Be it legislative, educational, environmental or personal, each group’s reason for participating differs. With such a broad spectrum of dedicated people, the partnership builds on each other’s strengths to reach a mutually beneficial goal - successful PV installation in the City of Chicago.
U.S. electricity demand, increasing at a rate of seven percent per year since 19491 , is making utilities, community leaders, and the general public notice the effects this increased demand has on the environment. Chicago is working hard to become a greener city and, to that end, is actively promoting and installing solar energy. But there are often significant challenges to pursuing cleaner energy alternatives. Barriers can include the upfront system cost, permitting problems, or utility interconnection restrictions, to name a few. Strategic alliances like the Chicago Solar Partnership can be an effective tool to address and overcome these roadblocks. One of the basic hurdles to overcome in Chicago is a general feeling that solar technology only works in the “sunbelt.” However, in the summertime Chicago often gets more sunshine than Miami. Other barriers include the public’s unfamiliarity with photovoltaic technology and some of the installation requirements. People are generally unaware of how PV works and the large effort invested in making it safe and reliable. And although there are rebates and program incentives that encourage solar installations, property owners installing a system are often faced with potential voiding of the roof warranty. However, by addressing such obstacles and working to remove them, creating contractor and installer training programs, and through teamwork and perseverance the partnership is yielding results. To date, the efforts of the partnership have resulted in over 700 kilowatt (kW) of photovoltaic generation installed on the roofs of Chicago museums, schools, city and other public buildings. This includes systems on the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Casa Aztlan Community Center and ComEd facilities. Other accomplishments include installing utility-interactive photovoltaic systems in eight public schools. Children and Solar Education
To accompany the PV installations, the partnership also strives to make Chicago Public Schools the nation’s largest school-based solar energy network and leader in environmental technology education. Schools are the ideal place to begin using alternative energy resources because, like schools, renewable energy systems are investments in the future. Through the work of the partners, eight schools to date, have 10 kW PV systems installed. The school-based solar electric installations help to educate and raise awareness among school children about protecting the environment by using renewable energy. According to Spire Solar Chicago, the PV installer for the Chicago Solar Schools Project, each school now saves approximately 12,000 kWh per year. Over the 20-year life of the PV systems, the eight schools will save over $150,000 in electricity costs. In addition to the installations, students also learn about renewable energy in the classroom. Working with the partnership, the schools developed an innovative curriculum that incorporates renewable energy information into science and math lesson plans. National Energy Education Development (NEED) helped design the curriculum. NEED is a nonprofit association that provides hands-on energy education and teacher training. Working with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA) and Chicago Public Schools, NEED developed a K-12 renewable energy education package. NEED and DCCA recently received the 2002 Interstate Renewable Energy Council Innovation Award at the American Solar Energy Society’s annual conference in June. “Outstanding” Website
To accompany the award-winning curriculum, schools also can access the partnership website, chicagosolarpartnership.org. Launched in November 2001, the site provides renewable energy information and resources. Information is available for ComEd customers who are interested in selling excess electricity from their solar electric systems back to the utility. The site also lists specific technical information for many of the partnership installations including: system type, installation date, array angle, system size, number and type of modules, number and type of inverters, mounting system, and the average annual electrical output. Furthermore, the site is designed to be a resource for teachers and students. Through real-time-data display, school children can check the performance and avoided CO2 emissions for numerous solar electric systems operating throughout Chicago. Using flash multimedia diagrams and downloadable lesson plans, the website provides educational tools about the ecological impact of renewable energy use. According to ComEd, teachers are thought to be actively using this website in the classrooms because the highest number of hits on the site occurs on weekdays, in the early afternoon. On October 1, 2002, the website was recognized as “Outstanding Website” in the 2002 Web Marketing Association annual competition. What’s Next?
Currently, the partnership is planning to install Internet-active kiosks in some of the solar schools. Using real-time technology, children will be able to see how the PV system at their school and those at other schools are performing. Each school’s solar electric system already has a data acquisition system in place. When the project is completed, the website will be updated to include the energy output statistics from each additional solar school. Currently, the partnership is expanding its schools project and hopes to have 20 additional solar schools operating by the end of the 2003 academic year. The partnership is recognized as a leader in bringing cleaner energy solutions to Chicago. Emphasizing the importance of renewable energy, the partnership is helping to educate children, lowering energy costs at each installation site, and promoting sustainability. The successful teamwork, technologies, and incentive programs from the State of Illinois, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and ComEd are making it easier to bring, renewable energy directly into homes and offices. Ultimately, the partnership’s success is resulting from each partner’s willingness to go the extra mile and perseverance to jump over any hurdles. Those working towards similar renewable energy goals can look to the Chicago Solar Partnership for lessons learned and as an example of a strategic group that involves all the right people. Excerpts or portions from this story were previously published in Solar Today. 1 Energy Information Administration, Electricity Net Generation at Electric Utilities 1949-2000.