Energy fair draws thousands

OREGON—With Commonwealth Edison’s Byron nuclear power plant cooling towers as an ironic backdrop, thousands from around Illinois and the Midwest attended the two-day, second annual Illinois Renewable Energy Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds this past weekend. More than 50 workshops, exhibits and displays offered the chance to learn everything from how Iceland is leading the world in converting to a hydrogen-based economy to how to run your car on vegetable oil.

About 50 exhibitors and nearly the same number of workshops displayed, educated and sold electrical generation machines powered by wind, solar, geothermal and biomass resources. The potential advantages of using renewable energy resources for generating electricity and powering vehicles and other machines are energy independence from centralized electrical providers and a cleaner environment, supporters said.


Thorsteinn Sigfusson, professor of physics at the University of Iceland, and John Perlin, renowned author and solar historian, were the weekend’s keynote speakers. Sigfusson is a leading international authority on a hydrogen-based economy and president of Icelandic New Energy, Ltd. Iceland is the first country to declare its intent to transition from a petroleum-based economy to a hydrogen-based economy to power its autos, trucks, buses, and fishing fleet.

Sigfusson described the development of geothermal energies during the past century and Iceland’s decision and methods in changing to a hydrogen-based economy. In Iceland, where geothermal heat is pumped into each house and commercial building, passengers going to those will be arriving by hydrogren-powered buses.

Sigfusson elaborated on the construction and safety measures of the hydrogen fuel plant and its financing and partners, such as Shell Oil.

Speaking of the growing fuel cell, renewable energy movement, and fair attendance, he said, “If this great country starts to move at the grass-roots level, we don’t have to worry” about hydrogen becoming the fuel of the future.

Sigfusson also said he will write articles for The Rock River Times and wants a long-term relationship with the Illinois Renewable Energy Fair and Association.

Perlin’s presentation chronicled the progress of solar cells from their design 50 years ago to present-day development. Perlin recently made a similar presentation in Japan. His book From Space to Earth is considered the bible on the development of photovoltaics.

He spoke on the development of the silicon cell and its applications. He also said that just about everything we do now is influenced or enhanced by solar cells because all satellites are powered by photovoltaics.

Perlin also said he was very excited by this Illinois energy fair and wants to work with the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) in the future.


Several vendors showed their newest solar power-generating systems for stationary units. Forever Power and Construction, Inc., in Sublette, distributed British Petroleum (BP) Solar information. According to BP information, the most aesthetic appealing photovoltaics are known as thin films.

Thin films are not only being incorporated into roof shingles, but are also being incorporated into the exterior of some new buildings. Chicago’s Millennium Park pavilion has three of its four sides enveloped in thin film photovoltaic panels. The panels provide all the pavilion’s energy needs.

Aur Beck, sales and service consultant for Advanced Energy Solutions, Inc., in downstate Pomona, explained that you don’t have to be a homeowner to utilize solar energy–renters can also use the sun. Beck built his own solar power generation unit for his apartment that powered his computer, television and other small appliances.

Using an old, wooden ammunition box, several car batteries, electrical wiring and one, 2 foot by 4 foot solar panel, Beck was able to assemble a 180-volt system that was able to generate and store electricity that met his basic energy needs. The custom-made system demonstrates his commitment to renewable energy, Beck said.

Brandon Leavitt, renewable energy specialist with Solar Service, Inc., manned an information booth and made a presentation on Saturday. Leavitt discussed applications of solar space heating and solar water heating in Illinois homes, apartments and businesses.

Leavitt specifically cited a solar installation at the “world’s largest laundry” in Berwyn. Roof-mounted solar arrays are used at the laundry, primarily to heat water for clothes washing and drying.

David Serafini of Illinois Wind and Solar in Highwood, Ill., set up a miniature renewable energy system to power a light bulb complete with solar panel, electrolyzer and fuel cell. The solar panel’s energy was used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gas in the electrolyzer.

The hydrogen gas was transported through tubing that fed into the fuel cell. The fuel cell mixed the hydrogen with oxygen from the air, which generated an electrical current that was used to power the light bulb. During the process of generating the electricity, pure water was produced in the fuel cell, which could was recycled back to the electrolyzer.


Ted Lowe of the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association, drove his custom-made, electric-powered, bright-yellow, 1992 Chevy pick-up truck to the fair. Lowe lifted the truck’s bed to display about two dozen batteries that Lowe said allows him to drive about 40 miles between charges.

According to Lowe, about 70 percent of American’s vehicle trips are 30 miles or less from their homes. Therefore, the 60-mile range his truck can travel between charges is ideal, Lowe said. Costs to convert from a gasoline to an electric-powered vehicle runs about $4,000-$9,000, Lowe estimated. Driving an electric vehicle also offers users the opportunity to recharge batteries using solar panels rather than coal or nuclear generated electricity, Lowe said.

For those not wanting to convert to electric vehicles, vegetable oil-powered vehicles were also displayed. Dave Wetzel drove his 1985 Volkswagen Golf-diesel from Decatur. Wetzel’s vehicle runs on restaurant grease that’s been processed into diesel fuel.

Restaurants normally pay to dispose of their grease waste. The grease primarily comes from vegetable sources. Biodiesel vehicle operators may collect grease waste for free and, in a multi-step process, turn the grease into diesel fuel.

The biodiesel fuel burns at least 35 percent cleaner than fossil-fuel based diesel. In some cases, biodiesel reductions in pollutants may be 100 percent cleaner than fossil-fuel diesel. Several similar biodiesel and gas/electric hybrid vehicles were also on display.

A Honda Civic hybrid is a gasoline/electric powered vehicle that gets up to 51 miles per gallon. When accelerating, the vehicle’s electric motor boosts horsepower, which reduces gasoline consumption. During braking, the electric motor turns into an electrical generator that regenerates the metal hydride battery. The battery never has to be plugged into an electrical source. The vehicle is available from Honda dealers.


Steve Wilke, sales and customer service representative for Bergey Windpower products in Norman, Okla., offered information on various residential wind turbines from 1 to 10 kilowatts in power. The turbines stand between 60 and 120 feet and cost $5,400 to $10,000 per turbine.

Winds of about 7 miles per hour are needed to start electrical generation, and the turbines can withstand maximum wind speeds of 125 miles per hour. Electrical power output varies depending on the model. However, maximum power output ranges between 8 and 12 kilowatts at 28 to 36 miles per hour, respectively.

Incentives for renewables

Start up costs for wind, solar and other energy products may be offset by the state’s renewable energy incentive programs. The Illinois Alternative Energy Bond Fund applies to commercial capital projects utilizing renewable energy sources, including biofuels, solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power. The fund also applies to power gener

ated from landfill or digester gases, primarily methane. Renewable energy projects may be funded at up to 100 percent of capital cost.

A property tax incentive applies to the residential use of solar and other renewable energy sources. These systems are assessed at the same value, for tax purposes, as conventional energy sources.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs administers the Renewable Energy Resources Program (RERP) to encourage investment, development and use of renewable energy in Illinois.

Depending on money availability, the RERP funds projects aimed at increasing the use of thermal energy, photovoltaics, crops grown for energy production, waste biomass and small hydro-electrical systems. RERP distributes grants for large systems and rebates for small systems.

About three years ago, Commonwealth Edison established a special billing program that allows excess electricity generated by solar or wind systems to be purchased from the system owner by ComEd. The program is known as net metering.

The program is applicable to solar and wind energy systems up to 40 kilowatts in power and is available to all customers. However, generating capacity is limited to not exceed 0.1 percent of the utility’s annual peak demand. Monitoring is achieved through the installation of an input/output meter.

The fair was jointly hosted by Illinois Renewable Energy Association and Illinois Solar Energy Association. Doctors Robert and Sonia Vogl are the president and vice president of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, which was formed in 1999. You may read the Vogls’ weekly energy-related articles in The Rock River Times.

To learn more about the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, visit: or call (815) 732-7332

To learn more about the Illinois

Solar Energy Association visit: or call (630) 260-0424.

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