Ann Arbor OKs $333K for mobile solar power station made by Jackson-area company

Ann Arbor OKs $333K for mobile solar power station made by Jackson-area company
Published on
March 21, 2024

ANN ARBOR, MI — Ann Arbor is investing $333,000 to purchase a mobile power station on wheels with fold-out solar panels to be bettered prepared for emergencies.

City Council voted unanimously Monday, March 18, to approve the purchase from Sesame Solar Inc., a Jackson-area company that makes solar nanogrid trailers.

The price includes a three-year maintenance agreement. Council also approved a $30,000 contingency fund.

An example of a mobile solar nanogrid power station with fold-out solar panels made by Sesame Solar Inc.Provided by Sesame Solar

It’s about climate resilience, said Missy Stults, the city’s sustainability director, who noted Ann Arbor has experienced an increase in extreme weather and power outages.

The trailer will serve as a source of backup power for critical services during times of disruption, Stults said.

It will have an 8-kilowatt solar array with 45 kilowatt hours of battery storage and hydrogen fuel cell backup power. The city plans to test to see if it can functionally support Fire Station 3 by Veterans Memorial Park without needing a gas generator.

It also could serve as an on-demand backup system and be dispatched to areas throughout the city that need critical power and have the appropriate transfer switches to connect to the trailer, Stults said.

One of the more likely use cases will be providing a location that impacted residents could charge electronic devices, potentially cool off and communicate with support services, she said.

Council Member Lisa Disch, D-1st Ward, expressed excitement about it, saying many people who live next to homes with gas generators can imagine how much lovelier it would be to replace them with mobile solar stations.

It will be noiseless, Disch said, adding that’s a big issue for emergency responders who sometimes have to shout over the noise of loud generators and can get headaches from exposure to carbon monoxide.

“So, this is just benefiting everyone,” she said.

The trailer will be 30 feet long and 8.5 feet wide, with worktables and chairs inside, as well as power outlets and USB ports, a 5G internet hotspot and other features, according to a description provided to council by city staff.

The outside will have weatherproof audio-video systems, more power outlets and USB ports, LED lighting and foldable work benches, along with an electric vehicle charger.

An example of a mobile solar nanogrid power station with fold-out solar panels made by Sesame Solar Inc. Provided by Sesame Solar

“This will enable the trailer to provide mobile communications, connectivity, electricity, water purification, and you can also use the inside as an office or a medical facility if you need, a pop-up store or a health clinic,” Disch said.

It’s being specially designed with the city’s A2Zero and fire department logos.

Lauren Flanagan, CEO and co-founder of Sesame Solar, said she’s delighted to be serving Ann Arbor with one of her company’s 100% renewably powered mobile nanogrids.

Sesame Solar is a majority woman-owned small business and is actively recruiting engineering talent from the University of Michigan, she said. Co-founder and chief operating officer Namit Jhanwar has a master’s degree in engineering and energy systems from UM.

Ann Arbor officials also have plans to use the new trailer as a vehicle for community engagement and education, taking it to future climate resilience hub locations such as the Peace Neighborhood Center and Green Baxter Court, one of the city’s affordable housing complexes.

It also could be used at neighborhood block parties, during city sustainability office events and at other community events such as the city’s Green Fair, officials said.

This article was written by Ryan Stanton and published by MLive on March 21, 2024.

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