The Solar Tour report

Kickapoo Nature Center (super insulated). Photo provided

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

Oct. 2, hosts on the North Central Illinois Tour of Solar Places opened their buildings to visitors, showing them what it is like to produce their own power from the sun or wind.

This year’s tour featured homes with PV (solar electric), which requires sunlight from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. and are the most productive in summer; small wind generators, which require sufficient wind and are the most productive during winter; and super insulation. Systems ranged from 1 kW to more than 30 kW. Most of the PV and wind systems are grid-connected; one is a stand-alone system, which could work on an isolated building such as a cabin. One home included geothermal, which heats and cools ground temperature air to room temperatures. The air is then forced through the home using a central furnace system. Three of the homes also heat with wood or corn.

Merrill wind generator and PV panels in Byron, Ill. Photo provided

Public buildings—including the Kickapoo Nature Center, the Keller Education Building at the Byron Forest Preserve and Freedom Field in Rockford—have additional features. The Kickapoo Nature Center, built on the German “1-watt” Passivhaus principles, has an earth tube, similar to geothermal in that it uses earth temperature air, and has an innovative metal roof, which collects solar heat and distributes it throughout the building during the heating season. In summer, the heat is directed outside. It is being studied by scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab.

The gold LEED-certified Byron Keller Education Building uses a 5-kW PV system and 3-kW wind generator for electricity and a geothermal system for heating and cooling.

Freedom Field, which integrates and tests new technologies, features solar PV, two wind generators—one vertical axis and one horizontal axis—a solar air-conditioning system and a green prairie roof. Live data are collected from the power-generating sources and shown online. A TV in the main office monitors the roof-mounted systems.

Hosts thanked us for coordinating a tour featuring our own North Central Illinois area as it facilitates the development through Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) of a regional network of people interested in renewable energy and efficiency. One stated there was “much more traffic this year, and greater interest from people thinking of actually doing a project incorporating one or more ‘solar’ ideas.”

Visitors also thanked us for coordinating a regional tour, for offering classes in efficiency and renewable energy and for delivering the annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle fairs. It was pleasant to have our decade of service acknowledged.

After touring the sites, visitors were in a better position to make decisions whether they would become users of renewable energy and join others who have energy systems that won’t run out of power, can’t have services cut off or withheld, that continue to function when neighbors lose power, and safeguard human health and protect the environment.

We consider this year’s tour a success and will continue hosting the 11th North Central Illinois solar tour next year. People with installations who would like to be on the tour may contact the IREA at

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

From the Oct. 13-19, 2010 issue

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