Balancing renewable energy with food needs

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

This year’s Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair will provide threads of topics to interest all fairgoers. One of the topics, a mainstay of the Fair since its inception, is renewable energy: solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. This year is no exception: John Root will present his popular “History of wind turbines 200 BC to present;” Len Salvig will discuss the “Solar PV/battery interface”. LED lighting innovations and controls” and “Solar power products, customers, successes” will be addressed by Sergio Zamora and Edward Caceres. Dave Merrill will relate the systems he installed in this part of the state. Completing the thread will be Willem Dijstelbergen leading round table discussion on alternative energy projects around the home” and Klaus and Teri Hoffman sharing the many forms of solar and energy savings they have at their home.

Booths showcasing renewable energy and efficiency include Advanced Energy Solutions, Advanced Geothermal Plumbing and Heating, Amazing Foam Insulation, Davis Caves, Habi-Tek, Heavenly Winds, Nicor’s energySMART program, Nuclear Energy Information Service, RE Powered, Inc. the Root Cellar, SunAir Systems, Sun Ovens and Water Furnace.

A second thread is food and gardening. Natural and organic foods are emphasized. Jack and Judy Spear, long-time popular presenters, will provide insights into their form of gardening. Sherry Piros and Lin Vogl will again delight their audience by an interesting interactive session on vegetarian, vegan and veggan cooking. Brent Porter will explain a different form of gardening, restoring entire ecosystems, both on the Illinois prairies and in Peru. On the other end of the food spectrum, Roland Wolff will teach hunting and butchering.

A recent FarmWeek article covered the growing demand for organic food production in the US. Much of it is imported, but American farmers could convert to organic, which “remains difficult, but the hurdles are easing.” Organic grain can bring up to three times the price of conventionally produced grain.

Combining renewable energy and food production, Josh Nelson, Oregon High School Agriculture teacher, will discuss the Oregon High School off-grid greenhouse which will be tested for alternative planting and lighting options by students in his classes. The Illinois Renewable Energy Association donated the greenhouse. After experimenting with it for several years, IREA decided that it should serve an educational purpose in addition to testing the concept. Its use will tie into existing courses as well as new.

This summer, it was moved to the school site, set on a new foundation with earth sheltered space beneath, fitted with extremely efficient windows and equipped with new LED grow lights and solar panels to power them. Automated blinds will control the temperature.

Grants and donations paid for expenses, which totaled about as much as the original building.

The school may create an Off The Grid Greenhouse training center with agriculture students as the major participants, experimenting with new technologies and strategies for growing food. Biology classes are also expected to participate. Elementary classes as well as those from other school districts will be welcomed into the program.

We hope to see more projects such as this one that combine several differing aspects of renewability and sustainability and encourage future leaders in such projects.

Major sponsors of the Fair are the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times, Northern Public Radio and the Ogle County Waste Management Department.

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