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Education is essential for sustainability

August 7, 2013

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

Renewable energy is important to us, our economy, job opportunities and the health of the planet. It provides personal and community energy security and economic stability as its costs continue to fall while prices of other energy sources continue to rise. As a growing industry, it offers more jobs per unit of energy than existing sources of energy. During its lifetime, its environmental impacts are minimal.

It is an energy source that can directly meet many of the energy needs of individuals and communities, helping to retain more energy dollars in the local economy.

For efforts to encourage renewable energy and for sustainable living to continue to succeed, education on multiple levels is essential. One level is directed toward the general public. The public needs to continue to hear the good news about the growing importance of renewable energy and sustainable living and how to incorporate them into their lives and their communities.

Another level of education is directed at students and future leaders who will integrate renewable energy and sustainable living into the broader economy. Different skill sets are essential to such an effort. Some are technical: researchers are needed to continue to refine, modify, invent and manufacture new technologies. Other skills involve designing, installing and servicing systems. Another set of skills, including legal, financial and communication, are socially oriented.

The Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair (Aug. 17-18 at Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill.) has an expanded educational component this year illustrating what is happening in some local schools, along with opportunities for additional education. The Oregon schools have developed a renewable energy curriculum. Middle school and high school students and teachers will share their efforts. In addition to classroom learnings and projects, the students have taken field trips to local installations.

Auburn High School in Rockford developed an educational program geared toward producing local foods. To provide a sense of what was possible, the students visited The Factory in Chicago. They developed a classroom-sized fish-rearing and vegetable-growing project they feel could be expanded into one similar to Chicago’s using abandoned factory space.

Comprehensive Community Solutions of Rockford secured state funding to upgrade the energy efficiency of 65 homes in Rockford. Students trained in energy auditing and energy efficiency improvements will be employed to provide the upgrades. The organization also secured a federal grant that is targeted at establishing a local foods project.

Lake Land Community College in Mattoon, Ill., will have a booth and a representative to describe their green jobs training in renewable and sustainable energy. Rock Valley College will explain their program offerings. The student Sustainable Energy Club from Rock Valley College will also discuss their efforts. Representatives of Northern Illinois University will explain the variety of educational opportunities available in their program.

The diversity of educational programs at this year’s fair will provide students, teachers, parents and interested adults with an opportunity to discuss what additional options are available for education.

Major sponsors of the fair are The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times, Northern Public Radio, Ogle County, Clean Line Energy Partners and the Kickapoo Foundation.

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 Aug. 7-13, 2013, issue

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