Midwest Renewable Energy Association shows the way

Midwest Renewable Energy Association shows the way

By Dan Slattery

Midwest Renewable Energy

Association shows the way

Nestled serenely in a rural clearing against a backdrop of forestland lies the headquarters for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), about 10 miles east of Stevens Point, Wis.

This modern, yet rustic complex consists of a small auditorium used for workshops and seminars, a kitchen, gift shop, library, office space, an attached apartment for special guests (where I spent two nights) and an energy control center called “The Engine Room.” Engine room? Yes! That’s because this entire facility produces all of its own energy needs. All electrical needs are provided by a 3.6 KW Jacobs wind generator on a 100-foot tower, one very large solar panel array with tracker (to accurately follow the sun through the course of the day), a bank of industrial batteries, charge controller and inverters.

A separate solar array and peripheral system is dedicated solely to operate a “sun frost” full-size refrigerator/freezer that operates on 12 or 24 VDC. Highly efficient, this unit has two or three times the insulation of most fridges, and the compressor is at the very top of the unit. This prevents the heat rising from the compressor during operation from interfering with its cooling capacity. (Other manufacturers should get a clue here.)

Winter heating is accomplished via a solar hydronic radiant floor heating system. Outside is a large array of passive solar collectors that concentrate the sun’s heat and transfer it to an antifreeze-type solution, circulated by a pump (solar powered) into a grid of highly flexible under-floor tubing into an “underfloor thermal mass.” The thermal mass collects the heat during the day and radiates it into the building at night. The same principles are utilized for hot water heating.

The technical prowess of this complex defies, yet somehow complements, its rural, rustic setting. I would challenge anyone to find a facility of this stature, publicly accessible in the state of Illinois. I’m still looking.

Talk about a kid in a candy store!

But I was there to learn, and learn I did. My special thanks go out to the staff and board members of the MREA for their gracious accommodations, and to Kurt Nelson of SOLutions, the instructor of the course I attended, “The Solar Lifestyle,” on September 15th.

I am eagerly looking forward to more upcoming seminars such as: “Basic Photovoltaics,” Oct. 6; “Intermediate Photovoltaics,” Oct. 7; Wisconsin Tour of Solar Homes, Oct. 13; “Masonry Heaters,” Nov. 10; “Renewable Energy for the Developing World,” Nov. 26-30.

… and more.

You can learn, too. It’s high time we break our addiction to outdated, polluting fossil-fuel technologies.

For more information, contact the following:

l Midwest Renewable Energy Association

7558 Deer Rd., Custer, WI 54423


l Home Power Magazine

P.O. Box 520

Ashland, OR 97520


l Alternative Energy Design Guide & Catalog

SOLutions (Sunwise Energy Answers)

P.O. Box 309

Cornucopia, WI 54827


l Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Yellow Pages

Department of Administration

Wisconsin Energy Division

101 E. Wilson St., 6th Floor

P.O. Box 7868

Madison, WI 53707-7868


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