“Fueling the Future” is a recurring segment on our blog where we feature the work of companies and organizations working today to provide the energy sources of tomorrow.

Renewable energy is a term that has been part of the American lexicon since the oil crises of the 1970’s. Faced with long lines at the pump and skyrocketing prices for oil and natural gas, American scientists and engineers began to draw the public’s attention towards the promises of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. But as the oil shortages passed, and cheap gas prices returned to the US, mainstream enthusiasm for renewable energy diminished significantly.

Fast forward to today, and you might be hard pressed not to find news of a new solar or wind farm going up somewhere in the country. Companies such as Google and Wal-Mart are making huge investments in solar technology, while the state of Texas becomes the wind turbine capital of the world. This renewed interest in renewables has been driven by a number of factors, including increases in energy costs, newer and more efficient renewable technologies, and a greater public awareness of sustainability.

Part of the driving force behind the public’s modern interest in renewables comes from the number of awareness groups that have popped up over the last decade. One such group is the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), devoted to seeing the American Midwest become a beacon of sustainable energy. Founded in 1990, MREA has been a vocal advocate for the adoption of renewable energy, as well as a leader in training professionals in the installation and applications of various renewable energy systems.

One of the most visible ways that the MREA supports renewable energy development is through the annual Energy Fair, a three-day event that kicks off in the summer. The fair includes a number of exhibitors representing the wide diversity of renewable energy systems used by both companies and individuals in the Midwest. Among these exhibits are demonstrations of residential solar heat and power installations, solar charging stations for hybrids and electric cars, and a number of products that highlight the ease of sustainable living.

Over 18,000 people from across the U.S., and a number of other countries, descend on rural Wisconsin for the fair. It is the one time of the year where both industry professionals and enthusiasts can get together to learn more about how they can adapt their homes to both conserve energy and supplement their energy use with renewables.

The group also works directly with homeowners, businesses, and other entities that are looking to invest in solar photovoltaic installations. Working through the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, MREA’s Power Pack Program works with select communities to provide prospective solar adopters with the education and resources they need. This includes finding the right financing for their installation, as well as providing a directory of qualified installers.

The MREA also hosts conferences that cater to the industry professional, providing avenues for networking and development. One of their biggest conferences is the Solar Powering the Midwest Conference Series, with two separate conferences taking place in Illinois and Minnesota. These day-long conferences bring together industry pros, local municipalities, utility companies, contractors, and a wide assortment of professionals working within the solar power industry. Many topics pertaining to solar energy development are discussed, including permitting, financing, legislative changes, and more.

Of course, the MREA is about more than just rubbing elbows with some of the passionate pursuers of renewable energy. They also provide training courses for a diverse range of professions and trades that revolve around the use of renewable energy. There are courses tailored for architects, electricians, plumbers, farmers, sales professionals, and even your average enthusiast. Professional PV installers gain advanced instruction in the design and application of solar arrays, allowing them to add to their technical background and experience. Others gain a new perspective on how renewables can change their energy consumption at home, whether by investing in home installations or choosing energy providers that utilize solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.

If the mission of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association is to expand understanding, knowledge, and utilization of renewable energy throughout the Midwest, then they are clearly succeeding. Investments in renewable energy have skyrocketed over the last decade. And that rapid growth has been made possible because of organizations like the MREA, providing crucial training and skill development for professionals working within the industry. They provide the resources for denizens of the Midwest to break away from traditional energy sources and make the leap into the 21st century of renewables.