Stimulating interest in renewable energy

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450 kW System at Butterfield Elementary School, Libertyville IL

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

A couple who are new to the area took the latest Solar Tour and attended our most recent solar workshop during which they commented on how surprised they were to see so many solar installations in the area. They asked what accounted for it which gave us a chance to comment on the Illinois Renewable Energy Association’s 15 years of educational efforts.

Our energy interests were influenced by Amory Lovins, an early advocate of energy efficiency and renewable energy, the energy efficiency program in Osage, Iowa, visits to the solar business district in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, and off-grid PV powered homes at Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota.

We became convinced that solar electricity would be a viable energy option in Illinois after visiting the in Minnesota in early December. Seeing examples of how energy efficiency and renewable energy systems worked and how people lived comfortably with such measures drove our determination to do similar things in our own home and assist others who were interested in making an energy transition. An outgrowth of those early experiences included joining with other people to create the Illinois Renewable Energy Association.

Libertyville and Highland school roofs covered with solar panels, sewage treatment plants in Rockford and Rochelle incorporating solar panels into their operations and Geneseo with a 1.2 megawatts PV system as part of their electrical supply while contemplating additional installations all serve as evidence that a solar transition is underway. The success of many of these projects is linked to the support provided by The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

A promising solar future is still unfolding as the systems’ costs continue to fall. Investing in one assures a customer that the cost of electricity the system generates will remain fixed over its 25 years or more lifetime while the cost of grid electricity is expected to rise.

A recent report from the The Rocky Mountain Institute, The Economics of Load Defection, suggests that investing in combinations solar and batteries can further insulate grid-connected customers from rising electrical prices. With such a system customers can use all of the electricity they generate and store any surplus produced for later use, still further insulating themselves from rising cost of grid electricity.

The study suggests that by 2020 the declining cost of battery storage will make it an economically attractive alternative. As such systems gain acceptance, they are likely change the existing relationship with utility service.

Many of us with efficiency and renewable energy interests were drawn to the technology out of a concern for protecting the environment. Unfortunately, neither the scale of the cleaner energy installations nor existing efforts to reduce the carbon emissions appear large enough to adequately address the challenges of global climate change.

While our efforts have not gone unrecognized (We will be among those who receive a Leadership by Example Award at the Third Northern Illinois Renewable Energy Summit and Expo), it is the support of many others which made this possible: those who joined us in forming the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, especially Jeff Green and Hans Detweiler, the continued funding from the Clean Energy Community Foundation, those who opened their homes to strangers for the Solar Tours, the many volunteers, speakers, vendors and visitors to the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fairs and the opportunity to write for The Rock River Times.

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