Sustainable Energy Superstar: Bronwen Murray

Meet Bronwen Murray: Journalist, Marketing Maven, and Sunshine Grabber. Bronwen lives in a solar-powered home.

SunsetHOME FACTS

  • FACT: Solar energy provides 100% electrical power
  • FACT: Solar system completed July 2015
  • FACT: System consists of 18 solar panels
  • FACT: 16 storage batteries
  • FACT: Average total installation costs: 20K
  • FACT: Home age: 100+ years
  • FACT: Square footage: 1200 square feet

 

I met Bronwen outside her family home, as the sun sank into the fields, creating a peachy glow from the front porch steps.

Bronwen is inspired by her 83-year-old Grandmother and beloved mentor to live sustainably. Her dedication is evidenced by the 18 solar panels on the roof of the small bungalow where she resides.

 

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“This is an over 100-year-old house. It belonged to my great grandmother. This is also the Humphrey farm which has been in my family for about seven generations.”

When the family discussed adding solar power, Bronwen resolved to maintain the integrity of the original home, with its rustic character and small footprint. At just 1200 square feet and one bedroom, it is the perfect size for a single woman.

“I like the idea of making something of what you already have.”

tankless water heater

One feature Bronwen added was an on-demand water heater. As faucets pull water into the house, the system very quickly heats it to the 140 degree range. It is powered by propane (think ubiquitous silver bullet-shaped tank hugging the ground).

 

As the panels draw solar into the home, the sunshine is converted into DC (direct current) electricity through a method called photovoltaics (PV).  An inverter changes the DC power into AC (alternating current).

 

And off it goes, into a box that Bronwen calls the “heart” of the system. That system ferries current where needed. Any unused energy is stored in big battery packs. During overcast, rainy time periods, the “brain” pulls power from the batteries. If necessary, the system can toggle over to Bronwen’s public electrical source.

“The ‘Midnight Classic’ system is really kind of like the brains of what makes this guy work.”

BronwenBrain (1)

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But that’s not all.  Inside her home, Bronwen uses energy-efficient appliances. She even purchased an energy efficient washer/dryer combination. But there was a downside: it took almost five hours to do one load of laundry. I’m not kidding.

Sometimes, convenience trumps sustainability.

“So I had to get rid of it and then this one didn’t fit in the space. So, it’s going back. Hopefully, something else is coming that will let me do laundry,” says Brownwen.

With the light from that magical orb long disappeared from the sky, we moved conversation indoors where we talked for several hours gathered around a very different kind of light.

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What is Bioenergy?

What is Bioenergy?

Bioenergy is energy that comes from renewable biological sources. These sources can be any form of organic matter that stores sunlight as chemical energy. Typical sources include manure, wood pulp, and sugarcane. Although, many more sources are available and currently being researched.

The oldest form of biofuel is wood, typically used for heat. Biofuel is just another name for bioenergy. The sources of biofuel (manure, wood pulp, etc) are called biomass, while the actual biofuel (or bioenergy) is the energy that is extracted from the biomass.

The great thing about bioenergy is that the biomass is typically a by-product of some other agricultural activity. While some crops (including corn, soybeans, and sugarcane) are being grown specifically for biofuel, in many cases are simply using byproducts and waste that would not otherwise be used. Rather than throwing wood pulp or manure on the ground to decompose, we are using that wood pulp to make fuel. The great thing about this is that there is little to no competition between the biofuel sources and needed food sources.

The methane gas that is produced by rotting garbage, human waste, excess crops, and even leftover vegetable oil can be converted to useable biofuel in the forms of ethanol and biodiesel. Not only can we produce fuel for vehicles but in some countries biogas has become a primary source of electricity.

In the US, the DOE is currently researching algae as a great source of bioenergy and biofuel. Oil extracted from algae is processed and converted to fuels that we could use to operate vehicles. Algae takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, which is good for the environment and can eventually reduce our reliance on non-renewable oil sources.

Biomass generates the same amount of energy as non-renewable sources, but because it is renewable it is easily replaced. Biomass creates net zero emissions as long as new plants are being grown to replace those that are being used.

But what about the price?

The DOE has been working to not only find new sources of biomass, but to reduce the cost of biofuels. The DOE reports that once biomass production reaches commercial levels the price will be equivalent to gasoline.

Are you Familiar with RideShare?

Everyone knows about carpooling, that’s been around for years, but what is RideShare?

RideShare is a unique program offered by Enterprise that allows you to reduce not only the cost of carpooling, but reduces the wear and tear on your vehicle.

The program is simple, you get a group of at least seven people who need to get from Point A to Point B. One person coordinates and signs up for RideShare, then Enterprise provides a vehicle to match the size of your group. They offer vehicles that carry anywhere from 7 to 15 passengers. The price is based on the miles traveled and the vehicle rented, and can be split among all the passengers. And, don’t worry the coordinator doesn’t have to do all the driving – everyone can still take turns! Insurance is also provided as part of the rental fee.

I know you are thinking “but won’t this be more expensive than just a regular car pool? No. Not really, when you split the cost over more people, reduce the wear and tear, and miles used on your own vehicles, you will likely be saving money!

This is basically a long-term rental so you keep the vehicle as long as you are participating in the program, or you can pass it around the group to whomever is driving that week.

So, why is Energy Alabama talking about this anyway?

It’s simple really. When people share the ride, fewer vehicles are on the road. That means you are using less energy and less gas, and it means that you are saving money. It’s all about sustainable energy baby!

Ready to RideShare?

Let’s do it! Whether you are a company looking to set up a RideShare program, or an individual ready to make a change in your morning commute, all you have to do put your group together, and visit vanpool.com or contact Rideshare Rep, Kelli Davis at 205-824-8557 • Kelli.Davis@ehi.com

She’ll help you select a vehicle and turn your morning commute from a boring solo run to a fun community activity that gives you some cred in the sustainable energy community.

2015 International Young Energy Professional of the Year

Local Nonprofit Leader Wins 2015 International Young Energy Professional of the Year

Huntsville, AL – Through its International Awards Program, the Association of Energy Engineers, a nonprofit professional association of over 17,000 members, recognizes the important work being done in energy by individuals, organizations, agencies, and corporations. Energy Alabama CEO, Daniel Tait, is the winner of the 2015 International Young Energy Professional of the Year. The award will be presented September 30th at the 38th World Energy Engineering Congress in Orlando, Florida.

“The Association of Energy Engineers Huntsville Chapter gave me a scholarship more than 4 years ago that launched my career in energy,” says Daniel Tait. “To be recognized in this way from such a great group is truly humbling.”

Mr. Tait’s award is in part for his effort to transition Huntsville and Alabama to sustainable energy, serving as part of the leadership for the Association of Energy Engineers Huntsville Chapter, and volunteering with the Energy Huntsville Initiative since its inception.

About Energy Alabama

Energy Alabama is accelerating the transition to sustainable, clean energy throughout Alabama. We do this by widely promoting sustainable energy as a feasible, state-wide goal by executing high-impact clean energy projects across the state, and by providing people with information and opportunities to help make clean energy choices. We work with policy makers, public agencies, local governments, educational institutions, utilities, business and civic leaders, and individuals to transform Alabama’s energy marketplace and beyond.

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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Daniel Tait by phone at (256) 303-7773 or by email at dtait@alcse.org.

TVA’s Integrated Resource Plan – What it Means

Recently the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors approved an updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). That sounds great! But what does it really mean?

What is an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP)?

Most simply, an IRP is a common planning tool in the electricity sector. This planning tool helps utilities look into the future to weigh a variety of different possible scenarios and strategies. Utilities do this in order to determine pathways in which they can meet their goal of providing electricity to their customers. Scenarios are things that are outside of the utility’s control like general economic conditions such as a recession. Strategies are inside the utility’s control and provide ways the utility can meet its goals given external scenarios.

Goals will vary from utility to utility but most have a few in common. They are:

  • Providing electricity to its customers at the lowest cost possible
  • Maintaining or improving reliability of the electric system

Some utilities also have environmental goals such as an emissions target.

Why have an IRP?

The world changes, and it changes fast. In TVA’s case, they produced the most recent IRP sooner than they originally anticipated. They did this because the world, or the external scenarios, changed significantly since the last time the IRP was completed.

We’ve all seen what these are in our every day lives. Solar and wind prices are dropping at an extremely fast pace. The advent of fracking is driving down the cost of natural gas. Policy changes at state and federal levels have also changed with the Clean Power Plan and others. The factors significantly change how utilities can meet their goals, many of which they may not have foreseen.

What does TVA’s new Integrated Resource Plan say?

Good question! There isn’t a true single answer for this question. The reason is, by the nature of the document, it says a whole lot of things are possible. For instance, if the United States goes into a recession TVA must make significantly different choices than if we experience sustained economic growth.

However there ARE some generalizations that can be drawn from the document. By looking across all the scenarios and strategies you can see some patterns emerge. These are:

  1. Increased use of natural gas
  2. Decreased use of coal
  3. Use of energy efficiency as a generation resource
    1. Note: There are two ways to meet electricity demand. Traditionally we build power plants to supply whatever people need. However, saving electricity acts just like building a power plant. Studies have shown that energy efficiency is the cheapest source of electricity.
  4. Increased use of solar
  5. Increased use of wind
  6. No additional “base load” power needed
  7. Increased diversity of electricity sources

The scenario and the strategy determines exactly how much of the above you might expect to see. However these generalizations hold true.

Of course the devil is in the details as they say. For instance the use of solar varies widely from scenario to scenario.

The IRP was approved. What happens next?

You ask really good questions! Now that the IRP is approved by the Board of Directors it serves as the official plan of TVA to chart its electricity future to 2033. However the IRP is just a plan. It isn’t a document that says anyone has to do anything. After all the world changes fast. TVA itself has recommended an update to this plan in no later than 5 years from now.

Think of the IRP as merely a guide to help frame electricity decisions as time goes on. Things will change but the collective decisions made by TVA and its board should reflect the overall direction of this document.

Lastly, we must note two things. First, TVA should be commended for an extremely open public engagement process when they were preparing the IRP. They listened to regular folks, businesses, environmental groups, industry groups, local power companies and more. Second, you too can take part in this process to make your voice heard. Next time around, make sure you are engaged throughout the process to help TVA be the TVA you wish to see!