Celebrating 15 years of the Solar Tour

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

On October 1, IREA hosted its 15th solar tour. The tours provide people an opportunity to see solar installations and discuss their performance with owners. We were concerned whether the predicted rainy day would undermine our attendance on the tour but the weather cooperated with only a light drizzle when the last couple joined the tour.

While not as well attended as some of the earlier tours, those who attended seemed more motivated to install systems. Each year, visitors are better informed and come with good questions regarding installations.

For example, one visitor who drives a Chevy Volt as does his wife, is interested in solar panels to provide power for his home as well as for charging the electric vehicles. Although he came with photographs of his home, a site visit will be necessary to determine the size of system that can be installed on his roof. Also, other factors In addition to size and shading include how much electricity is currently consumed, opportunities to cut that consumption through conservation measures, upgrading the efficiency of home energy consumption and the cost of the system.

Due to the storm that struck in spring a year ago, he has a new roof with a warranty that matches the warranty on any solar panels he may decide to have installed.

Another visitor was gathering information for his son and daughter-in-law who are considering erecting a pole building and are interested in installing PV panels on its roof.

A third visitor expressed appreciation for the descriptions of the systems on the tour which allowed him to target those of interests to him. He owns a solar envelope home but has a moisture problem from the earth tube system used for cooling. A heavy clay soil combined with a high water table might also be contributing factors. This is the first earth tube system we know of that has had drainage problems.

With falling costs for solar panels, inverters and batteries and ongoing improvements in appliance efficiency the future for solar electricity looks promising. While the incentives to install a PV system including a federal tax credit of 30 percent, net metering from cooperating utilities and a potential rebate from the state are still in place, with continued technological progress and falling system costs the political pressure is building to reduce incentives.

Other factors are likely to make an investment in a solar system increasingly attractive. With existing low interest rates, the economic return on one is already a good investment. In some cases, a PV system can pay for itself in six to seven years and provide free electricity for its remaining 25 years or more of production.

Beyond the economic considerations are the satisfactions that come with producing one’s own electricity and the environmental benefits to oneself, the community and future generations.

Falling costs, improved efficiency and performance of renewable energy systems have benefited from government policies which continue to stimulate the transition to cleaner energy sources. The speed of the transition will be greatly impacted by policy negotiations taking place at this time in Springfield as solar advocates are supporting a Clean Jobs Bill. Information is on the Environmental Law and Policy Center website (elpc.org).

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