Green Energy from City Skylines

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Projects that use renewable energy discreetly are key to future innovations.

Medill Reports, Kate Springer

While large wind and solar farms catch grief from nearby residents, engineers and designers have created ways to incorporate renewable energy systems into city skylines.

Across the United States, renewable energy developers are supplementing energy grids more discreetly, more affordably and on an urban-friendly scale.

"It might not seem like a lot if you look at one unit, but it's like looking at ants," said John Enslin, chief technology officer of Petra Solar. "If you look at one at a time, they seem tiny, but they build up into a large population. "

Experts say projects that put renewable energy to work discreetly are key to future innovations.

"It's hard to find a way to please everybody," said Michael Gorton, CEO of Texas-based Principal Solar Inc., "so kudos to the guys who are creating this kind of stuff."

Joel S. Freeman, an energy consultant at Evanston-based Brumman/Butkus Associates, agreed.

"A hurdle that comes up with all of these projects is that people want their view so perfectly sanitized," said Freeman. "If people can see it, they don't want it there."

"Maybe it's a generational thing," said Freeman. "We will have to wait until the next group shows up and says 'We are seeing good things.'"

Gorton added that the technology is "unbelievably clever," but has some drawbacks.

"You have to think about the dynamics of a city," said Gorton. "You panel the whole south side of a building with solar, but what happens if someone puts a building farther south that puts you in the shade?"

"Big solar will still happen in the countryside, but that urban projects that can take care of the end of distribution line are unbelievable developments," said Gorton.

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