Reuven Gevaryahu
Reuven Gevaryahu

Gevaryahu invested in solar panels when he evaluated them as “saving money and saving energy.”

When psychiatrist Dorit Ben-Ami and her husband (also a physician) moved back to Southfield last year after a few years away, they bought solar panels with battery storage for their new home.

Their reasons for getting solar power had everything to do with the health of the planet for humans and animals. She wanted to power their home with electrical energy produced by solar power, an essentially non-polluting source. Electrical energy produced by burning coal or other fossil fuels pollutes the air and contributes to global warming.  

Ben-Ami explains that this environmental concern is a basic Jewish value: “We are given stewardship of the Earth.”  

She finds proof in the Bible, which often asserts the connection between our moral behavior and what will happen to us environmentally. “If we are not behaving in a moral way, the Earth will reject us.” Furthermore, “Noah was requested to bring into the ark not only animals that are edible, but all animals.” 

We, like Noah, have responsibility for the environment. 

The potential to save money by lowering her bills from the electric company does not seem that great to Ben-Ami. The system has already reduced her electricity bill, but perhaps not enough to offset the initial cost. She says, “It was very expensive. I don’t think we’ll ever see the return on investment really.” 

But even so, going solar seems worth it to Ben-Ami. With battery storage, “we will have power for emergencies.” 

The power grid in Michigan is subject to sudden failures, often lasting several days. Homes with battery storage fed by a solar array can continue to provide electrical power for essential services even when the grid has failed. 

Beyond that, Ben-Ami values the way that solar power contributes to the health of the community. “Judaism is not just about the individual,” she says, adding that the Torah teaches us “how best a person can live in a society and a community, not just how to make the most as individuals.”

Coal-burning plants like the one in Monroe add to air pollution.
Coal-burning plants like the one in Monroe add to air pollution.
Saving Money, Energy

Reuven Gevaryahu has a different analysis for why he had solar panels installed at his Southfield home in 2020. Gevaryahu, a software engineer at Rocket Mortgage, describes himself as “a technology person.” He invested in solar panels when he evaluated them as “saving money and saving energy.” 

Reuven Gevaryahu installed solar panels on his Southfield house.
Reuven Gevaryahu installed solar panels on his Southfield house.

When he began investigating solar power, Gevaryahu set a test for deciding whether to make the change. “I want a 12-year deadline … If it won’t pay for itself for 12 years, it’s not worth doing. That was kind of my personal model. At first, I didn’t think it was possible.” 

At the end of 2019, when he calculated what DTE currently charged for electrical power,  how much more it planned to charge and what DTE paid to buy power from homes with solar panels, Gevaryahu decided that solar panels would indeed pay for his initial investment within 12 years. 

He feels pleased with the results: “So, here I am two years later and I am very satisfied with it performing pretty much exactly as modeled.”

As for environmental issues, Gevaryahu sees himself as “a lousy environmentalist, in that I’m not going to invest in something unless I see it having some sort of financial benefit to myself.” 

In this case, solar panels passed the test. Using the same test, Gevaryahu did not install battery storage, which he calculated would not pass his test: Batteries would not pay for themselves within 12 years. 

Despite his modesty about his environmental credentials, Gevaryahu has strong words about how Michigan generates electrical energy: “Drive down I-75 toward Ohio. You drive past that Monroe coal-burning power plant. That is the fourth largest coal-burning power plant in the United States,” he says. 

“Look at those smokestacks along the lake and that is what you’re breathing. A lot of the 20-whatever percent of power generated … is just burning coal right there in Monroe, Michigan. 

“And so, part of the idea of people generating power with solar is that you’re reducing the need for these kinds of polluting energy sources.”

As one who enjoys outdoors activities, Gevaryahu objects to having the fresh air of Michigan contaminated with pollutants from power plants that burn coal and gas. Even with scrubbers on their smokestacks, they contribute to respiratory problems for the people who have to breathe this air. He observes, dryly: “I like the ability to breathe, so the installation of solar helps with that.”

To explore getting solar panels for your home, John Richter, senior policy analyst at Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, recommends joining the Michigan Solar Users Network Facebook group for up-to-date information. 

His first piece of advice when people want to install a solar system: Compare bids from several providers. 

The author installed solar panels on his garage in Oak Park.
The author installed solar panels on his garage in Oak Park.
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