Life’s a challenge

Life’s a challenge

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl, President and Vice President Illinois Renewable Energy Association

“If life’s not a challenge, it’s not life!” is the motto of Jim Kohlert of rural Ashton. In terms of energy sources, Kohlert has it all—solar, wind, and biomass. Well, almost all—if he had water on his rural property, he’d have small hydro, too. Jim has always had the desire to be self-sufficient.

The first structures a visitor notices when approaching the Kohlert residence are towers. The tallest is for grain storage, the next is a 72-foot high wind generator adjacent to another 54 foot tower.

After reading about wind farms, Kohlert decided to try wind for himself. Although his property always has wind, he’s not sure how much power the systems provide, since the winds fluctuate.

He did much of the installation work himself, using manuals to help him through the tricky aspects. “I came with skills and knowledge, and developed them as I went along.”

Before trying wind, Jim installed a 2.4-kilowatt solar electric system on an outbuilding. He started installing panels in April 2002, and finished the project by September. “I enjoy working with the system.” Kohlert said. “I’m no lazy man. I love being outdoors.”

The 24-volt system consists of 32 75-watt Siemens panels, two inverters, a solar booster, and 16 L-16 Trojan batteries that store three full days worth of electricity.

A 100-amp, 24-volt backup generator, used to recharge batteries if they run low, assures that the Kohlert family will have a constant supply of electricity. After installing the pv system, their electric bills dropped 50 percent.

The pv system requires almost no maintenance, according to Jim. However, he said “windmills are for the more adventurous—they’re dynamic, challenging. They require a different mind set.”

The Kohlerts also heat the two houses on their property with renewable energy. Last fall, Jim installed an outdoor wood burning furnace. He trenched the holes, poured a concrete pad, set up the burner, hooked up all the pipes, and wrapped them with insulation and duct tape in time for winter. The whole project took several weeks to complete.

Heated water flows from the burner to a heat exchanger retrofitted onto the backup gas furnace. The entire run of pipes is more than 500 feet long. Water enters the house at 150° and leaves at 120°. Water for the homes and, in summer, the pool, is heated by wood.

Most of these projects overlapped. Jim feels they “were like having a second job.” But he never worked alone. “If you don’t know something, ask someone!” he said. “Most people are willing to help you.”

Although “getting back to basics is a harder way of living—the Good Old Days,” Jim feels that having systems like his shows “how your entire world can be changed.”

This combined system will be part of the Solar Tour again this year.

“A lot of people were interested, Kohlert said. I’m surprised more didn’t put in pv.”

What’s the next project? An electric car! Jim Kohlert is always living in the next system.

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