‘Give back to my hood’: Green hub brin...

‘Give back to my hood’: Green hub brings solar energy program to Southwest Detroit

New Design-Build Green Hub invites Detroiters to learn about renewable energy

Ryter Cooperative Industries’ Karanja Famodou explains how solar energy works.

Warren resident Andre Mason aspires to a career in renewable energy. 

“I currently work for DTE, but I plan to one day leave substations and go into solar and other sustainable energy,” Mason told Planet Detroit. “I’m motivated by the environment and the children. Energy can be sustainable and still be done economically.”

Mason was among eight attendees of Design-Build Green Hub’s solar panel workshop last week in partnership with Ryter Cooperative Industries

Design-Build Green Hub is a space currently being constructed in Southwest Detroit that plans to host green construction and energy information sessions and training for residents. Due to the space still being under construction, this event was held at Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.

Ryter Cooperative Industries (RCI) is a Metro Detroit-based Black-owned renewable energy company. RCI does not manufacture its own solar panels but specializes in providing engineering and design support, project management, and educational services for community development and empowerment.

While some were inspired to attend due to frustrations with recent DTE power outages, others attended because of an interest in renewable energy as a career. 

Detroiter Kevin Williams, who lives part-time in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, said he believes solar energy has potential both in Detroit and globally. “Countries near the equator could get up to 15 hours of sun a day and create abundant energy. There’s so much room for growth when it comes to solar,” Williams said. “I think solar is the way the world needs to go with respect to power, whether it be Detroit or Santo Domingo. I’m here to learn more.”

During the workshop, Ryter CEO Karanja Famodou explained the benefits of solar energy, including lower utility bills, job creation, and improved energy security. Participants were shown various options for implementing solar in their homes —  from a completely off-grid system to a grid-tied system where solar users would still be connected to the grid and have a meter. “Solar energy could be applied as a power backup to offset DTE outages,” said Famodou.

This workshop is just the beginning. Future training and workshops are set to be held in the 18th Street Design-Build Green Hub. The hub is set to open in the spring of 2022 in Southwest Detroit to bring green-focused programming to the neighborhood for minority contractors and interested community members. 

Ali Dirul demonstrates a solar panel. Photo by Bianca Garcia.

Tanya Saldivar-Ali, who founded the project with her husband Luis Ali, was inspired by a need she saw to diversify the renewable energy industry.  “There are not enough minorities in green construction and renewable energy industries,” Saldivar-Ali said. She hopes the hub will assist in bridging the gap when it comes to BIPOC and careers in sustainable energy and construction.

Detroit born and raised, Ali Dirul is the founder and executive director of Ryter. “After getting my degrees, I really wanted to come and give back to my hood,” Dirul said.  He believes that getting local communities interested in the renewable energy industry can, in part, be accomplished by installing solar panels in the neighborhoods. 

RCI has installed solar panels at local nonprofits such as Bridging Communities and Congress of Communities, with support from the Honnold Foundation, which works to help community-based nonprofits go green with resources like grants for solar panel installation.

RCI has also set up solar panels at D-Town Farm, has installed one million lumens of solar-powered LED streetlights in Highland Park in partnership with Soulardarity.

Several workshop attendants voiced concerns about cost. While solar can be initially expensive, programs such as the Federal Solar Tax Credit offer homeowners a 26% tax credit on installing solar panels to residential properties. Dirul said that despite DTE phasing out net-metering, solar is a good investment for now and for the future. 

Net metering is a system in which solar panels or other renewable energy generators are connected to a public-utility power grid, and surplus power is transferred onto the grid, allowing customers to offset the cost of power drawn from the utility. Essentially utility customers who participate in net-metering sell their energy to companies like DTE. However, in 2019, DTE abolished the practice in its service area, making the economic case for solar more challenging for homeowners. But even without net metering, solar has value, Dirul said.

“In addition to saving on energy costs, installing solar can also do things for our environment like offsetting carbon, it does a lot to reduce carbon footprint because of the absence of need for the use of fossil fuels,” Dirul said

Saldivar-Ali said she believes expanding access to education and training at the hub will make green careers and lifestyles feel more attainable to Detroit residents.  

“Sometimes green or sustainable things come off as expensive, not relatable, or hard to understand,” she said. “I really want to use the hub to work with community residents and engage them. This workshop is definitely a tool in helping our community make better-informed decisions.”

Bianca García is a freelance writer, journalist, and consultant living in Detroit. As a journalist, she has written and produced for PBS, NPR, Fox News Latino, and Bridge Detroit. Garcia also has experience in voter outreach, political campaign strategy, and nonprofit communications. She can be found on Instagram @birega98