Solar for All

Affordable Housing in Ann Arbor gets Clean Energy Makeover

The panoramic view from the rooftop of the Miller Manor apartments, which overlooks Ann Arbor’s West Park from seven stories up has always been spectacular. Now the rooftop itself is quite a spectacle.

This past September the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) and its partners completed installation of a brand new rooftop solar photovoltaic (solarPV) array, which glistens across the nearly 10,000 square feet of south-facing roof space. With a new 42 kilowatt (kW) solarPV array now ready for production, the AAHC expects to generate as much as one month of its annual electrical load for its 100 + apartments, a significant amount of energy. In other terms, the array is anticipated to generate enough power to supply the annual electrical needs of nearly seven typical Ann Arbor homes.

The solar array comes as an appropriate finishing touch on a comprehensive renovation of the facility which includes many energy efficient upgrades and improvements. “The AAHC did this project right,” said the Ecology Center’s healthy buildings director, Jason Bing. “They prioritized efficiency measures first, which maximizes the impact of the investment in clean energy onsite generation.”

Specifically, energy efficient upgrades included high-efficiency lighting, new energy efficient central heating and cooling equipment, and many high-efficiency appliance replacements for individual apartments. “We used ENERGY STAR rated appliances everywhere we could,” said Jennifer Hall, Housing Commission executive director.

Additionally, the AAHC and its partners invested in water conservation devices, including low flow kitchen and bath fixtures. “The Housing Commission is not only taking steps to save on water and energy costs, but we have been careful to emphasize material durability in an effort to reduce maintenance expenses,” said Hall.

All these measures can create a healthier environment for the residents. “Improving ventilation equipment and thermal comfort can enhance the quality of living space, and help occupants stay healthy and happy,” says Bing. “The associated health benefits of making energy-related improvements are not always discussed but are equally important in the discussion on return on investment (ROI). This is particularly important for affordable housing developments and the people they serve.”

The Ecology Center is currently working with a coalition of partners across the state to make multifamily homes healthy and affordable through energy efficiency. These investments could come from the utilities and be directed by state regulatory agencies – an approach that is gaining momentum across the Midwest. With approximately 414,000 units of affordable multifamily housing in Michigan, there is much work to be done.