It seems unnatural, but the ice cream you are eating may have been produced with the help of sunshine. Since the production and storage of ice cream consumes a lot of electricity, Izzy’s Ice Cream on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul is running on solar energy.
Izzy’s owner Jeff Sommers says the solar electric roof installed on his café was “a huge project.” By now, the solar electric system produces ten percent of the shop’s electricity from sunlight.
Starting in 2005, a lot of fundraising and voluntary work was needed to realise this renewable energy project. “The most interesting is that it is a community project in a business environment”, says Sommers. Izzy’s solar panels were acquired from a donation from the Green Institute, a St. Paul organization that provides environmental stewardship. As an attempt to raise further funds, each solar panel is available for sponsorship.
The common term for solar electricity is photovoltaic. Grid-connected systems like Izzy’s consist of the solar panels and a device called an inverter. The inverter changes light energy into electrical energy. Usually Izzy’s Ice Cream uses all the produced power. Nevertheless, when the café is closed and the solar electric system still produces power, the excess electricity flows through the electric meter for use by the electric utility. But the benefit of those grid-connected systems is not so much the selling of excess energy. Instead, it’s the Minnesota Solar Energy Rebate Program providing rebates for up to 500 kW of grid-connected photovoltaic systems in Minnesota. In addition, the federal government offers a personal tax credit of 30% of the cost of a solar electric system up to $2000.
Although there are incentives, the use of solar electricity in business environments is not yet widespread. Besides Izzy’s there is a coffee shop (the Old Man River Café in St. Paul) using solar energy to power its establishment. “Without the donations and the fundraising it wouldn’t have been profitable for our size of business”, says Jeff Sommers. The involvement of the community was the basis to get Izzy’s project started.
According to Carl Nelson, Director of Community Energy at the Green Institute, solar energy will continue to grow. Just a few weeks ago, the Metro Clean Energy Research Team was created. It will help to build networks of community organizations and other metro-area residents and thus providing further support for renewable energy projects in the Twin Cities.
So, hopefully, there will be more businesses in the Twin Cities running on solar energy. “I’m looking forward to my colleagues doing it”, says the owner of Izzy’s. “The customers love it.” While buying their favorite ice cream, they can have a look at how much solar energy has been collected on this day. Knowing that, it makes your ice-cream cone even yummier.
Julia Degen is a student at Hamline University and an intern at the Twin Cities Daily Planet.