Nachusa Grasslands’ new PV system

Nachusa Grassland’s new PV system. (Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl)

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

On the third Saturday in September, we enjoyed “Autumn on the Prairie,” Nachusa Grasslands’ annual festival. The site was alive with activities — wild animal demonstrations, book sales, a bison exhibit, whittlers’ sales, captive injured raptor demonstrations, delicious food, Irish music, horse-drawn wagon tours, walking tours led by naturalists, atlatl tossing and pleasant conversation.

From the vantage point on the hill, we could see Nachusa’s new PV system on the pole building near the restored antique barn. The barn itself is a fine example of sustainability. It was no longer useful in modern farming, so was moved to its new site, restored, well insulated and redesigned to serve the multiple purposes consistent with the overall goals of prairie restoration.

Bill Kleiman, site manager for The Nature Conservancy’s ecological preserve, informed us that the new pv system provides nearly all of the electricity they need on site. It “boots up in the morning a little while after sunrise, and slowly builds wattage output until it hits maximum of about 4,800 watts if the day is sunny. If a cloud comes over, the wattage goes way down,” which is one drawback of PV. When the sun is shining, PV produces clean electricity; when the sun is not, very little is produced.

Dave Merrill of SunAir Systems, who installed the system, informed us that it is a “solar array made up of 22 245-watt solar modules, connected into a Fronius IG Plus 5kW inverter system. The solar array is mounted flush to the metal roof of the work barn.

In a sense, this installation represents a milestone for the Illinois Renewable Energy Association in that the Nachusa site was an early target of our efforts to persuade local natural area managers to install renewable energy systems as a substantial amount of damage to ecosystems comes from our energy consumption. Installing a system both cuts energy use and stimulates other facilities to install similar systems. With an all-time high in attendance at this year’s event, many more eyes were there to witness the link between natural area preservation and restoration and the installation of solar energy systems

While the rate of growth of solar installations remains strong, existing efforts fall far short of what advocates believe is essential to protect human well-being and that of the planet while creating a sustainable economy. So far, it is only Germany that has made a major commitment to renewable energy with the goals of securing an energy mix including 40 percent renewables by 2022 and 80 percent by 2050. Approximately 20 percent of its energy now comes from renewables. On a sunny Saturday in May, solar systems provided half the German energy demand.

Feldheim, a small village in Germany, is now energy self-sufficient, using electricity produced by local wind generators and PV panels and natural gas for heating produced from animal manure, corn cobs and other local organic wastes. Whether the grand German experiment of powering their modern economy with renewable energy will succeed is likely to take a decade or two to clearly establish. But it is good to know of their willingness to work toward such a worthy goal, rather than merely accepting the inevitable environmental and economic decline based on our addiction to fossil fuels.

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

From the Oct. 3-9, 2012, issue

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