Ogle County Fairgrounds makes solar history

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118417383432576.jpg’, ‘Photo by Sonia Vogl’, ‘Bob Vogl with portable unit used for installing PV system at Ogle Co. Fairgrounds, Oregon, June 30.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118417387110094.jpg’, ‘Photo by Sonia Vogl’, ‘Mark Thoele working on PV system on roof of building at Ogle Co. Fairgrounds, Oregon, June 30.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11841739129687.jpg’, ‘Photo by Sonia Vogl’, ‘Dave Merrill checking control box for PV system at Ogle Co. Fairgrounds, Oregon, June 30.‘);

Saturday, June 30, the Ogle County Fairgrounds may have become the first in Illinois to have a permanent solar electric system providing some of its power. A small group of committed volunteers including Tony Gerace of Amboy, Bob Piros of Chana, Mark Thoele of Savannah and Bob Vogl of Oregon showed up at 8:30 in the morning to install the system. On hand to greet the group and offer some assistance was Dave Englebrecht, president of the Ogle County Fair Association.

The installation was designed and installed under the direction of Dave and Jared Merrill from Byron, who have installed both solar and small wind electric generators during the past few years. Dave provided an overview of the project and quickly got the crew working on installing the nearly 1-kilowatt system. By 3 p.m., the system was producing 650 watts of solar electricity.

What made the project special was that the electricity needed to power the tools used in the installation also came from the sun. A damaged 165-watt panel, which was no longer suitable for use in a solar array, served as a portable solar power source. It is mounted on a dolly and charges a sealed gel cell battery attached to the base. An outlet, watt meter, inverter and charge controller mounted on the back of the dolly provide useable alternating current. Once a power tool is plugged into the outlet, it is ready for work.

The panels, used Siemens from a previous installation in California, were donated by The National Environmental Educational Organization. The group coordinates a program that installs 1-kilowatt solar systems on schools in Illinois.

The panels themselves are only half the cost of a system. For this project, Solectria, the manufacturers of inverters, provided an 1,800-watt DC to AC inverter at a discounted price. The Solectria was selected because it offers a high degree of protection from the elements. it is also capable of converting low-intensity sunlight of the early morning hours from low-voltage DC power into useable AC power.

The Ogle County Fair Board made a donation to help offset the cost of the project. The remaining costs were borne by the Illinois Renewable Energy Association.

The system could be doubled in size for an additional $7,500 as the inverter used in the project has the capacity to process twice as much electricity as is currently being produced. We welcome any additional donations to help defray these costs.

The installation will be a welcomed addition to the Sixth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. We chose to install it more than a month before the event so that the Fairgrounds could reap much of the benefit of the summer’s energy production. The installation will be a highlight of this summer’s energy fair. We plan to have a brief ceremony honoring those who donated equipment, money or time to the project on Saturday at 9:15 a.m. We also expect to develop a display explaining how the system works and acknowledging the many contributions to its success.

The system will only provide a small percentage of the electrical needs of the Fairgrounds. Its more significant role will be providing visitors with an example of how solar electricity works and its potential to generate a measure of clean, locally-produced electricity. It may also serve to inspire parks, nature centers, fire districts, libraries, governmental bodies and farm operators to include solar and wind energy sources as a part of their renewable energy mix.

Join us in celebrating this small measure of solar energy independence at the Sixth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds Aug. 11 and 12. The event is sponsored by The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, ComEd and The Rock River Times.

The full program is now posted on our web site, illinoisrenew.org

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

from the July 11-17, 2007, issue

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