By Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press12:03 a.m. EDT October 26, 2014
John Sarver was the first in his suburban East Lansing neighborhood to put solar panels on his roof. A wind turbine, he said, really wasn't viable.
He said he invested about $9,000 in a small kit four years ago. It cuts about 20% off his utility bill.
But if he were to buy the same system today, he said, it would cost about half that much. His lower utility costs and falling price of equipment have caught the attention of some of his neighbors who are now thinking about installing solar panels, too.
"It's still relatively rare, but the adoption rate is increasing rapidly now," Sarver, 67, said. "It's a long-term investment, and most people think about it for quite a while."
Some systems can generate enough solar power to cover 100% of a home's needs. They can cost $25,000 or more and might take a decade or more to pay for themselves.
Less than 1% of Michigan's renewable energy is generated from solar power, and not every home is a candidate for it.
Still, more homeowners like Sarver are making an investment in renewable energy, especially as prices for the equipment come down and their electricity bills edge up, according to utility companies and solar proponents. There's also a federal tax credit set to expire in 2016.
"It's going mainstream," said Mark Hagerty, the president of Michigan Solar Solutions in Commerce. "We've made the transition from the early adapters — the people who stand in line for the newest iPad ... to the people who see the benefits from a financial standpoint, not just an environmental standpoint."
Solar installations in Michigan so far can generate roughly 19 megawatts worth of power. By comparison, Michigan’s heavyweight –coal – generates 4,570 gigawatts, more than 240,000 times as much energy as solar.