By Anna Lothson
Oak Park officials took a step forward Thursday in an initiative that could put another green mark on Oak Park's map.
As part of discussions dating back a few years, representatives from the Korea Smart Grid Institute met with village leaders for a letter-of-intent signing ceremony at village hall. The action allows the groups to continue conversations regarding possibilities for solar-powered demonstration sites on residential and commercial buildings, as well as around the community.
"The Korea Smart Grid Institute has been seeking an opportunity to be able to deploy smart technologies that would build upon smart-grid infrastructure that has been implemented in Oak Park through our collaboration with [ComEd] over the past few years," Pope said Thursday.
The group, he said, helps "facilitate coordinated investment by the Korean government and leading smart-grid technology companies."
South Korea has been a "test bed" for smart-grid technologies, Pope said, and through the support of the Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy, a branch of the Korean government that deals with regulating energy sectors, they've started investing in areas outside the country.
That's where Oak Park comes in.
The list that started out with more than 200 possibilities has been narrowed down to five; Oak Park is just one of two on the list located in the United States. The others are in the United Kingdom and Spain.
For Oak Parkers this could mean potential partnerships with organizations and individuals. These possibilities are also supported by various science, technology and energy groups around the country that are teaming up with Oak Park.
"All of this ultimately is supported by the state's initiative to encourage the implementation of smart-grid technology throughout Illinois," Pope said. "None of this would be possible without the strong collaboration that we have built with ComEd to establish Oak Park as the leading smart-city in North America."
These possibilities may lend themselves to programs that allow for the placement of solar power systems with battery backup options in sites around the community that would be part of a pilot program.
Pope said this could spark other green initiatives like an increased number of electric vehicle-charging stations throughout the community and additional smart technology offerings related to electrical distribution and consumption.
The Smart Grid Institute is one of the partners involved in the initiative. Collectively, the groups have expressed interest in monitoring commercial building energy efficiency and solar-powered electric charging stations.
"The signing of the letter of intent is really a step in that direction. It certainly is an exciting opportunity for Oak Park," Pope said. "But the ultimate definition of the project's undertaking is still something that will come into focus in the coming months. That's based on the involvement of the various partners who are participating in this effort."
K.C. Poulos, Oak Park's sustainability manager, said the village's primary role is to act as a facilitator between the Korea Smart Grid Institute and local building owners as the project's scope and possibilities are determined. The village would also be the liaison between prospective residents who could become involved in the project if it moves forward like the village hopes.
One option the group has expressed interest in deploying is 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 consumption.
"It's a very methodical group," Poulos said, adding that the village isn't expecting any action until a memorandum of understanding is signed. Such a document could be signed in the next 90 days, she said, which would define the goals and scope of work.
"We're all on the same page that we want to work together," Poulos said.