Renewable Energy: Solar electricity shines at the Energy Fair

July 27, 2011

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

Economic, social, health and environmental costs continue to mount, indicating our high-energy lifestyles cannot be sustained over the long run. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated, “We need an entirely new architecture for our energy systems and energy supply for our electricity of the future.”

Solar electricity, or PV, is unique in that it produces most of its electricity during the hottest part of the day when electric demand is highest and prices spike. Solar manufacturing capacity can be quickly expanded as new factories take about a year to build, in contrast to fossil fuel and nuclear plants, which take years to build.

Solar systems are commonly installed on the rooftops of residential, commercial and industrial buildings and used to directly power the facilities, negating the need for additional and costly power lines. They can also provide energy security for the owners.

Solar module costs have fallen at a rate of nearly 20 percent for each doubling of manufacturing capacity, reducing average manufacturing cost to $1.50 per watt. Prices are expected to continue to fall with expanding manufacturing capacity, improved manufacturing processes and increased efficiency of panels converting sunlight to electricity.

Installation costs are also dropping as web-based design tools, new panel racks, wiring and inverter improvements could reduce installation costs by 50 percent within five years, according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute. SunRay indicates variations in local permitting and inspections standards can add an additional 50 cents per watt to the cost of a system. They are seeking a cost-effective, simplified and standardized process to guide installations.

Last year, the Italian government’s support for solar panels declined dramatically at the same time as global manufacturing capacity was increased, leading to a surplus of panels and a drop in the price of solar systems.

The nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima in Japan and Germany’s decision to close down its nuclear facilities and double its commitment to renewable energy sources by 2022 should accelerate demand for solar panels, which could reduce excessive supplies sooner than had been anticipated.

Solar energy will be an integral component of our future energy system. Both displays and workshops at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Aug. 13-14 at Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill., will provide updated solar energy options.

Rock Valley Professor Steve Fleeman will provide an overview of alternative energy, including solar as well as a session on DC to AC conversion. Aur Beck will discuss advancements in PV, while Dave Merrill will address advancements in PV inverters. Electrical safety with renewable energy systems will be explained by Brian Green.

Inventor Mitch Heldt will demonstrate thermoelectrics, generating electricity by using heat and cold for those who want small-scale generation.

Jim Lamb, energy consultant, will offer tips on using solar energy and conservation for maximum payback with minimal environmental impact. Willem Dijstelbergen will explain how making the transition from nuclear power to renewable energy will help people move from grid dependence to self-sufficiency. Aur Beck will chronicle his 18 years of living off grid, and empower others to do the same.

Major sponsors of the 10th Anniversary Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair are the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, Freedom Field and The Rock River Times.

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. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

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