Educational efforts of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association

October 7, 2009

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The Illinois Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) recently asked us to provide an overview of the work of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA), which is intimately linked with our personal lives.

While we were still teaching at Northern Illinois University, we bought a farm in Ogle County. We added insulation to the walls, ceilings and basement of the house, and installed a wood furnace.

In several stages, we returned about 40 acres to natural areas, including short- and tall grass prairies, oak woodland and bottomland forest. About 100 acres are rented to a local farmer who grows corn and beans. A long-standing priority of ours has been to maintain and enhance native biodiversity. We hope the value of free ecosystem services so important to planetary and human health will be recognized and rewarded in international efforts to curb atmospheric carbon emissions. The lifetime value of carbon stored in our woodlands and others far exceeds the short-term benefits of their destruction and conversion into goods and services.

Our students challenged us to convert a small, old shed as an example of energy-efficient construction, which we did by adding 8 inches of insulation to the walls and ceiling, thermopane windows and a small wood-burning stove. When asked several years later to install a simple PV system in Honduras, we did a practice run installing a 60-watt DC system on the refurbished building. After that project failed to materialize, IREA sponsored a backup PV installation for a small Jamaican village medical center.

After retiring early, we agreed to form the Illinois Renewable Energy Association with the intent of creating an annual energy fair to provide interested citizens an opportunity to learn about renewable energy and energy-efficiency options available by meeting and interacting with professionals in the field.

IREA’s first event was a one-day solar electric workshop at McHenry County Community College to get a sense of what a bigger event would be like. To answer the expected challenge, we quickly arranged to install a 1,600-watt Unisolar system on the roof of our corn crib.

We managed to secure a small grant to fund our first energy fair, and were delighted when about 1,100 people attended. This year, we held our eighth fair, with about 4,500 in attendance.

We continued to add to our farm’s renewable energy installations and now have a 1.6-kilowatt Sharp unit and a 1-kilowatt Bergey wind generator linked with our 1.6-kilowatt Unisolar system. Unfortunately, the Unisolar panels remain partially shaded, precluding a fair comparison of respective outputs.

We use the installations as the bases for workshops we offer about solar and wind electricity and an annual hands-on solar electric workshop. We continue to expand our offerings with solar homes, food preservation and solar hot water workshops. Our home is also a stop on the annual Tour of Solar Places, which we coordinate in north central Illinois.

This past year, the IREA began offering courses to adult education audiences at community colleges in northern, western and southern Illinois. We hope to provide citizens with basic understandings of how renewable energy systems work and what is involved in living with them to help them consider whether they want to make an investment in such technologies.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. 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 active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the October 7-13, 2009 issue

One Comment

  1. ECD Fan

    October 7, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Wait a second! Weren’t Unisolar panels supposed to provide superior performance in less than ideal conditions (like in partially shaded settings)? Why are you complaining that it is not a “fair comparison of respective outputs?” Isn’t it true that your Unisolar laminates are simply underperforming, like so many other Unisolar installations all over the world …

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