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Ford Motor Company's Michigan Assembly Plant  (Source: Ford Motor Company)
500 kw installation is estimated to save $160,000 a year; Ford is only paying about 13 percent of costs

Along Michigan Avenue, a parking lot sits abandoned in the city of Detroit.  No longer used for events, the vacant space has little purpose for now.  Soon, however, it will be transformed into a miniature power plant providing electricity to Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Company's Michigan Assembly Plant.

Xtreme Power, an Austin-based energy solutions firm, is partnering with utility DTE Energy's Michigan subsidiary Detroit Edison to roll out the solution.  Alongside the 500 kilowatts worth of panels will be a battery storage facility which will soak up 2 million watt-hours of energy to dispense when needed.

The partnership with Ford is certainly eye catching -- after all, the Michigan Assembly Plant is the former SUV assembly plant that is being converted to produce the plug-in Ford Focus Electric Hybrid which will go on sale next year.  Ford plans to build more electric models at the plant in the future.

Jeff White, electricity supply manager for Ford North America, comments, "Our Michigan Assembly plant is going to be the next-generation vehicle center of the universe for next year or so. It just makes sense to bring this solar project to (the plant) so we can better understand how sustainable energy is developed."

Despite that optimism, there are some caveats to the plan.  First, the installation won't produce enough electricity to actually 
power the plant's heavy machines.  Instead it will be devoted to supplying lower power devices like the plant's lighting.  Using ten on-site charging stations, it will also charge electric trucks that will transport parts to the facility.

These small contributions will definitely add up.  Ford expects to save $160,000 USD a year.

Considering that, the installation is a very good deal for Ford -- especially when the installation costs are considered.  Overall the facility will cost $5.8M USD to build, but Ford is only paying $800,000 USD -- roughly 13 percent of the total costs.  The Michigan Public Service Commission will pick up $2M USD of the bill via grants, and Detroit Edison will pay for $3M USD of the project.  

The new station will be funded by Detroit Edison under the Solar Currents program.  Detroit Edison has been encouraging customers to voluntarily pay a small premium on their electric bills to support green power, which is likely where some of this funding arises from.  The plant produces enough electricity to power 100 homes.  While Ford will likely consume some of this, Detroit Edison may pump some of it to consumers, as well.

The installation isn't Ford's first alternative energy collaboration.  In Germany and the UK, solar and wind installations provide power to Ford facilities.  Globally, Ford spends $9M USD a year on energy and only 3 percent comes from renewable sources.

One promising possibility would be for Ford to seek partnerships to build small nuclear power plants near its production facilities.  Such a plant would be more affordable than wind or solar installations and 
could produce enough power to operate industrial machinery.  Ford has announced no plans to push for such an installation, as of yet, unfortunately.

In related news, Ford is selling its shuttered Wixom, Michigan plant to Xtreme Power and Clairvoyant Power of Santa Barbara, Calif.  The pair will retool the plant to produce solar and battery equipment.  The plant could employ 4,300 in unemployment-stricken Michigan.  It's still struggling to find financing, though, which puts its status up in the air.

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Good thing there are grants...
By jscott14 on 8/13/2010 3:41:59 PM , Rating: 3
So if Ford had to foot the entire bill, it would see a break-even point in just 36.25 years. Of course, that's assuming that the batteries would never need replaced, and that the panels themselves never required any maintenance. Much like EV's themselves, this tech just isn't quite ready for prime time.

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By CowKing on 8/13/2010 3:57:07 PM , Rating: 1
you ever think that the tech has more information than you do?

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By Fraggeren on 8/13/2010 4:04:04 PM , Rating: 3
Everything gets grants these days, just take fossil fuels, it gets around ten times more than renewables!

"Using information from North Carolina, the study shows that solar power may be more cost efficient than nuclear power."

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By jscott14 on 8/13/2010 4:14:30 PM , Rating: 2
I wasn't dogging the technology itself. I think solar tech is clearly promising. I was just probably stating the obvious with the "not ready for primetime" comment. It's much like early SSDs as hard drive replacements (of which I was an early adopter)... the cost per GB was horrendous. They were also not ready for prime time.
The "good thing there are grants" comment wasn't a put-down. Much like SSDs (and other promising tech), it takes early adopters to help the technology mature and become ready for prime time.

By FITCamaro on 8/13/2010 5:15:09 PM , Rating: 1
Notice how that article doesn't say how said "subsidies" are calculated for fossil fuels.

Are they tax credits, grants, subsidies, etc. If they are business tax credits that any corporation can get to offset the devaluing of assets or other tax credits any business can get, that's not really a subsidy.

And the other big thing is that even if subsidized, fossil fuels make governments far more than they cost. This is not true for solar or wind power. The only person making money off the deal is those who build them. Any taxes paid is with our own money.

Oil companies are often made to be these evil companies that get rich off the backs of others. Well who makes more off a gallon of gas? The oil company or the government. This is even more true in Europe than it is in the US.

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By Solandri on 8/14/2010 3:12:07 AM , Rating: 5
Everything gets grants these days, just take fossil fuels, it gets around ten times more than renewables!

Fossil fuels produce 35x more energy than renewables. So them getting 10x more grants means they're producing 3.5x more energy per grant-dollar. Or if you prefer, they're getting 3.5x less money per unit of energy generated.

"Using information from North Carolina, the study shows that solar power may be more cost efficient than nuclear power."

Widely discredited.

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By Solandri on 8/14/2010 3:20:48 AM , Rating: 2
Just so nobody is confused, I should note that I excluded biofuels (mostly corn ethanol), waste (incinerators, gas from landfills), and wood (burning wood and sawdust) from the renewables total. While technically they are renewable (they release CO2 which plants have recently removed from the atmosphere), I think it's safe to say they're near the top of the environmentalists' hate list.

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By taber on 8/16/2010 7:00:04 PM , Rating: 2
note that I excluded... ...wood

Woah, and here I thought I was being environmentally friendly burning wood for heat. I'm pretty sure I grow more wood each year than I burn...

By FITCamaro on 8/14/2010 9:23:52 AM , Rating: 2
Wish I could rate you up. I didn't buy that "solar is cheaper than nuclear" argument even before reading that.

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By chartguy on 8/15/2010 2:58:14 PM , Rating: 2
Everything gets grants these days, just take fossil fuels, it gets around ten times more than renewables!

The so-called subsidies for fossil fuels are a joke. Typically the analysts do things like say that the pollution from burning coal has an economic cost (which they grossly inflate), and then call that a subsidy. They ignore the fact that a modern solar cell requires about half as much electricity to produce as it will generate in its lifetime. The pollution from making solar cells (and there's a lot more pollution generated making a solar cell than just the electricity consumed) is never included in those subsidy calculations.

Solar does work in many situations, but they tend to be cases where conventional sources are either distant (expensive to connect) or unreliable. That's why there are so many subsidies, because solar does not make economic sense without them.

A couple of facts:
Solar cells degrade over time, even if properly maintained (and maintenance costs never seem to find their way into the cost calculations). Most have guarantees of only 25 to 50 percent of their new capacity after 25 years.
They require batteries and inverters to be used. Besides the inefficiencies that process adds, the batteries are expensive and do not last very long. That's another cost that never gets included in the calculations.
Solar may be a great technology, but it is decades away from making economic sense in a free market.
Electric bills from the two utilities that subsidized this will be higher as a direct result. That will not help the Detroit-area economy.

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By Spuke on 8/16/2010 12:20:35 PM , Rating: 2
Solar cells degrade over time, even if properly maintained (and maintenance costs never seem to find their way into the cost calculations). Most have guarantees of only 25 to 50 percent of their new capacity after 25 years.
Actually, BP Solar's panels are warrantied for 85% of their initial capacity for 25 years. Kyocera warranties their panels at 80% for 20 years.

By Bruneauinfo on 8/15/2010 3:50:12 PM , Rating: 2
funny how people who post on here don't think the rest of us are competent enough to do the math.

to summarize them all: we get quite a few solar/wind articles on DT per week. they are never cost effective solutions.

thanks. now we can stop stating the obvious every time one of these articles is posted.

Geal Deal
By MrTeal on 8/13/2010 4:50:46 PM , Rating: 3
This is a great deal for Ford. They see a break even point in only 5 years, and have to give up nothing to do it. Not only that, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see advertisements for the hybrids they produce feature the use of renewable power being used in their construction.

I'm not sure how the rest of Detroit Edison's customers should feel about this, though.

RE: Geal Deal
By rcpratt on 8/16/2010 8:38:59 AM , Rating: 2
As a DTE Energy employee, my understanding is that there are laws in Michigan that require a certain percentage of the company's energy portfolio be renewable by certain years. I assume this will count towards that, meaning that any potential investors in renewable energy will be welcomed. Ford knows DTE doesn't have much leverage here because it's something that we must do one way or another no matter what.

By integr8d on 8/14/2010 2:00:25 AM , Rating: 2
The Edison power plant encourages customers to pay a premium for renewable energy, while giving the customer's contribution to Ford, while it 'may' divert some of the power back to the homes.

Wow. I guess Ford needs it more than the rest of us.

RE: So...
By Solandri on 8/14/2010 3:57:35 PM , Rating: 3
I believe the way these arrangements work is that as long as Edison is producing enough renewable electricity to power the homes of the people who paid the renewable energy premium, it is in the clear. i.e. While this particular solar farm may not be feeding Edison's grid, other renewable sources will be, and as long as they generate sufficient electricity to power those homes which paid the premium, the conditions of the agreement have been met.

Basically, there's no way to divert electricity from a particular renewable power station to a specific home which has paid the renewable premium. It's like water - it all flows into a big bucket called Edison before flowing out to the homes which use it. There's no way to track or divert individual water molecules so those from a specific source go to a specific destination. So the best you can do is make sure the accounting adds up. A bunch of homes pay for x GWh of renewable electricity, Edison makes sure that it generates at least x GWh of renewable electricity. What Edison chooses to do with any excess power from a renewable source is their business.

Solar Currents
By spwrozek on 8/14/2010 11:22:49 AM , Rating: 2
I am pretty doubtful that any funding will come from the solar currents program... It is only good for 1-20kW installations and it is DTE paying the installer back for rights to tax credits...

I think you are thinking of the green currents program which you can choose to add cost to your bill for renewable energy.

It should be pointed out that you have to pay a mandatory "Renewable Energy Surcharge" for most Michigan customers.

"Note: All customers are required to pay the full applicable renewable energy surcharge necessary to facilitate compliance with Michigan's recently enacted energy portfolio standard. Your GreenCurrents charge is in addition to the renewable energy portfolio charge."

On my last bill (with Consumers so DTE could differ a bit) the RES was $3.70.

By 7Enigma on 8/18/2010 2:25:38 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously, Michigan for solar power? Unless you're going nuclear, geothermal is about the only other option for alternative energy that's WORTH producing. Don't they have a plant in Mexico? Why yes they do....take a look at this list and choose the worst location for a solar plant:

Next Ford will be putting a hydro plant in the desert...

This will cost jobs
By bill4 on 8/14/10, Rating: -1
"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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