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03.05.2010
Shine On
Free solar panels for 100 Chicago-area homes, plus thousands of smart meters
ComEd will award solar panels to 100 homeowners in the Chicago area as part of a stimulus-funded pilot program.
Courtesy Solar Energy Solutions

One hundred Chicago area homeowners will soon have the pleasure of watching their electricity meters run backwards, thanks to solar panels installed through a ComEd pilot program. More than 130,000 others will soon be using “smart meters” to better monitor their energy use.

Residents of Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Melrose Park, Oak Park, River Forest, and Tinley Park, and the Humboldt Park area in Chicago, will receive the meters. They will also be able to apply for the solar panel systems. “Applicants will be evaluated on the orientation of their houses, the square footage of their roofs, and other factors. And the home’s wiring will need to be up to code,” said Maryl Freestone, project manager for the solar pilot. ComEd is working with Arlington, VA-based Gridstone to acquire and install the solar systems. The pilot program is being made possible through a $5 million stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

All of the houses fitted with solar panels will be able to sell their excess power back to ComEd, and half will have battery storage for power outages. The units have a capacity of approximately 3 kilowatts per house, and would be valued at approximately $30,000 per system. “Our intention is to install the units and then let the homeowners keep them,” said Freestone.

The smart meter area cuts across a variety of socio-economic demographics, so that the utility will be able to better monitor energy use in a variety of populations. Of the 131,000 households, about 8,000 will receive more advanced display devices or thermostats to be able to control their energy use. Customers will save money if they reduce their energy usage during peak hours, according to Peter Pedraza, a spokesman for ComEd.

The Chicago area is no stranger to rooftop innovation. Through the efforts of Mayor Daley and a package of incentives, the city boasts more green roofs than any city in the country, by far. A significant green roof industry has also developed as a result.

Alan G. Brake