Solar Power - In Illinois

An interview with Lesley McCain, Executive Director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association at Solar Power International 13 - 10/22/2013Yesterday we headed down to McCormick Place for the Solar Power International 13 show. I’d got a listing from the press handlers of all the northern Illinois exhibitors (the Trib does like us to keep something of a parochial slant on these blogs), and I marked them up on the floor map for a general guide for us to follow … figuring that we’d find all sorts of interesting stuff to shoot while we were out there.

Sheesh! We were wrong on that count. I guess the Solar sector is mature at this point, as there was very little that was (to our outsider eyes) “new”, let alone “cool”. Lots and lots of extruded aluminum brackets to hold solar panels. Dozens of machines to get solar panels from the sidewalk to the roof. Steel vs. aluminum vs. who-knows-what-else support framing all insisting theirs was better than the other guys’. Cable, wiring, and all sorts of equipment, that I can’t imagine that anybody reading this would be interested in (although you may be seeing some video about that end of things later this week). We tried to push various interviewees into “interesting slants” on their stories, but most of them just didn’t get it, and launched into their selling-to-somebody-in-the-industry sales pitches. I have a dozen or so videos to mess with, and have only so far watched the one here, so I’m not sure how many are actually going to “make the cut” – trust me, if they’re too painful, I’ll spare you!

I decided to start with the Illinois Solar Energy Association, since it was local, of more general interest, and not equipment-obsessed. They are the local chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, which is itself the “U.S. Section” of the International Solar Energy Society, and here’s a bit from their site:

Our mission is to educate and advocate for the widespread application of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy technologies to the people of Illinois.

We represent over 400 members, including more than 100 businesses, statewide.

The ISEA launched the Illinois is Ready for Solar campaign in January 2011 to foster a robust renewable energy market in Illinois. We are in the process of raising funds to support the following work: training renewable energy professionals, educating the public that solar works in Illinois, educating and consulting with municipalities on renewable energy initiatives, providing forums for members and the public to interact and learn from each other, and advocating for supportive statewide policies.

We ended up speaking with the ISEA Executive Director, Lesley McCain, and here’s what she had to say:

As Ed implied in one of his questions, Illinois has a bit of an uphill climb to get to significant Solar penetration. I found it fascinating that Illinois is the #1 state for nuclear power (how French of us!), a factoid that I’d not previously encountered. As Ms. McCain suggested, however, Solar’s advantages of being “clean”, safe, and increasingly affordable will eventually win out. Personally, I think that the photo-voltaic approach for generating Solar power is likely to end up looking “quaint” (a bit like steam engines vs. later systems) and be supplanted by something else that has far greater efficiencies for tapping sunlight before Solar really becomes the first choice for power generation, but I don’t have anything that’s not purely theoretical at this point to suggest for what that “something else” might be.

Well, I hope you enjoy this one … as the others only get more technical.

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