DRIVING NORTH ALONG WOODWARD Avenue in Royal Oak, one building stands out in the 45-mph blur of commercial facades. Noticeable not for its size (it’s a petite box) or its color (it’s brown), Roby Law turns heads for its roof — or rather what’s on it.
Angled panels top the Royal Oak office building. But the south-facing screens aren’t an architectural detail designed for aesthetics; they’re collecting solar rays to benefit the environment and reduce Roby’s electric bill. Talk about hanging out a shingle.
In February 2011, influenced and partially funded by a DTE Energy program called SolarCurrents, Roby Law installed a fleet of solar panels. Anthony M. Roby, a lawyer and the son of founder Steven B. Roby, says the installation involved weighing several factors.
“You have to think about how the system affects the business and adds complexity to the simplicity of just paying an electric bill,” he says.
With all the effort made toward reducing their carbon footprint, one might assume Roby’s specialty is environmental law. Not so. The family-owned-and-operated firm founded in 1985 does corporate immigration-law counsel. Their environmental consciousness, while admirable, had no effect on business, Roby says.
“All businesses should be mindful of the adverse impact on the environment of energy consumption,” he says. “We all need to reduce our carbon footprint.”
DTE was the impetus for Roby’s solar conversion. The Detroit-based utility started the SolarCurrents program in 2009 to help meet Michigan’s renewable-energy goals. Financial incentives were offered to customers who installed photovoltaic systems ranging from 1 to 20 kilowatts on their roofs. The program is part of an effort to generate 15 megawatts of electricity throughout Southeast Michigan. The 20-year incentive program has two parts: a $2.40 credit per watt and a monthly credit on the consumer’s electric bill. The Detroit Science Center was the first commercial facility to sign with the program and, as of May 5, 2011, the SolarCurrents program was fully subscribed with a customer total of 5 megawatts and no new applications being accepted.
Installation was relatively easy, Roby says. SolarCurrents connected them with Mid Michigan Solar installers who spent two weeks putting the panels in place. Roby describes the process as non-invasive and, after nearly a year, he reports no maintenance issues.
Peak conservation for Roby Law came in July, with 3137.44 kg of total carbon dioxide avoided. Michigan winters may seem like an impediment to solar programs, but panel use here can be just as effective as in Southern California. Although San Diego, for example, basks in 70 percent more sun than Michigan, solar systems here can compensate by using more panels, Mid Michigan Solar’s website explains. Because collected energy is stored in batteries, additional panels make it possible to collect enough energy to fully charge the batteries and, in effect, save the sun for a rainy day.