‘U’ researchers launch 1st renewable energy database in U.S.

Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 6:43pm

.

Design by Maggie Huang

 

The Graham Sustainability Institute, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, launched the Michigan Zoning Database, a unique searchable database that documents how more than 1,800 municipalities in Michigan are using sites for renewable energy purposes.

The main goal of the project is for communities to learn about what other communities are doing, and to get ideas on how they can use sites for renewable energy. The project also aims to help developers find places to start new projects and help researchers analyze data.

Julie Staveland, state energy program specialist at EGLE, discussed the importance of the database in educating communities on renewable energy.

“Earlier, there was no one place you could go to figure out who was zoning what, which this database does,” Staveland said.

LSA junior Kellee Byard said how underutilized land could open doors for new avenues of renewable energy.

“From my experience it’s actually interesting, since I’m from Lapeer, Michigan, where they have two really good solar farms,” Byard said. “The way they built those was by using agricultural land, and I think that’s a good way of using land that is not being used for its original purpose.”

Rackham students Andrew Light and Jonathan Newman worked on compiling information for the database under Sarah Mills, senior project manager at Graham Sustainability Institute, through a grant from EGLE for energy zoning purposes.

Light talked about the challenges with collecting vast amounts of data from multiple sources, from readily available online data on ordinances to reaching out to representatives of different municipalities in Michigan via phone and email to fill in the gaps. The project took about nine months to complete and is continuously updated.

“I think one of the biggest challenges was the sheer amount of work,” Light said. “Combing through data from 1,860 municipalities in Michigan was challenging, (as was) the lack of contact information for a lot of the places (in the state) in answering questions on zoning ordinances.”

Light also addressed future directions for this project moving forward.

The next phase of the database is collecting all the plans so it creates a record of the communities that considered renewable energy prior to enacting ordinances. It would also involve trying to use survey data to see if people are zoning in ways that align with their initial goals.

“Zoning is not a terribly exciting part of renewable energy, but it is a terribly important aspect of renewable energy,” Light said. “This database opens up avenues for students interested in doing any research with energy.” 

Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshavk@umich.edu.