Cohousing are now referring to themselves as "solar visionaries."

That's because a solar panel was installed earlier this month to save on energy used in the community's common house, which includes a shared kitchen, dining room, living room, big screen TV room, exercise room and more.

It took five years for the solar panel to become a reality.

"We began budgeting seed money in 2006 toward a solar project in our common house and were delighted to see the system go live on August 3," said Michael McIntyre, the project lead and one of the original members of Sunward. "We made a community decision by consensus this year."

The common house kitchen is now running on energy from the solar panel, which is sized at 4.4kW, providing about 1/6th of the electricity that the common house typically uses. The solar panel was engineered and installed by SUR Energy LLC in Ann Arbor.

"Twice a week we share meals prepared by volunteers in our common house kitchen, which saves energy and gives us a chance to connect with neighbors," said Sunward resident Nancy Stryker.

"The very way we live at Sunward promotes green living," said Stryker, who has lived there for 10 years. "Formerly I lived alone in a suburban 2000-square-foot ranch home with heating and air conditioning and many rooms I seldom used. I live here just as comfortably using a fraction of the energy at a fraction of the cost. I like living with neighbors who share this approach to saving energy."

"If you're open to co-housing, you're open to something different to begin with," said resident Jim Cook, whose own home recently underwent a total green retrofit using passive solar heating. "Co-housing offers a much more ecologically sound way of living because having housing units closer together helps them to insulate one another."

A number of residents are interested in adding solar panels to their own homes.

"This is just the beginning," said Cook, who is among them.

Other environmentally friendly, cooperative pursuits at Sunward include recycling and composting, and doubling the size of the vegetable and fruit gardens this year. Three quarters of Sunward's 20 acres of land is protected as natural areas of woods, wetlands, prairie and ponds.

Lisa Carolin is a freelance journalist for Reach the news desk at



Mon, Aug 29, 2011 : 2:21 a.m.

We were looking at doing this, too, but the federal grant program filled up before we could commit to it. With the rebate program, grant and conservative estimates, the 20-year program (this included DTE agreeing to buy electricity from the generated power at a standard rate over 20 years) would have ended up not only paying back all the money spent on the panels but also some extra so we would have earned a 2.95% annual rate of return on the money spent on the panels (without the grant, it would only be a 1.3% return over 20 years and a larger investment up front). Since that's better than any bank is paying right now, it's a good investment even before all the benefits to the earth we're living on. I think that figure includes the amount we'd normally be paying for electricity (with the program we're not only getting paid for what gets produced, but also using (thus not paying DTE for) that electricity ourselves), but I think it didn't figure in the increase in price of electricity over time that generally occurs which would lead to greater benefit of the panels. As far as the risk to the roof goes, the installers (there's a couple around here: SUR energy and Dovetail Solar and Wind) warranty against leakage due to the installation. Also, the panels will also shield the existing roof shingles from sunlight and the weather, thereby increasing the life of the roof. When the roof does eventually need to be replaced, the panels and frame are low-weight and not a big deal.

Seasoned Cit

Sun, Aug 28, 2011 : 5:59 p.m.

Has anyone calculated the length of time needed for the savings to pay for the panels and their installation?


Mon, Aug 29, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

Since Sunward is a non profit (I believe), The panels will not pay for themselves before they reach their life expectancy. This could be different if they qualified in time for DTE's credit and energy buyback program that the rest of us subsidize.


Sat, Aug 27, 2011 : 11:45 p.m.

I noticed that there is no discussion in the article of the cost of the solar cell panels, nor how much energy they must generate before they pay for themselves. The article indicates that Sunward had to budget it as a special item for years, so I imagine the cost was considerable. It's not as if Sunward is a competitive business that needs to keep business secrets. Why weren't the economics of installing solar cell panels discussed? I grew up in a passive solar heated house. Some of the technology makes sense; other is expensive with little benefit than feeling oneself sufficiently green. Craig is right about the roof; not only that, but if the solar hot water system breaks (as ours did), you get water cascading through your attic and through the rooms below. Fun.

Craig Lounsbury

Sat, Aug 27, 2011 : 11:23 p.m.

anyone installing solar panels on your roof please note: * the installers just penetrated your roofing material in several spots. they "punched holes" in your roof * your roof has a limited life span and your warranty was likely just voided. * when your limited life span roof fails the solar panels need to be removed to replace your roof which will add substantially to the cost of the next roof You should factor these issues in to the cost/payback on the panels


Mon, Aug 29, 2011 : 4:13 p.m.

Craig was a fine roofer, so he does know what he is talking about

Craig Lounsbury

Sat, Aug 27, 2011 : 11:24 p.m.

that isn't intended as "anti solar panel" just points to keep in mind.


Sat, Aug 27, 2011 : 7:42 p.m.

FINALY some GOOD NEWS ..I hope my house is next. the ypsilanti CoOp and the city hall have solar Power .. I also hope the State Capitol is next , and pass laws that make it mandotoe on public Houses . building , school(that need money). sell the power back to DTE ..make some money