Bill Carswell in front of his UAH lab

Think Tank for Sustainable Energy Startups at UAH

“Alternative energy is the Internet of twenty years ago – It’s in its infant stage. We just have to create the pathways to make it grow and be available to everyone.” – Bill Carswell

Bill Carswell’s career has taken plenty of interesting twists and turns: he’s been involved in space research with NASA, border security around the world, and project management education at Emery Riddle. Before all else, Bill is a Scientist. He’s currently the Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the Executive Director of the Energy Huntsville Initiative.

Lab for Sustainable Energy Research at UAH

WHY ENERGY?

  • Renewable Energy is socially relevant.
  • Renewable Energy is technically challenging.
  • Renewable Energy is heavily funded.

WHY NOW?

“There’s a large cottage industry of startups trying to tap into this energy revolution that’s going on and the problem with energy is its really expensive. You can’t just start a garage business with an app – I mean, this stuff is expensive! I’m putting together a resource that entrepreneurs can use so they don’t have to buy all the energy infrastructure. They can just focus on the element they want to build a product or a business around.”

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Entrepreneurs creating sustainable products can borrow Bill’s lab, complete with equipment and resources – solar panels, generators, high-tech batteries, smart meters, and business automation system. Startups have access to Bill’s extensive network of experts from UAH, ALCSE, and Energy Huntsville. The scientist himself is available for questioning too. Test your product in the safety of the lab over the course of one year (seasons make a difference) to get ready for market. Finally, pitch the finished product to the company or military institution that will buy it.

Bill’s laboratory is a veritable mecca for mad scientists and mad-scientist wannabes.

An initial survey of the tiny fenced-off area tucked behind UAH’s NPR radio station reveals uneven terrain, faded signs, and decades-old solar panels. But don’t let the humble façade fool you; inside this little building is Bill’s energy lab, and it’s brimming with scientific discovery.

Let’s go see what’s happening……

Project: Commercial Building Automation System

Key Players: Johnson Controls, Dynetics, Huntsville Utilities, Aerojet, ALCSE

Purpose: Monitor a building’s energy use & move to backup source during peaks

building automation system

batteries

Project: Hybrid Generator & Battery System

Key Players: Aviation Research Developing & Engineering Center (AMRDEC), UAH Systems Engineers, Aerojet

Purpose: Use electricity generated from diesel fuel and generators as efficiently as possible.

(Batteries, load bank (building simulator) and graduated cylinder to measure fuel consumption with the generator.)

Project: Phase Change Solar Thermal Water Heater

Key Players: Aviation Research Developing & Engineering Center (AMRDEC), King Energy

Purpose: Find economical way to keep water heated longer

IMG_2125

e1c27182-8880-4f7f-abd5-26cf90a71a66

..Not a smart meter, but they’re some pretty sexy batteries…

Project: (Coming soon!) Smart Meter Student Penetration Contest

Key Players: UAH Cybersecurity Research Lab, ALCSE, Huntsville Utilities

Purpose: Protect smart energy from computer fraud

Project: (Coming soon!) Mobile Sustainability Demonstration Lab

Key Players: ALCSE and Others….

Purpose: Teach sustainable practice to community & train workers.

genearator

Drawings of a mad scientist, generator modified for laboratory use, and a generator efficiency curve developed from research

Have a sustainable product you need help with? Contact:

Bill Carswell, Ph.D.
256.679.2276
bill.carswell@energyhuntsville.com
www.energyhuntsville.com

 

UAH sustainability program brings changes to campus

Since 2013, Haley Hix, Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, has been hard at work, creating and implementing environmentally conscious projects. Her goal in each new endeavor is two-fold: to educate the Huntsville community about sustainable options and to make the UAH campus more environmentally friendly.

The small town girl from Tennessee has always been keenly aware of her environment.

ALCSE: “Is there something in your life that makes you love sustainability – or be a champion of it?”

HALEY: “I think it probably had a lot to do with growing up, the way I was raised on a farm, and learning to be protectors and promoters of our environment. In my eyes I just saw it as a very sacred thing. I mean it doesn’t belong to us. We’re here to be caretakers of it.”

Her position as Sustainability Coordinator required a little more initiative, but that’s something Haley isn’t lacking.

ALCSE: “So. Tell me how you got this job… because my co-worker.” Uncomfortable pause. “she said that you basically…” More pause. “kind of…”

HALEY: “Created it?” Laughter.

ALCSE:   “Well.” Laughter. “Let’s start with that.”

HALEY: “I started 2013 as an intern here for our energy manager. I was a Power Save Campus Intern. It was a position through the Alliance to Save Energy, which is a national nonprofit that encourages universities to do energy conservation and energy efficiency. I was about two months in when I realized: we don’t have any sustainability projects going on campus. We don’t have a budget for sustainability or any sort of way for students to start sustainability projects.”

 ALCSE: “What were your tasks when you began the internship if there weren’t any projects?”

HALEY: “We would do lighting audits of the buildings, make plans for upgrades for new lighting fixtures. We hosted events where students could come and switch out bulbs for more efficient bulbs in their dorm rooms. We would do energy competitions for the residents halls on campus where they would compete for three weeks in the spring to turn all their lights off and save energy and the winning dorm won a prize.”

ALCSE: “That’s kinda cool.”

HALEY: “We didn’t do any institutional changes. It was more an awareness program. And so I thought we needed to do something a little bit deeper. As a student I wrote a proposal for a campus green fund, researched other universities’ student green funds and put together a proposal for the vice president of finance. I proposed in August of 2013 and we got approval for 20K the first year.

“Then I started doing little projects here and there and I eventually convinced this department that they needed a sustainability coordinator.” Laughter.

ALCSE: “I love that.”

Haley loves her job. She’s implemented a lot of projects in the two short years she’s held the position.

If you’ve been to the Charger Union, or any academic building on the UAH campus, you’ve seen Haley’s first campaign: Hydration Stations.

Fact: Only 1 in 5 plastic water bottles really find their way into recycle bins.

Other projects followed, getting larger and larger in scale. Take for instance, the recent composting project, with four departments and three student groups involved.

Haley Hix, UAH Sustainability Coordinator heads up Ban the Battle

“That was actually my first project. We did a Ban the Bottle Project to get rid of all the little plastic bottles.”

Rainwater used for garden, recycle

ALCSE: “Which one of these [projects] is your fave? Or, to ask a different way, which one are you most proud of?”

HALEY: “Actually our composting project is really cool. I don’t know if it’s my favorite…but it is neat because it’s solar-powered and rain-water fueled.”

“Mike Marshall and I wrote a proposal for the Green Fund to start a composting project here at the community garden.

“We built – and I mean we literally, physically built – this composting facility with solar panels on top to power the compost tea brew room. Solar panels power the tea brewer for the compost. We have a rainwater catchment system. We use the rainwater to make the compost tea.

“We collect food scraps – this is in process – from the dining facilities on campus.”

ALCSE: “How big is it?”

HALEY: “Half the size of this room…the pile is….about 9×12. Our grounds crew turns it for us.

“We also have a vermiculture system. We take the compost and the worm castings [from the vermiculture system] and we use both of those things to make the compost tea.

ALCSE: “Where do you get that part?”

HALEY: “The castings?’

ALCSE: “Yes.”

HALEY: “We built a vermiculture continuous flow system. We put in red wrigglers and we have this system to catch the castings to use for the composting.”

UAH Compost heap

 

UAH Community Garden

Dr. Leland Cseke & Mike Marshall

ALCSE: “Who did that part?”

HALEY: “That was mainly Mike Marshall. He’s the student who headed the garden.”

ALCSE: “So he had other students help him?”

HALEY: “Yeah. That’s the other thing. We have curriculum designed around it.

ALCSE: “Who wrote the curriculum?”

HALEY: “One of our biology professors, Dr. Leland Cjecka. He’s kind of like the faculty advisor for the garden and he also designed a class around this whole system out here, which is called People Plants and the Environment.”

ALCSE: “Who takes it?

HALEY: “Well anyone can take it really. It’s mainly undergrad biology students. I took it as an undergrad. It was a really cool class.”

ALCSE: “That sounds like a neat program.”

 HALEY: “We use the compost tea on the garden and we use a few pieces of the greenway to test it out because we eventually want to use it to replace all our commercial fertilizers that are used on the entire campus. So that’s the big picture.” Read more about UAH’s Community Garden HERE

As big projects morph into even bigger ones, Haley plans to keep sharing the message. She’s most interested in the third piece of the environmental pie: environmental justice. She’d like to see more minorities in leadership roles and less environmental hazards placed in low-income areas.

And of course – more projects! Stay tuned.

OTHER COOL PROJECTS

Haley Hix

Tubeless Toilet Paper

  • Reduces packing waste by 95%.
  • Ensures complete roll usage.
  • Decreases total waste by 11,900 lbs.

Electricity-powered Heat Machines/Chillers

  • Savings Realized: 5.2 million gallons of water
  • Savings Realized: 350,000 therms of natural gas

Hybrid Utility Vehicles

  • Projected Savings: 700 gallons of gas.
  • Projected Savings: $2,000 in maintenance expenses.

electric vehicles for campus use at UAH

 

Tree campus USA - plannting trees at UAH

Tree Campus USA

  • Offsets greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Adds tree canopy to the UAH campus.
  • Creates aesthetically pleasing space.
  • Provides relaxing environment and reduces stress.
  • Shades buildings for lower energy bills.

Solar-Powered Golf Carts

Solar Golf Carts created in partnership with ALCSE

  • Raises awareness of solar power
  • Allows for maintenance-free transportation on campus
  • Develops partnerships with Hunstville-area business. (link to our story)

solar powered golf cart installation

 

UAH Community Garden

Community Garden

  • Provides fresh fruits and vegetables for campus dining facilities.
  • Connects the university with the larger Huntsville community.
  • Offers hands-on learning experiences for Biology Department.

 


5 AWESOME WAYS TO GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY


FUTURE PROJECTS

  • Gala Fundraising Event
  • Community Partnerships
  • Environmental Justice Programs
  • Campus-wide Solar Project
  • Climate Action Plan
  • Tree Planting Project
  • Fertigation

Want to learn more? You can read about Haley’s projects and lots more here: http://www.uah.edu/sustainability/past-and-current-projects

Light Bulb 101

Energy Efficient Light Bulbs 101 – At Home

Confused by which light bulb to buy? We’ve put together a short primer to (ahem!) “shine some light” on the topic for you.

Here’s the key thing to know about light bulbs. If you buy junk, you’ll get junk. 

Quick facts:

  • It used to be that wattage of the bulb determined what you needed to buy. Not so much anymore. Lumens is what you should look for. The higher the lumens, the more light is output by the bulb.
  • Be wary of really cheap LEDs. More than likely they don’t last very long. LEDs are supposed to last well around 20 years. Cheap ones typically last for less than 10 years.
  • Only buy bulbs with an ENERGY STAR logo on them. This is the only way to know if a light bulb is truly a good purchase. In order to receive the ENERGY STAR logo, they can’t just save energy. They must be in the top 25% of its class, pay for itself, AND be independently verified. This is why cheap LEDs, which save energy, cannot get the ENERGY STAR logo.

So let’s get started!

Incandescent Bulbs:  These are what I call the “old-fashioned” bulbs though they are becoming less standard all the time.


Pros: They create warm light. Designers love this bulb best.

Cons: They wear out quickly, use more energy, and create more heat. That means more frequent replacement and more energy use.

Life: 800 – 1,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~ $1 per bulb

Dimmable: Yes

Energy used: ~.06 Kilowatts (kW)

CFL-light-bulb

www.lightingandmaintenancesolutions.com


 

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) Bulbs: The second generation to the humming tubes hanging in your dad’s basement workshop, these are the curly-shaped little darlings.

When we first moved away from incandescent bulbs, critics of the CFL cried ugly because they produced a cool, harsh, light with blue undertones. As technology has advanced, CFLs can be found in warmer color spectrums that are closer to the traditional incandescents.

Pros: CFLs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

Cons: CFLs contain mercury.

Life: 6,000 – 15,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~ $2 per bulb

Dimmable: No (dimmable options may be available for purchase)

Energy Used: ~.014 Kilowatts (kW)


LED (Light Emitting Diode): The energy superstars of the group. Depending on the brand and variety, they can last from 2 – 25 years. Put them in your teenagers’ bedrooms. You know they’re not switching them off.

Pros: LED bulbs produce less heat and last a long time. New LED bulbs can cast that warm-colored light we love. LEDs don’t break when jostled, a huge factor in busy manufacturing sites and industrial areas. Best of all, they don’t contain mercury.

Cons: LED technology is moving quickly.  Some of these bulbs still create directional light, but most newer versions disperse light better.  Lastly, LEDs do have a slightly higher upfront cost.

Life: 50,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~$1.25 – ~$20

Dimmable: Yes (non dimmable options are available)

Energy used: ~.008 Kilowatts (kW)

Sustainable Efforts for Light Bulbs:

  • Place your lights on a dimmer. It can save up to 50% in energy costs. Remember, most CFLs and even most LEDs aren’t dimmable. You’ll need to specifically buy dimmable bulbs!
  • Turn out the lights: One incandescent bulb left on 8 hours costs ~ 6 cents. 5 incandescents burning 8 hours cost ~ 30 cents which equates to $110/year. A possible overnight scenario might include 2 porch lights, 1 kitchen light, 1 family room light, and 1 bathroom light burning. Good old Dad was right after all.
  • Recycle:  CFLs contain mercury and all bulbs take up space in landfills. The good news is it’s easy to recycle your old bulbs. You can even bring them to your neighborhood hardware stores. Visit this site http://search.earth911.com/ and type in your zip code for recyclers near you

 

Comparison Between LED, CFL and Incandescent Light Bulbs:

LEDCFLIncandescent
Lifespan in hours50,0009,0001,000
Watts (equivalent 60 watts)81460
Cost per bulb$2$2$1
Daily cost*$0.004$0.007$0.03
Annual cost*$1.46$2.56$10.95
Cost for 50k hours @ $0.10 kWh$39.58$70.83$300
Bulbs needed for 50k hours15.550
Total cost for 50k hours with bulb price$41.58$81.83$350.00

Source: http://energyusecalculator.com/electricity_cfllightbulb.htm

Conclusion:

  • Try to buy LEDs everywhere you can, but if you can’t, target your high use areas first! If you have incandescents, go ahead and replace them. If you have CFLs, wait until they die, and then upgrade.
  • LEDs have gotten extremely cheap! Off brand is perfectly fine to buy, as long as they have the ENERGY STAR logo.
  • Make sure to match lumens, not watts. Take your old bulbs with you to the store and look for the LEDs that have close to the same lumens, not watts. You may have a 60 watt incandescent only to find a 40 watt ‘equivalent’ LED is actually what you need.

Electric Cars Create Jolt of Excitement in Huntsville, AL

There was a buzz in the air Saturday, October 31, at Whitesburg P-8, where student-built electric cars took to the track for 90 minutes to determine which team of young minds engineered the best vehicle.

The cars are part of a dynamic curriculum, called GreenpowerUSA, that challenges students aged 9-25 to apply S.T.E.M.-based thinking to the task of building and racing an electric car.

The Greenpower race

The Green Grizzlies at the Green Power Race

CROSS CURRICULAR GOALS 

Siemens, a global software company with an office in Huntsville, AL, brought the Greenpower program to the U.S. Siemens’ motives are practical. “Obviously, we’re in it because we’re engineers and we want our kids using our software but we’re seeing more and more [that] the big thing they get out of it is the ‘soft’ skills,” says Bill McClure, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Siemens. And the number one soft skill cited by students is teamwork.

Julie Folsom, whose daughter created a racecar with Chaffee Elementary, extols the virtues of the program: “We’re completely new to this but I love it. The kids have to decide what materials to use to make it more aerodynamic, what would affect the weight, what driver would be best depending on the size of the driver, the weight of the driver, the driver’s skills.”

Greenpower racer

The Greenpower program is diverse

DIVERSITY

The program attracts students of every ability and gender. According to Julie Folsom, almost all the fourth and fifth graders in her daughter’s school applied to be part of the Greenpower team. 35% of Greenpower’s participants are female, making it the highest female-participated engineering project.

“We can’t ignore 50% of the population!” says Michael Brown, Director of Academic Relations at Siemens.

HOW IT WORKS

  • Teams assemble their cars using a kit.
  • The only power source allowed is (2) 12-volt batteries, forcing teams to calculate optimal speed/energy efficiency.
  • Teams present their work in a formal setting.
  • In the scrutineering phase, technical experts from organizations such as the Sports Car Club of America check cars for rule compliance and safety.
  • Attention to detail is key. Simple mistakes such as misaligned wheels, incorrectly inflated tires, loose bolts, or rubbing brakes drain power. Too many errors will cost them the race.

IMG_1898

INHERENT LEARNING

“The students are learning without even realizing it,” Michael Brown explains. “Let’s talk about the Goblins. You might think that’s just a ‘costume project.’ But even at ages 9, 10, and 11 they learn about ‘righty-tighty’ and ‘lefty-lucy.’ You know, nuts and bolts. They also learn Fleming’s left hand rule – how an electric motor works. Now they don’t know they’re learning it, but when they wire up the car, if they wire the motor up the wrong way round, when they press the button, the car goes backwards.”

IMG_1870Pictured (L-R): Robert Clarke, President, Sports Car Club of America, Pro Racing; Michael Brown, Director of Academic Relations, Siemens; Bill McClure, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Siemens, enjoy a day of student racing at the Whitesburg track.

Jeff Baker Electric Car charging station

Sustainable Energy Superstar – Jeff Baker

 

Solar Panels, Electric Cars, and new friends to nosh on pizza with: those are just a few of the many gifts Jeff Baker receives from his sustainable lifestyle.

Jeff drives an electric car.Chevy VoltHe has his own charging station attached to the side of his garage.Electric vehicle charging portHe also has 12 solar panels on his rooftop.

“Does that power your house completely?” I ask.

“It covers more than my car charging I know that.” Jeff says

“Is that why you put the solar in, to charge your vehicle?” I ask.

“Honestly,” grins Jeff. “It was more about publicity. I just wanted to be an early adopter and I really liked the idea of having [solar panels] located right here, co-located with the charging equipment, to showcase how well the technology synergizes.”

solar panels

 

 

“If I lived in California I’d be behind the times. But in Madison…. we’re the third household that’s even done this.”

There were lots of inspections and permits and electrical upgrades involved in getting the permit for solar on Jeff’s thirty-year-old house. At one point, he thought he might have to stop the whole effort but things worked out and now his home is up to code and his solar panels are creating about 3 kW of power per day.

“This allows me [freedom] to make my own energy here, use it to get where I’m going, and also if you add the right accessories, to store it and use it to respond to a natural disaster, or other kinds of power outages.”

Much of our conversation revolved around what its like to own and drive an electric car. If the thought of searching for a charging station while traveling makes you uneasy, you aren’t alone. There’s even an application called “Plug Share” Plug Share appwhere electric car drivers can locate charging stations.

In fact, the whole phenomenon has led to rather unusual friendships for Jeff.

Chevy Volt charging

 

“I’ve had through travelers that found me on Plug Share. Someone from Nashville came down to visit the Space and Rocket Center and realized they didn’t have enough charge to get back home…they called roadside assistance and got sent here because I’m listed publicly. “

Electric cars require planning because you have to allow for charge time. Jeff says drivers approach it in many different ways. Some sit in their cars and wait.

“Maybe they have a hot spot in their cars and they just surf the web.”

“Using the battery on their phones while they’re charging the battery on their car….” I say.

TurboCord electric car chargerWe get a shared laugh over that dichotomy.

Jeff says there are now higher-end electric vehicles that charge more quickly. But the Volt is designed for overnight charging.

“How long will that take?” I ask.

“Well it depends. There are different rates. It depends on the voltage as well as the current.”

“There’s a portable charger that comes with the car that will just run off the basic wall outlet. It doesn’t need any specialized circuitry or anything. It’s gonna take a whole night, maybe 9 – 10 hours. It still gets you there.”

“What I’m connected to right now is a dual voltage charger called a Turbocord.”

The cost and technology are changing rapidly. Volts emerged around 2011 and marketed at around 40K. Four years later, they sell for around 33K with better batteries and better technology all around.

 

“I just read today that 80% of 14 year-olds think their first car will be electric.

Jeff, you really are way ahead of the times! Thanks for sharing.

Jeff Baker - Electric car driving Sustainable Superstar