Blue ribbons and blue solar panels take center stage at Lake County Ill. Fairgrounds

This post was originally published in 2014. The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.

Lake County, located along the Wisconsin border in the northeastern corner of Illinois, is one of the five collar counties surrounding the Chicago area. Its fairgrounds are home to an annual five-day summer fair and play host to a wide array of other year-round events in support of public education and the promotion of agriculture, horticulture and the environment—not to mention some good ol’ fashioned entertainment.   

Sunny Boy inverters are ready for the final stages of installation inside the electrical room.

Sunny Boy inverters are ready for the final stages of installation inside the electrical room.

The modern-day county fair

Few things are as timelessly American as the county fair. But that doesn’t mean the fair shouldn’t keep up with the times. Modernization forever changed American agriculture and today, solar power has the same capability to forever change how farmers generate and manage their power needs. There are few better places for farmers to see the capabilities of solar in-person than at the fairgrounds, amongst the latest and greatest technologies shaping agriculture today.

The fairground’s solar system was commissioned in January 2014 and will create 49,000 kWh of power annually, enough to offset 10 percent of their normal power use. Renewable Energy Alternatives designed and installed the 38.4 kW system using 160 Lightway New Energy 240W modules, three Sunny Boy 10000TL-US inverters and one Sunny Boy 4000TL-US.

“The Midwest experiences wide temperature swings throughout the year, so we needed an inverter that could maintain the maximum power output possible across the temperatures the modules will be operating in,” said Kacie Peters, Director of Sales at Renewable Energy Alternatives. “We also choose SMA for many of our installs because their long-term reliability keeps our customers happy.”

Seasonal weather will place heavy demands on the system, including snowfall potentially covering the modules.

Seasonal weather will place heavy demands on the system, including snowfall potentially covering the modules.

First of its kind

The Lake County Fair Association and Realgy Energy Services have partnered together for one of the Illinois’ first commercial Power Purchase Agreements to provide funding for the system. Though the PPA business model has been very successful across California, New Jersey and many other states, it’s still gaining momentum in Illinois. This system has the potential to showcase the positive aspects of PPAs and help grow their popularity, creating new opportunities for solar systems across Lake County and the rest of Illinois.

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