Evaluating this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy Fair

One of the questions prospective sponsors of the Aug. 7-8 Illinois Renewable Energy Fair asked us was how we would evaluate its success. Since the fair’s dual purposes were awareness/education and action, we considered installed watts of PV or wind power resulting from it a tangible possibility. Other actions that we hadn’t expected also arose.

Installed watts can be too narrow a measuring device. They often are accompanied by other energy-saving actions. The “green” home recently built nearby includes 10 kilowatts of wind power, three kilowatts of solar power, passive solar heating, energy-efficient windows, super insulation, and other environmentally friendly installations. A couple of years ago, the homeowner attended a Prairie Preservation meeting where we met and talked about natural areas restoration and renewable energy. He wanted, and now has, a “green” home.

Thirty years ago, the builder wanted to construct his own earth-friendly home; he learned at a class in Maine. To establish himself as a 21st century green builder, he attended the Illinois Renewable Energy fairs, read on the Internet and talked with green builders and us. The electrician for the home took courses on installing PV and wind generators. He then attended the Fair as an exhibitor.

An engineer who attended this year’s fair decided to install a 1,300 watt PV system, but was not sure where it should be located. As an engineer, he wanted answers based on calculations and fact. He borrowed our Solar Pathfinder and found that the shadow of a chimney would not fall on his roof mounted panels even in midwinter. His preferred location was set.

A neighbor became interested in producing his own electricity after seeing our PV system and talking with us during a Tour of Solar Homes. Since then, he installed both a PV system and two wind towers. He also purchased an outdoor wood furnace from a fair exhibitor.

Several area schools have installed PV systems and are incorporating solar electric education into their curricula. An interrelated network of people and programs including Solar Tours and the energy fairs are responsible.

Alternative vehicle purchases are another way to evaluate success. We were recently informed that as a result of the Fair, a visitor and a friend had each ordered a hybrid auto; one had already arrived. A friend of ours told us that he’d had a hybrid ordered since early spring. He was offered a substitute for his choice, but didn’t need the $4,000 worth of extras included, so is still waiting—impatiently.

These installations and actions can be partially attributed to the Fair. They can also be partially attributed to a network of people and programs including three Tours of Solar Homes in this part of Illinois. Speeches to civic clubs on renewable energy spark interest. People find us and other energy consultants on our Web site or by word of mouth. Frank Schier’s forward-looking support for renewables and efficiency in The Rock River Times provided visibility for the entire movement in this part of the state. TRRT’s Web site makes this information available anywhere.

Whatever the major reason for increased renewable energy action, the fact is—it’s happening. That’s what counts.

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