Cultivating a Green Energy Village

September 21, 2018

UM-Dearborn faculty are helping a Detroit resident push his Green Energy Village concept — rows and rows of energy-generating wind-turbine and solar panel-equipped sculptures — to a near-reality on Detroit’s east side.

Local artist Bryce Detroit calls himself an advocate for entertainment justice.  And if you walked by Eastern Market’s Shed No. 5 earlier this month, you’d get why.

He was riffing on sustainability, creativity and collaboration.

Appropriate topics given his microphone and speaker system were powered by a wind turbine…which was fueled by the ingenuity of Detroit resident Carl Nielbock … who was empowered in part through the efforts of UM-Dearborn faculty.

Bryce Detroit’s performance was the first of many events the self-powering entertainment station will support. There’s even a use for those who aren't looking to speak on it: The turbine, affectionately referred to as the Detroit Windmill by Nielbock, will power wireless internet servers and USB-port charging stations for public use.

“What is going on here is even more than green energy. It’s also the activation of a public space with that technology,” said Sociology Professor Paul Draus, who connected with Nielbock, CAN Arts Handworks founder and owner, while conducting research in east Detroit nearly 10 years ago. “It is Carl’s vision we are celebrating. It’s a first step in a much longer journey. There’s more to come.”

Not only is the power sustainable, the Detroit Windmill is also made from scrap and discarded objects like truck axles, satellite dishes and shovels.

“This is the ethos of using everything around us to create what we actually want in our environment. Something of benefit. Something of beauty,” Bryce Detroit said. “This is ingenuity. And it’s a reflection of dynamic new collaborations that are working to create sustainable solutions for 21st century Detroit.”

To many listening to the street concert, Nielbock’s idea seems revolutionary: a self-powering community-centered invention created out of discarded car parts.

But, for Nielbock, it’s a decade-old dream that’s finally gaining traction. His vision of generating renewable energy in Detroit on a large scale — by using existing materials and employing people already within the city to design, build and innovate green technology — came to him in the mid-2000s. But no one took it too seriously.

He said the assistance given to him by University of Michigan-Dearborn faculty has pushed his Green Energy Village concept  — rows and rows of energy-generating wind-turbine and solar panel-equipped sculptures — to a near reality on Detroit’s east side. Draus recently received a Catalyst Grant from the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute to partner with Nielbock and Eastern Market Corporation to develop and implement his vision.

“Paul Draus is the person who really understood the concept of what I was trying to do — turn available space into the first [Detroit] micro grid implementation in a public place — and Paul did whatever he could [through networks and implementation guidance] to get the project to where we are today,” Nielbock said.


Draus is working with Public Policy and Health Policy Associate Professor Julie Roddy and Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Wencong Su on the project, as well as Professors Joshua Newell and Tony Reames of the School of Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. The Eastern Market Corporation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Knight Foundation also were instrumental in the project’s progress.

The interdisciplinary team of U-M researchers are measuring and evaluating the potential energy output, environmental impact and socioeconomic benefits of using the machines.

Faculty members next will work with Nielbock to explore the potential for scaling up the existing windmill designs and to project long-term impacts for surrounding resource-stressed communities in terms of sustainable energy, environmental benefit and job creation.

And the “more to come” Draus promised the crowd in the Green Energy Village plan will soon be realized: A second wind turbine will be installed at Eastern Market later this fall and will be used to run a weather station for the urban farm managed by the local nonprofit Keep Growing Detroit.

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