On April 8, things might get a little dark. No, a dragon is not swallowing the sun. And it’s not the end of the world (at least we don’t think so). But we will be experiencing a solar eclipse.

So what does that mean for our three solar power plants located in Cadillac and at Grand Valley State and Western Michigan universities? Not a thing. They all sit outside the “path of totality,” which in Michigan includes only communities like Luna Pier in the southeast part of the state. 

And even if we were to experience complete darkness, there would be nothing to worry about. Our customers would still have the energy need, when they need it – no matter how dark it gets. While solar power is the centerpiece of our Clean Energy plan, it’s not the only piece. 

And there’s lots more sun on the horizon. We plan to add 8,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2040, including the just-announced Muskegon Solar Energy Center, which will start operating in 2026.

Solar in Winter

So, we’re good for the solar eclipse. Aces! But what about winter? We do live in Michigan, after all. Winters are long, cold and snowy. So how are we going to depend on solar panels during winter? It’s a valid question. But have no fear! The solar panels actually can work with snow on them. Our solar panels are bifacial – which means they can capture sun on both the front and back of the panels and therefore can still produce energy when the sun reflects off the snow. Snow is often removed naturally as the panels rotate and warm up from operation. But if there is a heavy snowfall, our operations and maintenance crews will remove the snow as needed. And on those subzero days? No problem. The solar panels create energy from the sun’s light, not the heat. Even on the cloudy days, irradiance hitting the solar panels generates electricity. 

Solar will deliver when we need it most, during the summer months when customer demand is higher, mostly from running air conditioners. And while solar is the centerpiece of our Clean Energy Plan, it’s not the ONLY piece of our plan. We will also rely on battery storage to help us store electricity generated by solar in the summer months and save it for those times when solar production is challenging to help meet demand for power on the grid. 

We also operate two natural gas power plants in Zeeland and Jackson. These plants supply reliable, on-demand electricity to meet Michigan’s energy needs when renewables such as solar and other sources are not available. 

So don’t worry. We’re not putting all our energy eggs in a solar basket. While our Clean Energy Plan focuses heavily on increasing renewable energy to meet Michigan’s energy needs as we accelerate the end of coal use by 2025, we will also use existing assets like our natural gas-fired power plants to ensure reliability and affordability.  

Do you still have questions about solar? Check out this blog:

Hey, Consumers Energy! Where do Solar Panels go to die? 

And now that we have all your questions answered and you’re on the SOLAR TRAIN (you know, like soul train? What’s that – you don’t know what that is? Ooooof.) Anyway, at this point we trust you are excited as us about Solar and you want to be part of it! We have ways you can get involved, one of which is joining our Solar Gardens program. We are also on the hunt for anchor gardens – large, flat spaces in a community that can be turned into Solar Gardens. Check out the details below and let us know if you can help – or send the info to someone who can!  

  • At least seven acres of land: A general rule-of-thumb is five acres of land can produce one megawatt of solar energy generation. While larger lots are preferred, we aim to meet each community’s goals. 
  • Service commitment: To start a new Solar Garden project, we aim to get customer commitments equal to 1,000 MWh for a term of 25-years. For perspective, a typical fast food restaurant uses 600 MWh annually, whereas a large grocery store uses 2,500 MWh. 
  • Direct access to the sun: Flat, wide-open spaces and south- or west-facing slopes are ideal to capture the maximum amount of power from the sun. Property featuring north-facing slopes won’t work for solar energy generation. 
  • Convenient access to the power grid: The closer the land is to existing power infrastructure, the better. Lack of access or long distances can mean increased costs and other siting issues. 

Solar gardens are already doing great things across the state. Learn how one community repurposed a former blighted industrial site and created The Consumers Energy Solar Gardens in Cadillac.

Learn more about how you can get involved today: https://www.consumersenergy.com/community/sustainability/our-hometown-stories/solar-power-innovation