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Reflections on the Midwest Energy Fair

July 3, 2013

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

We recently attended the 24th Annual Midwest Energy Fair. Although booth numbers and fair attendance were down, it was another well-done event. The exciting potential of continuing expansion of solar electric installations was covered by Danny Kennedy of Sungevity of California. The firm expects continued rapid growth in the United States and other parts of the globe.

As prices of solar installations continue to drop and those of fossil fuels rise, the future of solar energy is bright. Continued technological progress in efficiency of solar panels, quality and efficiency of inverters, faster means of designing and installing systems, and third-party financing provide for assured increased installations. The industry’s success stimulates unrelenting criticism from fossil fuel interests.

Josh Fox’s presentation on “Gasland” reminded the audience that fracking is not a solution to our energy problems.

Tabling the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) booth provided an opportunity to describe our upcoming fair, which will be Aug. 17-18 at the Ogle County Fairgrounds. It was also an opportunity to meet old friends and new.

When our pop-up tent blew apart during a strong wind, helpful people came to our rescue and captured the display and handouts scattered about. There is nothing like a small emergency to bring out the best in our fellow citizens.

We managed to slip away to see other displays, talk to other vendors and attend workshops. A panel discussion of why four individuals chose to install small wind generators on their properties, their experiences and whether they would install them again caught our attention. All indicated they were happy and would do it again. While some economic savings accrue from such systems, panel participants embraced the technology primarily for environmental reasons. They all developed intimate relationships with their systems and talked of the importance of listening for unusual sounds daily as they are key indicators of the need for service.

Another interesting workshop focused on approaches to capturing rainwater, particularly for garden use during the growing season. With intensified water consumption in society, using less water and capturing rainwater are increasingly important and cost effective.

Another stimulating workshop addressed new and promising solar system component improvements. With most advances incremental, it remains important to be cautious in accepting the promise of a technological advance. With many existing solar cells continuing to perform beyond their 25-year warranties and with some lasting 50 years, it might be wise to wait for new innovations to establish a success record before embracing them on a large scale.

Another workshop discussed the virtues of wood gasification systems for heat. Their unique feature is that exhaust gases from the initial fire are oxygenated and burned again to reach higher temperatures and achieve more complete combustion. The heat is then stored as hot water to be circulated to warm the building. One-hundred pounds of wood dried to a moisture level of 20 percent or less burns for up to four hours to provide adequate building heat in fall and late spring. During the winter, a second100 pounds are loaded and burned to provide adequate heat for the night.

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.

From the July 3-9, 2013, issue

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