IREA’s international sustainability interests

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

The Illinois Renewable Energy Associations’s (IREA) efforts have primarily focused on promoting residential, small commercial and local government interest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable living. Our key supporters make their living installing systems for those same interests. A current effort encourages rooftop solar installations as recent studies indicate that existing rooftops could supply a substantial portion of the energy needs of the Midwest. Rooftop installations can help improve local economies while potentially reducing conflicts involved when large systems are proposed in unique natural or scenic areas.

Over the years we have made solar presentations in many parts of the world including the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Mexico, Costa Rica and Peru. The experiences have served to broaden our perspective on different approaches to sustainable living.

An early visit to the Rocky Mountain Institute established a vision of how solar energy and high insulation levels could dramatically reduce energy demand. A highlight of our visit to Peru was the Catholic University’s model of a sustainable village which featured low-tech solutions addressing food, water and solar energy. The model stimulated interest in similar installations in rural areas.

We were asked to submit a proposal to the Peruvian government to install solar systems to power computers in small rural schools in which teachers worked with students of all ages. The initiative provided students with age appropriate lesson in all subject areas to assist their teacher in meeting their diverse educational needs.

Our international travel has been dramatically cut back as our involvements in natural areas preservation, renewable energy and sustainable living have intensified. The Ogle County Prairie Preservation Society purchased an 82-acre former Christmas tree farm with the intent of expanding its remaining high-quality prairie remnants. The work includes removing overgrown trees, maintaining and expanding existing prairies, establishing an oak savannah and selling remaining marketable trees to help fund the operation.

At our home farm and IREA headquarters we expanded our organic gardens and raise alpacas, chickens, ducks and guinea hens to encourage more sustainable agricultural operations. IREA continues to use the site for solar and wind workshops and solar tours. We recently shared our sustainability efforts with 20 visitors from the Sierra Club.

While the vast majority of IREA efforts focus on Illinois we remain interested in international projects out of recognition that the energy revolution needs to be global in scope to be successful. This year’s Annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair will include several international projects. Solar designer and installer Tom DeBates of Geneva will describe projects in the developing world with which he has been involved as a member of Engineers Without Borders.

A unique project focused on sustainable living will be explained by Bob Newlon of Oregon, Illinois, who has created a simple toilet system which separates and recycles human solid and liquid wastes.

Upgrading human waste handling and planting trees addresses major issues in the developing world while protecting water resources and human health.

Edward Caceres of Rockford, an early participant in IREA workshops, has extended his sustainability efforts to Mexico and will report on the keen interest in solar energy there.

Two IREA board members, Aur Beck and Jeff Green, have been involved in solar projects in Central America and will be available to share their experiences informally. Green installed small solar systems for IREA in Jamaica and Guatemala while Beck trained solar installers.

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