Energy policy for Rockford, part 5

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111825137719513.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘German photovoltaic-paneled (solar) wall made by Solar-Fabrik.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111825148626725.jpg’, ‘image courtesy of’, ‘When the sun is shining, water is pumped through the solar panel and is heated by solar energy. This heated water then flows through a heat exchanger, warming the water stored in the hot water cylinder. The hot water in the cylinder can then be used for washing and bathing as required, with your boiler providing backup heating. ‘);

Solar energy has many uses that can serve urban energy needs. It can be used directly to provide space heat or light in buildings or indirectly to produce hot water or electricity. Spire Solar Chicago, the leading photovoltaic installer in Illinois, has discussed opportunities to site systems in Rockford. Solar building heat, daylighting and solar hot water systems are the most cost-effective applications of solar energy and should be widely employed on government buildings, schools, businesses, restaurants, car washes and swimming pools.

While more expensive, solar electricity can be cost competitive in sites without power lines such as park shelters, bus stops and path lighting. Solar systems with battery banks also provide excellent energy insurance during power outages.

Rockford should become a partner in the U. S. Department of Energy’s Million Solar Roofs initiative, which has already partnered with the City of Chicago. By becoming a partner, Rockford could receive a grant that would cover the marketing and administrative costs of the program. Rebates and grants from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity can reduce the cost of renewable energy systems.

Rockford should set up a revolving loan fund to facilitate the installation of solar energy since high up-front costs limit their market acceptance. Solar electric systems now come with 25 and 30-year warranties, so a combination of grants, rebates and a revolving loan fund should make them more economically attractive. The industry is undergoing a substantial increase in solar cell production capacity, and prices should begin to fall this coming year.

Solar energy has a very promising future since it can be integrated into buildings as roofing materials, decorative daylighting, awnings and cladding on buildings. In some applications, it serves as the roof of a new building with various combinations of lighting, hot water and solar electric functions. Rolled roofing, which includes solar electric generating capacity, is gaining widespread use in California for large box stores and warehouses. By integrating solar electricity into a roofing membrane, the cost of installing solar electricity is reduced.

Specific applications of solar include:

Solar on schools. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation have funding to support the installation of solar electric systems on schools. In addition to saving energy, the systems serve an educational function as the focus of new curriculum materials. Schools in Dixon, Pecatonica and Rochelle are participating in this program. While the schools answer to their own board, the mayor and/or local council members can encourage school participation in the program.

Small hydro. The Fordam Dam once generated electricity. The issue of restoring this electrical source has been discussed frequently in Rockford, but no action has been taken. Sterling restored its hydro service more than a decade ago and is pleased with its performance. A small hydro plant also operates in Dixon. Rockford should take another look at this option. Manufacturing small hydro units for low flow river power should also be explored.

Hydrogen. The potential Rockford Airport project represents an initial effort at establishing the hydrogen economy in Illinois. Six firms submitted proposals to the airport for consideration as project managers, which includes helping secure funding to bring the project to fruition. The proposals have identified Rockford and Illinois firms, institutes and professionals with hydrogen expertise and interests. A successful project could serve as a catalyst for other hydrogen projects in Rockford. While exciting and worthwhile, any major impact from hydrogen is expected to be some time in the future. As a demonstration project, it enhances the community’s image and encourages Rockford’s industries to re-tool for this technology of the future.

From the June 8-14, 2005, issue

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