A good start to the New Year

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

We had an enjoyable and delicious New Year’s Eve dinner with good friends. They had just finished adding a new three kilowatt owner-built PV system to their earlier installations. They wanted us to come early to tour the new system during the daylight. Seeing it was a great way to welcome in the New Year.

Their older PV system is mounted on a garage roof but the new system is ground mounted as they had the space and the reasons to install a ground mounted system. The husband has a variety of technical skills and designed and installed the system himself after creating detailed plans for its construction. He built a wooden frame of treated lumber on which to place the panels.

For them the condition of additional roof space for mounting the solar panels and the need to remove snow from them was a major concern. Going against conventional wisdom on the mounting angle of the panels, he set them at a 53 degree angle to emphasize solar output in the winter rather than in the summer. During the heat of summer solar panel output drops as temperatures climb.

With the panels at the high angle, snow will slide off more readily.  Snow or ice will be far easier to remove while standing on the ground than on the roof. The angle will allow the panels to benefit from solar radiation reflected off the snow.

Admittedly not everyone has the appropriate skills, interest and motivation to design and install their own PV system. As we listened to some of the intricate details of what was involved, we could not help but wonder whether installing systems will continue to become increasingly complex or become a simplified plug and play installation. One solar advocate looked forward to the day when buying a solar system would approach the simplicity of buying an appliance such as a refrigerator and plugging it in. A relatively new textbook on photovoltaics has far more details, codes, rules, authorities and complexity involved in the growing solar movement compared to a textbook eight years older.

Whether the trend of ever increasing complexity will serve us well as a society remains to be seen. More than one author has expressed concern that the increasing complexity of society increases the likelihood of a “black swan” (unexpected, unforeseen) event. Taleb described it as coming as a surprise but having major societal consequences.

While energy disruptions are unforeseen, energy independence does provide a measure of energy security.

As an organization the IREA is committed to educating the public regarding the benefits and importance of renewable energy for the public good and sustainable living. We remain committed to encouraging people to turn to the sun for an increasing portion of our energy supplies whether heat, sustenance or electricity. In terms of ecological well being the sun is the sustainable resource for us and all life forms on earth.

Seeing a new PV installation was a good way to start the New Year.

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