Powering a region with renewable energy

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

Several years ago, a Rock Valley College professor presented a plan for powering this area with renewable energy. Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University recently developed a similar model of what is technically possible to do to meet all the energy needs for transportation, heating, cooling and electricity for New York state. This would be costly and require substantial political and financial support. Expected benefits include reduced power consumption, zero fuel costs, reduced pollution and an increase in jobs. The project would take fewer than 20 years to complete and return the cost of developing it.

While renewable energy in this area remains small, we can see scattered signs of progress. The Illinois Renewable Energy Association has promoted such efforts through its annual fair and workshops. A recent Energy Expo in Rockford highlighted what has been accomplished by regional firms, institutions and individuals.

The importance of dramatically reducing our consumption of fossil fuels was reinforced by the latest reports on increasing levels of global carbon emissions and their impact on climate change. Having built a global economy based on fossil fuels causes us to be extremely vulnerable to declining supplies and leaves too few funds to meet other societal needs, as the cost of securing them rises.

The greatest progress toward building a renewable energy economy is in Germany. Munich’s goal is to provide all private households with renewable energy by 2015. The transition will rely on solar PV, concentrated solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. By the end of 2025, the entire community-owned grid will be powered by sustainable energy sources. Ongoing energy efficiency improvements will further reduce energy demand.

Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin have all developed plans to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power by 2030.

Freiburg is the most outstanding example of a green city. Efforts focus on transportation, energy, waste management, land conservation and economics.

The city developed an integrated traffic management plan and bike path network in 1969, which is updated every 10 years, encouraging environmentally-friendly modes of transportation including walking, biking and public transit. The city transit system with buses and trams links to the regional rail system. A low-cost monthly ticket allows unlimited use. Car transportation is limited by the number of parking spaces available, and their high costs while sharing is encouraged.

Energy consumption in new buildings was limited to 65 kW/m2 per year and continues to be lowered with an eventual goal of 15 kW/m2 per year, the passivehaus standard.

City funds are available for energy retrofits in existing buildings.

The city has increased its use of combined heat and power systems from 3 percent in 1993 to 50 percent with 14 large-scale and 90 small CHP plants. Two large ones use landfill gas as a fuel.

More than 400 solar energy installations are visible on the train station, convention center, soccer stadium, waste management office, recycling center, solar factory and business park. A neighborhood of more than 60 homes is powered by solar electricity.

Since the town is near the Black Forest wood chip and pellet, biomass is its major source of renewable electricity. Household organic waste produces biogas in a digester.

They have only five wind turbines as the wind resource is limited.

Their efforts started in the 1970s and never stopped. Where would we be if we had continued the efforts started here at the same time? The rationale for sustainable measures was well developed, but our efforts have been inconsistent.

For a more complete picture of sustainability efforts, check www.ecotippingpoints.org.

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 Jan. 8-14, 2014, issue