Solar panels were on display including those mounted on the side of a shed.

OREGON, Ill. - The wind was howling and the sun was beating down to go along with the high heat and humidity. It was the perfect confluence of environmental conditions for the 8th Annual Renewable Energy and Sustainability Lifestyle Fair in Oregon, Ill., a rural area about 100 miles west of Chicago. The idea was to get people to think more about wind vanes, solar power, and energy conservation. More than 100 exhibitors and 60 seminars were on site at the Ogle County Fairground either outdoors or in open-sided framed buildings. There was nary an air conditioner in sight.

“Considering that energy security, climate change, and the need for jobs are major issues, we can expect to see a continued focus on energy since it is the basis of our modern civilization,” said Robert and Sonia Vogl in a joint statement. They are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, which hosts the fair.

The two-day event in August coincided with the first two days of truly hot weather in the Upper Midwest after the month of July saw record low average temperatures.

“I was concerned about this (cool) summer that people would not believe me. But it warmed up,” said Anders Carlson, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin, as he began a keynote talk about melting ice caps in Greenland, where he had just spent a portion of the summer on a research project.

“I’m a glacial geologist, so I like ice. I’m concerned about the melting ice in Greenland.” He said a best-case scenario by the end of the century would be for sea levels to rise only 1 meter as a result of the melting. But that, he said, could cause enough flooding to “put Florida beach communities out of business, cause flooding in New Orleans, and water surges in New York City.”

Regarding global warming, he said, “Scientists don’t like to agree with each other. They are a disagreeable group. But they do agree on this.”

In another talk, Linda Wigington, special projects director of Affordable Comfort Inc., said such occurrences as ice storms, drought, and intense storms are going to become more and more common.

“It is a false assumption to say that weather patterns are predictable. And unfortunately our homes are built on predictability.”

Geothermal heat pumps were stressed as a means of comfort cooling of a home.

She also noted “there are moral consequences to our consumption.” She called for a radical rethink on what are true needs. For example, she said her home in the Midwest has no air conditioning and she only sets the furnace thermostat as 55°F maximum and uses an evaporative heat exchanger to control humidity. She said when temperatures dive in the winter, she just puts on sweaters and ski caps in her home.

“Don’t freak out over losing what we got. Look at the new reality as a better thing,” she said.

Looking at the practical side of energy conservation was Len Salvig of Hybrid Renewables who noted the recent largess of federal tax credits for investments in solar electricity, solar thermal heating, small wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps. He called solar energy “our fastest-growing technology” and also said that the Environmental Protection Agency has given special kudos to geothermal.

He urged audience members to work with tax professionals in filling out tax returns relative to potential tax credits.

High-efficiency heat pumps draw the attention of fairgoers at the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Lifestyle Fair.


Whether many of the exhibitors were showing technologies that could reduce reliance on HVAC or whether there was a way to blend the two depended on whom you visited. One HVAC contractor calls his company Advanced Geothermal Plumbing and Heating, which is based in Elgin, Ill. One of his product lines is WaterFurnace. “I’m a tree hugger,” said President Dirk Dypoid.

Another exhibitor with solid footing in HVAC was Polar Bear Air, who installs the Acadia brand of heat pump. According to the company, “At moderate outdoor conditions, the system operates like a conventional air-source heat pump. At more extreme outdoor conditions, the system engages a booster compressor and economizer. This allows the system to absorb more energy from the outside air as temperatures decline even as low as –30°F.”

Space heating also came in for attention from Temp-Cast, which showed masonry heaters. A modular heater core is within the wood-burning masonry heater installation. The units are made from a refractory concrete mix.

Wind power was a recurring theme at the fair.

What was certainly apparent was the diversity of innovations.

In the wind sector, SonkyoEnergy showed small wind power systems that have viable pitch, inverters, yaw controls, electronic controllers, generators, and blades.

Skystream Energy showed a small wind turbine that hooks up to a home and has controls and inverter built in.

Heavenly Winds LLC showed a photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind turbine. The company also provided an explanation of PV. “It can be thought of as direct current generator powered by the sun. When light photons of sufficient energy strike a solar cell, they knock electrons free in the silicon crystal structure, forcing them through an external circuit such as a battery, inverter, or direct dc load.”

In the solar sector, Midwest Engineering Consultants of Moline, Ill., showed Powershed™ a portable PV system. Its solar panels are mounted on the side of a shed, the latter of which can be used for conventional equipment and lawn furniture storage while the cells help provide power needs for the house. “No drilling holes in your roof. All that is necessary is to pour a base, anchor it (the shed) down, fold out the wings, and connect it to your breaker panel” was the pitch.

The University of Wisconsin’s Anders Carlson discusses melting icecaps during the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Lifestyle Fair.

Another solar panel company, Natural Dynamics, offered to provide site assessment, energy audits, design, and installation.

A distributor called UMA Solar showed two product lines: MyGen, a PV system for residential grid-tied applications; and Solene, a solar hot-water system.

A company called Solar Star featured solar-powered attic fans, which can be retrofitted in place of a conventional attic vent, the company said.

In the biofuel arena, FuelMeisterII from Azure is a modular add-on tank connection that uses vegetable oil, lye, methanol, and tap water to make biodiesel fuel.

Also at the fair were about 10 automobiles, some showing some of the latest hybrid technology and other older models featuring homemade modifications by the owners to improve fuel efficiency.

The issue of sustainability has even reached into the classroom. An area community college, Rock Valley College, was exhibiting to announce its plans to offer “an associate in applied science in electronic engineering technology with an emphasis on sustainable energy.” It is being done in conjunction with the Electronics Technicians Association.

For more information, visit

Publication date:10/12/2009