Chicago solar panel expert discusses green energy

Chicago solar panel expert discusses green energy

Green is the color of passion for John Berton - professionally and personally. He started Green Lizard Solar in January 2008 and has been living off the electric grid since May 1999 by using a combination of strong solar panels and reducing his power consumption.

"As far as I know, I'm the only person in the city of Chicago living completely off grid," he says. "I also have a 900-gallon rainwater collection system, a Toyota electric-truck conversion, a green roof and a rooftop vegetable garden."

What's the benefit of having solar panels?

"The biggest benefit is that you produce some of the energy you use from the sun - the source of all sustainable power - and you reduce reliance on burning fossil fuels - whose use increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ties the U.S. to suppliers of those fuels."

Do they increase your property value?

"As more people become aware of environmental issues, they value sustainable energy systems more. A building with the energy system will generate more interest and get a leg up on similar properties that don't have them. As fuel prices increase, these systems will become even more interesting to potential buyers."

How does the installation process work and how much does it cost?

"We make a visit to the site and talk to the client. Then we determine the space available for installation, the desires, interests and intent of the customer. The process takes a week, but the kind of site, the size of the system and the weather have a big influence on that.

"We put the mounting system up first, then install the wiring or plumbing, then the panels and the interconnection. The cost varies widely on the size and type of the system."

Are solar panels durable or do they require maintenance?

"Most come with a 25-year warranty. It's not likely they'll be damaged by the weather, and the maintenance is virtually nonexistent. Costs for repairs aren't great if the systems are properly installed.

"It's not usual, but it's possible that a storage tank might need to be replaced and the cost would be significant."

Do people have misconceptions about solar panels?

"People often comment on the look of the panels. If we had grown up with panels on our roofs, they would be just part of the scenery. Many people also have misconceptions on how much power is produced. We often get people who plan on producing all their electric power with a few panels or think they'll heat their entire house with two panels on their roof. We explain that the panels will produce a percentage of their power, but not all of it."C


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