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Green Scene: Solar panels let the sun shine in

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 11:03 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 11:05 a.m. CST
Caption
(Photo provided)
A grant covered 60 percent of the cost of installing solar panels at the village hall in Hillcrest. Energy produced by the panels pumps municipal water to residents' homes.

DeKalb residents Ralph and Helen Hannon were ahead of the times when they installed solar panels on their home nearly 30 years ago.

“We realized the importance of solar energy and this was just something we wanted to do,” said Ralph Hannon, a retired science professor from Kishwaukee College. Hannon said that the substantial decrease in the home’s energy consumption did not go unnoticed. Within three months of installing their new solar thermal system, a ComEd representative was at the door to ask about their reduced draw on the grid and put in a new meter.

Hannon describes the system as simple, yet effective. The passive heating system utilizes three solar panels, duct work, and outlets and air ducts throughout the house. A major part of the energy savings is due to adding a 100-gallon insulated water storage tank heated by the solar panels to about 140 degrees. This water can then be used for showering or any other hot-water needs.

The village of Hillcrest, in Ogle County, recently received a 60/40 Clean Energy Grant funded by utility companies to install photovoltaic solar panels behind its village hall. The total cost of the project was $101,000, and the village’s contribution was $40,400. You can check out the energy produced each day by the solar panels, which went online July 19, at www.hillcrestil.us. Village President Kim Whalen said the electricity is used to pump water to residents’ homes. Energy savings for the Village will be $400 to $500 per month, with a payback timeframe of six to seven years. The panels come with a 25-year warranty, but are expected to last up to 40 years.

Dan Westin of Rochelle Municipal Utilities told us Rochelle was turned down for a grant that would have covered 40 percent of the cost of rooftop solar panels, but it is applying for another grant. The city of Rochelle has 8 million square feet of industrial rooftops that, if equipped with solar panels, would generate power without requiring additional land.

“Solar power will be especially useful to us in the summer because we get a lot of sun, but also because energy demands are high with air conditioners being run constantly,” Westin noted.

Solar is becoming more affordable, with production costs expected to drop from 50 cents per watt in 2012 to 36 cents per watt by 2017. In 2012, there was a price crash in Chinese solar companies because too many manufacturers had flooded the market. The less-efficient companies went bankrupt in the shakeout. Today, there is rising demand for solar technology as it continues to evolve. Low cost, lightweight and flexible materials are being developed at MIT and Stanford for solar applications. These new materials will make their way to the marketplace in the next few years and may reduce costs even further.

GreenScene is written by Renee Kopulos and Linda Yates, members of a citizens group working with the City of DeKalb Citizens Environmental Commission. Contact them at readit@midweeknews.com, with “GreenScene” in the subject line. The Citizens Environmental Commission next meets at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at 200 S. Fourth St., DeKalb.

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