Renewable energy fair draws thousands

Renewable energy fair draws thousands

By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer

Custer, Wis.—Thousands of people from around the country attended the three day, 14th annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair in Custer, Wis. (near Stevens Point) this past weekend. Hundreds of workshops, exhibits and displays offered the chance to learn about topics ranging from the latest in solar roof shingle technology to how to run your car on vegetable oil.

About 170 exhibitors and nearly 160 workshops displayed, educated and sold electrical generation machines that are powered by wind, solar, geothermal and biomass resources. The primary potential advantages of using renewable energy resources for generating electricity and powering vehicles are energy independence from centralized electrical providers and a cleaner environment, supporters said.

Madison-area residents Mark Cheyne and Luke Matthews brought their biodiesel powered Mercedes Benz to the alternative vehicle display area. According to the display signs on the vehicle, restaurants normally pay to dispose of restaurant grease. The grease primarily comes from vegetable sources.

Cheyne and Matthews collect grease waste for free and, in a multi-step process, turn the grease into diesel fuel. The biodiesel fuel burns at least 35 percent cleaner than fossil-fuel based diesel. In some cases, biodiesel reductions in pollutants may be 100 percent cleaner than fossil-fuel diesel. Several similar biodiesel and gas/electric hybrid vehicles were also on display.

Many vendors showed their newest solar power-generating systems for stationary systems. According to information from the British Petroleum (BP) Solar booth, the most aesthetic appealing photovoltaics are known as thin films.

Thin films are not only being incorporated into roof shingles but are also being incorporated into the exterior of some new buildings. Chicago’s Millennium Park pavilions have three of its four sides enveloped in thin film photovoltaic panels. The panels provide all the pavilion’s energy needs, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Green Bay East High School’s Sun Runner pickup truck was also on display. The bright yellow and orange 1989 Ford Ranger with fire decals is Wisconsin’s first solar-electric vehicle. The truck was built by students and teachers beginning in 1997.

The vehicle can travel 50 to 60 miles per charge and has a top speed of 75 miles per hour. The batteries are recharged using the solar panels, which are located on the school’s roof. The project was made possible by a grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board.

Minneapolis-based Citizens for Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) advocated the installation of a network of elevated guide rails for small, lightweight vehicles to give residents of that area more viable public transportation.

Advocates of PRT in Minneapolis and Austin, Texas, said the system is cheaper than conventional road construction, faster than existing modes of public transportation, safer than conventional vehicles and uses less energy than other forms of transportation. The group cites other reasons why PRT should be installed in those cities, such as PRT rails would not interfere with existing street traffic.

The fair was sponsored by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), which is a grassroots, non-profit organization that was formed in 1990 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. The fair was held on the grounds of the ReNew the Earth Institute. The MREA will conduct fall renewable energy workshops in various Wisconsin and Minnesota locations. Next year’s fair is scheduled June 18-20, 2004.

To learn more about the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and workshops visit: or call (715) 592-6595.

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