1003 solar

Phil Geil stands near an expanse of solar panels at his rural Mahomet home.

This weekend, visitors to the Illinois Solar Tour—an annual event highlighting homes and businesses that utilize solar energy—will have the opportunity to check out the Geil farm in rural Mahomet. In 2014, Phil Geil talked to the Citizen about his sustainable energy efforts. Read his interview—and get some info about the 2016 tour—below.

It's easy to find the Geil home in rural Mahomet. As Phil Geil puts it, "you can't miss the wind turbine."

This weekend, that turbine—and several rows of solar panels located not far away—will bring visitors from near and far to the farm on Springlake Road. It's part of the 2014 Illinois Solar Tour, which is held annually to showcase how homes and businesses across the state utilize solar energy, as well as wind and geothermal.

Part of a national effort by the American Solar Energy Society, it's  free to visitors and self-guided.

The Geil home has been on the tour for several years. Geil, a retired professor of material science at the University of Illinois, said that most of the visitors come from the local area, but others travel longer distances to check out the unique solar-wind combination.

Harnessing alternative energy to power the home "just made sense," he said. He had a geothermal system installed in 1983, but found himself looking for ways to reduce his energy bills and decrease the family's impact on the environment.

Prior to installing the wind and solar systems, their electricity bills ran $300-400 per month. Because they were also powering the greenhouse that Geil's wife Tammar uses for her herb and plant business, as well as water for their menagerie of animals, their costs were higher than the average homeowner.

Now, although they're still tied to the electric grid, those bills are "negligible," Geil said.

"I think we had one bill for 49 cents," he added.

Ameren credits the family for any energy they produce above the amount they consume, which is fed back into the grid. A "smart meter" with a digital readout shows in which direction energy is flowing. When the arrow points left, they're creating surplus electricity. At night, the arrow usually points right, as they draw electricity from the grid.

There's little maintenance on the solar panels or the inverters that convert the power they produce from DC to AC, Geil said. Four times a year, he adjusts their angle to catch the most sunlight. In the sunny summer months, they lie almost parallel to the ground at a 25-degree angle. In the winter, when sunlight can be scarce, they're tilted at 65 degrees.

Periodically, he hires workers to re-tape the edges of the turbine blades and check the tension on the guy wires on the 100-foot tower.

If he had to do it again, he said, he'd focus on solar power rather than wind. But "the wind does reasonably well in the winter, when the solar does less," he said.

Geil installed the solar panels and did the electrical work himself. He said that homeowners shouldn't be intimidated by taking on the project, and invited anyone interested in learning more to visit his home during this weekend's tour.

"If they know anything about electricity, it's not difficult," he said.


Illinois Solar Tour

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016

More information at http://www.illinoissolartour.org