By Anna Lothson
Oak Park has once again set itself apart ecologically by joining a sustainability pilot program. In fact, the village was chosen as the site for a residential smart grid community project from among 288 potential locations. The project, a collaborative effort with the Korea Smart Grid Institute, the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition, the Institute for Sustainable Energy Development and ComEd, will install solar-powered demonstration sites on residential and commercial buildings in the village, if agreements move forward as planned.
The wrinkle is that buildings receiving the solar technology would be linked to the electric smart grid and could, potentially, become power producers themselves, rather than simply consumers.
The initial details of the program were presented by representatives from each of the groups, plus Oak Park's Sustainability Manager K.C. Poulos, at a special village board meeting Thursday.
A letter of intent was signed during a meeting with representatives from the Korea Smart Grid Institute in early June, which allowed the village to continue conversations that started in January 2010. In June, Oak Park was still one of five communities across the world being considered and just one of two on the list located in the United States. The others were in the United Kingdom and Spain.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to be able to demonstrate leadership in this area and to do so in a way that has the prospect of providing dramatic benefits to both participants," Village President David Pope said. "The benefits to our community in the institution of a smart grid and also our benefits to our community from taking these types of leadership positions in these important emerging technologies can't be overstated."
The initiative discussed last Thursday was carried over to the village board's meeting Monday when the details were approved to allow the process to keep moving forward.
South Korea has been a "test bed" for smart-grid technologies, and through the support of the Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy, a branch of the Korean government that deals with regulating energy sectors, it has started investing in areas outside the country. The institute has been seeking an opportunity to deploy such technologies to build upon smart-grid infrastructure that has been implemented in Oak Park with the help of ComEd.
The village's role will be to act as a facilitator between the Korea Smart Grid Institute and local building owners in establishing test sites. The village would also be a liaison between residents who are eligible to take part in the project.
The Thursday presentation explained that the program would be a three-year, three-phase project with expenses covered by the institute along with some private grants and funding from the state of Illinois. There will be no funding requirements from village government and its participants during this time. The suggested timeline involves 120 sites installed in the first year (2013), and 80 additional sites installed in 2014.
Following presentations from each of the companies involved, trustees asked questions about the logistics of the installations, system monitoring and ongoing partnerships with the representatives in Korea to ensure the project is implemented properly.
Moving forward, it was explained that the village's role will include being a facilitator for project management; communicating about funding, grant application and administrative details; community outreach; and residential recruitment. Village staff will determine how to launch a campaign to inform residents about the pilot program as it progresses.
Although the system for selecting residents and businesses to participate in the pilot program will be determined by the board, a lottery system could be used to make choices. A number of factors will be considered, including location of the property.
The institute has expressed interest in working with homeowners to install solar panels connected to a battery storage system, which would operate on the grid during the day and off the grid at night — saving money and energy. The pilot program could also spark additional smart technology offerings related to electrical distribution and consumption.
"It can be a model project for us [and] a model project for the U.S in really how you open access and benefits to customers when you open up the smart grid," said Andrew Barbeau, president of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Development.
He said it also offers significant cost savings for customers and provides access to sustainable energy sources that aren't typically available in the Midwest. The savings, which he said could be around $500 per year for a consumer, represent just one benefit of the smart grid technology. Minimizing and eliminating outages and learning about energy use with real time data are also benefits of the pilot program.
"It can be replicated throughout the country," Barbeau said. "This is something we're really excited to launch here in Oak Park."
Pope said Oak Park was selected for a number of reasons, in large part because of its existing smart grid development with ComEd, but also because of Oak Park's reputation as a leader in sustainability, specifically its electrical aggregation program. He said the village was also chosen because of the community's unique makeup.
"They've got to be able to talk to different people who live in different types of homes in different types of circumstances. And they've got to be able to make it work for a variety of folks," Pope said. "So the diversity of the building stock and the diversity of the residents of Oak Park has been a tremendous selling point as to how making this work in the real world is determined by coming to a place like Oak Park."