Solar panels generate power for heating and cooling year round at Freedom Field.

ROCKFORD, Ill. - As HVACR contractors continue to install and service more energy-efficient equipment, they know their efforts are only one-half the environmental battle. For no matter how state-of-the-art the heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment is, more than likely it is running on an electric power grid that is often functioning because of the burning of the finite fossil fuel coal.

The questions then become: What is being done to offset coal-generated power with more energy renewable sources such as solar and wind? And can those sources create enough power to run HVACR equipment?

A lot of research in renewable sources now has gone well beyond just showing flashy solar panels and glossy turbines at sustainability fairs attended only by devoted environmentalists.

The latest talk is about “testing viable systems,” “producing operational data for analysis,” “optimizing new technologies for production, installation, and service,” and “developing regional products.”

In fact, all of those terms are used to describe what is going on in the alternative energy sector such as at a “renewable energy solutions center” called Freedom Field, in Rockford, Ill., about 75 miles west of Chicago. The not-for-profit organization said its mission is “to increase regional awareness of renewable energy opportunities and to facilitate development and commercialization of renewable energy solutions.”

Chet Kolodziej, executive director of Freedom Field, said the efforts in sustainable energy systems are part of a desire to “create the best for the future of our children.”

With a bachelor’s in business from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s in business from Northern Illinois University, Kolodziej describes himself as “someone who turns science based technology into sustainable business.”

And that is the key to Freedom Field. It is not just a showplace for new ideas or theory. Its purpose is to make theory a reality. In fact, the project shares space with the Rock River Water Reclamation District (RRWRD), which has the very pragmatic task of dealing with wastewater from a large metropolitan area and does so at a site where the RRWRD headquarters is itself Gold certified in the Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design (LEED) program.

Far back in the complex of buildings and water processing equipment, is Freedom Field, which actually is a 7,400-square-foot room for meetings and information displays. From there, there is access to the focal points of the project such as:

A roof garden and a wind turbine are part of energy conservation and power generating options.

• Two wind turbines (a smaller one roof mounted; the larger one across an open expanse on a small hill);

• An array of solar photo voltaic panels;

• A roof garden, designed to reduce the need for mechanically created cooling in the building;

• A small water turbine;

• A bio-gas unit using some of the byproducts of the wastewater treatment plant.

The solar aspect consists of 56 panels that are 220-watt panels. The panels make hot water from the sun that heats and cools the facility.

The Windspire 1.2 kW turbine that sits on the roof is for added electric power. According to officials, it is the type of turbine best suited for urban areas where wind bounces around buildings.

The larger Bergey 10 kW wind turbine is on an 80-foot tower and extends to 93 feet with the wind blades.

Heat energy generated, according to Kolodziej, include 175,000 Btu from the solar thermal system used to both heat and cool the facility year round; and 200,000 Btu waste to bio-gas energy. Often the facility is “off the grid” and at times is putting power back to the grid. “We are a net energy exporter,” he said.

Monitoring is done 24/7 to “benchmark and improve systems,” he said. Part of that is a monitoring station that provides weather data to analyze the performances of the renewable energy applications.

With power alternatives being explored at Freedom Field and other such projects, HVACR contractors are finding friends on the other side helping their customers deal with energy issues.

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Publication date:01/31/2011