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Suburban company goes green in museum exhibit

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By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff – Read More

Originally posted: 1/15/2009:

Owners of a Hoffman Estates company that designs hybrid alternative energy systems are featured in an exhibit honoring black environmentalists at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

William R. Penman III, chief executive officer of the startup Off Grid Technologies, lives in Hoffman Estates, and Carl A. Hansberry III, vice president of marketing and business development, is a resident of Flossmoor.

Green Revolution is part of the museum’s annual Black Creativity celebration, which opens today and runs through March 1.

Penman and Hansberry believe buildings in this region need a hybrid system – perhaps solar and wind – to efficiently create their own electricity and heat. At this latitude there are not enough hours of sunlight to use solar alone, they said. Other options include plasma gasification or making energy from waste, hydrogen and geothermal.

Off Grid’s business is problem-solving – first making a building work as efficiently as possible then designing a way it can capture its own energy. It also can work on larger projects such as wind farms.

“Our specialty is design and engineering,” said Hansberry.

Ultimately the duo would like to build a manufacturing and research and development facility and are creating a coalition of small companies involved with alternative energy.

Sometimes the results of feasibility studies surprise even Penman and Hansberry.

They learned that a Chicago condominium association could indeed make enough energy with solar and small wind turbines to support its common areas, but the homeowners couldn’t agree to go forward with the project.

Hansberry said he realized the importance of alternative energy when his roofing company was working in Florida in 2004 after Hurricane Charley.

“A million people were without electricity. These beautiful, fabulous homes, and it didn’t mean a thing. One man had a solar-powered battery backup, and his neighbors were trying to tap into it to keep their refrigerators going. I thought we were back in cave man days.”

Products that the duo likes include ultra thin solar panels that look like regular roof shingles and windmills with vertical blades that make no noise and can be small enough to use on urban and suburban homes.

The industry’s big issue is that these products are expensive, especially now that there is no economy of scale, said Penman. Eventually, alternative systems pay for themselves and then produce free energy, said Hansberry.

They are optimistic that President-elect Barack Obama’s new administration will support spending money on green projects and research and development, and they also would like to see incentives for using alternative energy made uniform across state lines.

“There are geniuses running around out there, and America can get off this dependence on fossil fuels sooner than we think,” said Hansberry. “This is our home – the whole planet is our home.”

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