MAREC stays busy with summer research

Ellie Phillips

Sustainable research and development at Grand Valley State University continues this summer with projects at the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that focus on harnessing wind and solar energy.

MAREC relocated its wind research buoy April 27, placing it six and a half miles offshore on Lake Michigan, midway between Muskegon and White Lake.

Previously, it had been located at Mid-Lake Plateau, a shallow area in the middle of Lake Michigan about 37 miles offshore between Muskegon and Milwaukee. The buoy is currently floating above 2,010 feet of water measuring the wind conditions on the lake, and the project is on its last stretch.

“In the end of September, our grant ends,” said Arn Boezaart, director of MAREC. “We’ll extend the use of the dollars until the end of the research session, and that will complete our current research program.”

Funding for the project has included $1.4 million from the federal government, $200,000 from the state of Michigan, $250,000 from We Energies of Wisconsin, and $30,000 from the Sierra Club, an environmental group.

Boezaart is working on keeping the research effort alive by seeking additional funds from other interested parties and recently spent three days in Chicago at the American Wind Association Conference talking to people who might want to contribute.

“Offshore wind development is a complex topic that will require additional scientific study, research and engineering development before the installation of offshore wind can become a reality,” he said. “We are gathering base-line data that will provide an opportunity for future wind studies on the Great Lakes to compare against and to also contribute to a more detailed wind profile of Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes.”

MAREC has also completed the construction of a solar center, which has special wiring and power capabilities. This building is next to MAREC and will be used to conduct training in various aspects of solar energy collection.

“The system, which consists of two frames with solar panels about 6 by 12 feet, stands about 6 feet off the ground (with) easy access to all of the electrical components,” Boezaart said. “The solar building also provides a connection point for a cluster of four solar test-beds adjacent to the solar building that will be used to evaluate the performance of solar panels at varied roof angles throughout the year. The project will also test snow shedding at various roof angles next snow season.”

Additional room has also been created for the growth of incubator companies housed at MAREC, which involve projects that help build small businesses into larger, more stable ones over time. One company has seen growth from eight employees to nearly 30 in the past year.

Future plans for the summer at MAREC include the “Innovation After Hours” event being hosted on May 21, which will bring entrepreneurs and businesspeople together with MAREC. A future conference on global warming and climate change is also in the planning stages.