UAH launches Student Chapter of Association of Energy Engineers (AEE)

Article by Ivy Elrod

Back in July ALCSE, along with the student chapter of Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), modified a UAH campus golf cart to make it solar-powered! This was a fun afternoon that helped raise awareness of sustainable energy, and promote the new student chapter of AEE. This was the official kick-off event for this new student chapter and they hope that it will be the first of many events to come.

The Solar Golf Carts

Students submitted a proposal with UAH’s Green Fund to install solar panels on golf carts at the university. In order to receive funding from the Green Fund, the project must meet one of two requirements, it must educate the UAH community about sustainability or make the campus more environmentally friendly. The AEE student chapter, working with ALCSE, was able to accomplish both.

This installation promotes awareness of the feasibility of solar power to offset grid energy consumption, and our solar-powered golf cart is sustainable and renewable. It’s low maintenance, quiet, and produces zero emissions, making it a very environmentally friendly option!

Following the kick-off event AEE held a Week of Welcome event, and joined ALCSE and Foundations for Tomorrow for the Tiny Home Build at Sci-Quest.

What is AEE?

AEE is the Association of Energy Engineers. However, it is not limited to just engineers! We are looking for all students interested in any energy fields, regardless of major, to join. AEE has professionals in energy engineering, energy management, renewables, energy services, sustainability, and many other fields.

How you can get involved?

You can find AEE on Facebook at www.facebook.com/uahAEE or contact Ivy Elrod (im0008@uah.edu) for more information. The student chapter is currently looking for teams for the Switchblade Competition. This competition encourages students to create their own version of wind turbine blades that generate the most power at lower-level wind speeds, similar to those found in Alabama.

Upcoming events

In addition to the Switchblade competition, throughout the year, AEE will have local businesses, entrepreneurs, and professors speak to students about the work they are doing in our community. AEE will also host other events aimed to promote awareness, garner support, and encourage others to consider careers in the energy sector. If you are a UAH student the student chapter of AEE would love to have you join them!

The American Wind Powered Car

Robert Yost of American Wind was one of the guest speakers at the Sustainable Energy themed Sip & Hatch back in June. Even in just the five minutes he had to describe what his technology does you could “get it”, but what’s not to get?!

 

Granted I’m not a physics major or an engineer, so I’m sure I don’t get it all, but I could still understand the basic premise.

 

Back in 2011 when North Alabama was ravaged by tornadoes and we all spent upwards of a week without power, Yost’s wife sat watching the blades on a fan turn from nothing more than the power of the breeze. “Why can’t we harness that power?” she asked her engineer husband, and his response was greater than she ever expected. He set out to make it happen.

 

The wind turbine that Yost has designed is a fraction of the size of the smallest wind turbines currently on the market, yet it creates more energy. Because of the reduced size it can be used in many more functions and it is safer than a standard wind turbine, with no risk to birds. The reduced size alone creates a number of new opportunities for travel, camping, and military use.

 

The wind turbine that Yost has designed doesn’t look much like the typical windmills or wind turbines. In fact, it looks much more like a jet engine turbine, and that’s because that’s what the design is patterned after. Working similar to an airplane wing or jet turbine, the wind on the backside of the turbine is moving at a much faster speed than the wind on the front side. This pushes the turbine to spin at a faster rate and keeps it spinning.
Some of the current opportunities that Yost is exploring include:

Using the wind to power a car – Yost has plans to use four of his small turbines on top of his hybrid car, increasing the power to the battery and decreasing the time between needed gas refueling or electric charges. Later in the fall he expects to begin a cross-country tour with his car, but before then he may break the World Record for the longest drive without needing to stop for fuel or recharge.

 

Don’t be misled, the car will still be a hybrid. It isn’t a perpetual motion machine. But the MPGs on this hybrid will exceed anything seen on a current gas/electric hybrid, creating a car that will rarely need refueling. Yost says that for the car to be completely wind-powered batteries would need to become super-efficient in comparison to those that currently exist. Wind can’t cover 100% of power needs of a car, especially when the car is sitting in traffic and not moving. Therefore, a hybrid is necessary.

 

American Wind - Wind-powered car
Wind-powered energy for travel needs – Yost has created a stand-alone version of his wind turbine that can be used for travel needs such as camping and hiking. This turbine can be put on a stand or hung from a tree where it will spin in the wind collecting energy to power small appliances while hiking and camping. This version may also have applications for military and other uses. Eventually, a number of these turbines could even be used to power an entire building.

 

Wind turbines for the military – Speaking of military use. The military currently sends out wind turbine kits to their people in the field along with lightweight foldable solar panels. The problem is that the current wind turbines are very large often creating a target for the opposing military to aim at. The turbines from American Wind are a fraction of the size and could replace the existing wind turbines providing power and increased safety for our military.

 

Wind to offset HVAC power – Yost is in talks with HVAC manufacturers to add his small turbines to the top of HVAC units. These turbines would work off the output from the HVAC unit itself (that air that is blown out of the top and sides of the units) creating power to offset the high cost of heating and cooling a home.

 

The potential uses for micro-wind turbines are endless, from wind turbine fields, to offsetting power, to combined uses with other energy sources for homes, hotels, and vehicles, as well as camping and military. Yost has already received one patent for his creation and is waiting on a second one. I imagine that will not be the last one he receives, just as I’m sure that the applications he’s already considered will not be the end of the many uses for his design.

 

Robert Yost reminds us that wind is not the end-all power source. He says that wind and sun, and wind and other power sources work in unison. We have the greatest efficiency when we combine multiple sources. In the case of a car it may be wind and gas, in the case of homes it may be wind and sun.

 

Of course there are detractors, there are those who say “but won’t it create a wind wall?” or “How can a wind turbine push a car against the wind faster than the wind is blowing?” To those Robert points out that it’s already been proven. You can read about it here. He points out that it’s about more than just one simple physics equation, it is multiple equations and it’s about approaching one thing from multiple angles.

 

Can American Wind break physics
In his lab I saw where Yost and his staff are testing whether they can “break physics.” They currently have a small USB fan propelling one their turbines. Within the next few weeks they plan to plug the USB fan directly into the turbine to see if they can power the fan with power from the turbine that the fan is creating power for. Wrap your head around that! They are skeptical that it will work, but looking forward to find out. I don’t know about you but I’m excited to see if it works! Will this be the next big thing? I don’t know but it sure is interesting to watch!

Educating Teachers about Sustainable Energy

One of the key focus areas of Energy Alabama is education. In order to reach our goal of “net zero energy”, our first step must be in educating people about what sustainable energy is and how it can be used to help us reach “net zero” in Huntsville. This means education both for adults and for our children. However, in order to educate children, we have to start with educating teachers about sustainable energy.

presenting at the North Alabama Technology Conference

Last month Energy Alabama had the opportunity to attend the North Alabama Technology Conference (NATC). This is a conference that provides teachers with the opportunity to learn about new technology and how they can incorporate technology into the classroom. NATC was a great opportunity for Energy Alabama to unveil our new lesson plans for teachers.

Energy Alabama recently opened the new education section on our website, providing lesson plans that teachers can use to teach their students about the power of sustainable energy. We offer lesson plans for students as young as kindergarten, and solar STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) kits that can be purchased for the classroom allowing middle and high school students to take energy concepts to the next level. We even host an annual STEM competition called the Switch Blade Competition that challenges high school and college students to redesign and manufacture the blades of a military wind power system, originally designed for the high-speed winds of Afghanistan, so that they work with the low winds of Alabama.

The solar STEM kits allow for real-world investigation of sustainable energy concepts. They can be integrated with provided lesson plans for specific activities like:

  • Tracking the movement of the sun
  • The effect of shading and shadows
  • Projecting energy production based on season
  • Comparing modeled energy production to actual

Of course, many teachers and students will work together to create their own uses for the solar STEM kits, creating an endless number of learning opportunities.

We spoke with many teachers at the conference who were surprised and quite happy to find that there was an option for them. They expressed that many students have asked for these types of learning opportunities but they did not previously have access to them within their budget. Students want to learn but we have to give them what they need so that they can learn the concepts that are vital for future success.

Our lesson plans are free, but unfortunately the supplies needed are not. That’s where you can help out!

Donations to Energy Alabama can be designated for specific uses. A donation as little as $10 will allow us to bring a solar STEM kit into a classroom and assist that teacher in providing sustainable energy education. If you’d like to donate a complete kit to a school or classroom, your donation of $3500 would ensure that your school has what they need to offer sustainable energy education to students for years to come.

Help us improve our educational efforts by getting these solar STEM kits and sustainable energy into our schools. Of course, this is only one of our many efforts to bring sustainable energy education to students and adults alike. We are also available to present educational talks to your students in the classroom, at camps, or even at your church. If you would like to schedule one of our speakers please click here.

If you are a teacher, click here to sign up for our free sustainable energy lesson plans. If you’d like to donate to help us bring sustainable energy education to our schools please click here.

Living off the grid with Alden and Mari

Sustainable Energy Superstars – Off the Grid with Alden and Mari

We had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Alden and Mari back in June. Upon our arrival at the Trescotts, they let us know that if we had time they could also take us out to see a fully off-the-grid home owned by their good friends Alden and Mari.

Of course, we weren’t going to pass up that opportunity and we were so glad that we didn’t.

Alden and Mari live in a beautifully secluded area near Blountville AL, and like the Trescotts they offer their home as part of the annual Solar Home Tour each October. If you’d like to see what solar living is all about, we’d definitely suggest that you check this tour out.

Living off the grid with Alden and Mari

Alden and Mari's Off the Grid home - Alden and Mari’s home is not only 100% off the grid, but it’s also simply beautiful inside and out. They built the home out of straw-bale construction, with stucco walls and used trees that they cut from the land where they built their home. In addition to being solar-powered, they also collect and filter rain water for all of their water needs.

You might wonder “is it safe to drink?” The answer is quite simply, of course it is! In fact, it’s possible that their water is better filtered than the water you buy in the store.

Alden and Mari’ chose to live off the grid because of their desire to live a completely sustainable lifestyle. However, that their home is almost a half mile from the nearest road certainly helped their decision. In the end it was cheaper to be off-the-grid than to pay to have lines run.

This passive-solar home was built in 1996/97. Alden and Mari designed and constructed their home (from the roof/ceilings to the walls, windows, and floors) to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter, and to reject that same solar heat in the summer. When we walked into the home on an extremely warm June day, it felt more comfortable than my home.

In addition to the straw bale construction covered with stucco, the home also features:

  • South-facing super-insulated windows for solar gain and light
  • A large sunroom
  • A wood stove that heats the entire home
  • A solar-powered 1-ton air conditioner – they installed this later to reduce humidity.
  • ENERGY STAR rated appliances and LED lights
  • Vermicomposting and thermal composting
  • Rainwater collection for home, garden, and orchard use
  • Gravity-fed pond for drip irrigation
  • Well-water backup (just in case we have a year-long dry spell)

 

chickensThe home is 100% solar-powered. There is no backup generator. Power is stored during the day for use at night. Their water is heated using excess electricity.

If you haven’t guess yet, Alden is an engineer; he built his system and even built an extremely high-efficiency refrigerator and freezer inside an insulated cold room. In addition to how beautiful their home is inside, the outside views were amazing. The home is surrounded by their organic gardens and orchard, and sits on a hill providing an amazing view for miles. They share their home with a variety of pets and food-producers (a dog, chickens, ducks, and geese).

If you have the opportunity in October to attend the Solar Home Tour, you won’t be disappointed to experience this home or to meet Alden and Mari.

Birmingham Alabama Skyline

SB220 Passed! – What it Means

Alabama Senate Bill 220 passed the House and Senate on June 4th, 2015 and became law when Gov. Robert Bentley signed it on June 12th, 2015. Sounds great! Right??? Here’s what it means.

What is SB220?

Quite simply SB220 allows any improvement district (think downtown redevelopment authority) and municipalities (think counties and cities) to create a property assessed clean energy (PACE) program. SB220 primarily focuses on upgrades to existing real property (non-residential) to improve its resilience to storm-related events such as high winds and flooding. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are included in this definition.

What is PACE?

PACE is a simple and effective way to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to buildings that are repaid through a small increase in property taxes. PACE can pay for new heating and cooling systems, lighting improvements, solar panels, water pumps, insulation, and many other efficiency and resiliency improvements for almost any property – homes, commercial, industrial, non-profit, and agricultural.

Why is PACE a good thing?

PACE is effective because the money for an improvement project is typically borrowed from a governmental authority and comes with a low interest rate and a long payback period. These two things taken in concert allow many more projects to become good economic deals.

Think about this hypothetical example. You run a small local restaurant and your heating and cooling system dies. Even your cheapest quotes come in at over $6,000 and those units aren’t even energy-efficient! That’s a ton of money and you may not have the cash to pay for it. In a normal world you’d go to your bank to get a loan or put it on your company credit card.

Without PACE – Bank Loan

  • $6,000 loan
  • 5 year repayment period
  • 6% interest
  • = $116.00 monthly payment

Without PACE – Credit Card

  • $6,000 loan
  • 5 year repayment period
  • 17% interest
  • =$149.00 monthly payment

With PACE

  • $7,500 loan
  • 15 year repayment period
  • 3% interest
  • =$51.79 monthly payment

Under this example you’d be able to buy the much more efficient heating and cooling unit for at least half the monthly payment! You might be able to even add air sealing, insulation, solar or other upgrades and still have a cheaper monthly payment. We’d guess that you think PACE is a good idea!

Keep in mind that SB220 only authorizes this type of program for commercial buildings; but, hopefully future legislation will bring this option to residential property owners as well. The more Alabama businesses that complete upgrades through a PACE program, the more money they can reinvest in their business further stimulating the local economy. Also, these business are likely to experience less down-time or disruption should a natural disaster hit.

When will PACE come to Alabama?

Well…. that’s a good question. SB220 is only what is considered ‘enabling legislation’. It doesn’t actually create a PACE program but simply allows local governments and improvement districts to do so. Now we wait for the first municipality in Alabama to jump on it AND a state agency to be given oversight authority. Since the legislation was born out of South Alabama and originally intended for natural disaster resiliency, we’d put our bet on a city like Mobile. Of course we could be wrong! If you would like us to work with your city to implement PACE, let us know!