Avion Solutions Solar Ribbon Cutting

Avion Solutions Solar Array

Avion Solutions, a Huntsville-based company that specializes in aviation and engineering within Army Aviation, recently unveiled their new 50 kilowatt solar array. During the Avion Solutions solar ribbon-cutting ceremony, Randy Buckner, the Director of Research and Development was quick to point out that this was not the first step they’ve taken to reduce their energy use. Whether you are seeking energy efficiency in a home or a commercial facility, the first steps are in reducing energy use and making the overall facility more energy-efficient. Only after that is complete do you install something like a solar array.

Under Buckner’s leadership Avion has taken many steps to cut their energy consumption. When Avion was first entered their data in ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager, the company’s facilities only received a score of 2 out of 100! Buckner set his sights on changing that and by making just simple small changes within the building they were able to increase their score to 54.

Buckner said the first step was awareness. Knowing the tools they had available and how to use them properly was the first step. Utilizing the software that came with their HVAC system, Buckner was able to optimize the system, and determine that a few small upgrades would mean big payoff.

Heating and cooling was responsible for 54% of Avion’s energy use. Using the tools they already had available, Buckner discovered that they were cooling already cold air in the winter. The HVAC system was running constantly. Optimizing the system use netted Avion a 41.3% energy savings.

The next step was upgrading the outdoor lighting to LED. This simple retrofit saved Avion another 11.6% on their energy bills.

Avion’s most recent (and largest) energy improvement was the installation of a revenue-generating photovoltaic system. They sell all their energy directly TVA under their Green Power Providers program at a 40% profit margin from the going retail rate (~$0.10/kWh). This agreement will provide Avion with a net profit of over $111,000 over the course of 20 years.

Avion Solutions solar grid tied system

Future Plans

But, they aren’t finished yet! Avion still has more plans to improve their energy efficiency with the goal of ‘Net Zero Energy’! They are partnered with Energy Alabama in our North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge to help other companies int the Huntsville/Madison County area reduce their energy usage too.

Buckner continues to work on awareness among the companies employees, showing them how small changes within their individual offices can net big payoffs. Where employees used to use space heaters to keep their office warm in the winter they are finding that they can now stay warm without it.

Avion already has automated lighting systems throughout the building, but Buckner has found that a small change in how those lights are set up could provide even more savings, while allowing individual employees more control over the level of lighting in their offices.

Avion has also placed an advanced order for a Tesla Power Wall which will use stored power to assist in reducing their overall usage during peak times. They also have plans to install electric car charging stations that will be available to Avion employees, customers, and neighbors.

This is obviously just the beginning for Avion as they lead the charge towards bringing Huntsville businesses to ‘Net Zero Energy’.

Learn more about the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge.

Google’s 100% Renewable Energy Alabama Campus – What it Means

North Alabama welcomes Google with its 14th data center! Yay Alabama! OK, so what does it actually mean?

There are two key takeaways that matter to you:

  1. It is now clear that clean, sustainable energy is extremely important to companies of the “new economy”.
  2. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is re-purposing its shuttered coal-fired power plants to create even more jobs and economic activity than these plants previously provided.

Importance of Google’s Alabama Campus in the New Economy

North Alabama has traditionally been extremely competitive in luring new companies to the area. That said, the game is changing and North Alabama is keeping up. Looking around the country you’ll notice that more and more companies are considering renewable energy and highly energy-efficient buildings as prerequisites for opening up shop. Want some examples?

  1. Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, TN plant is home to the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified auto plant in the world. This plant is also home to a solar array that produces more than 13 gigawatt hours of energy or enough to take 1,200 area homes off the grid. You may remember that this plant came down to a decision between Chattanooga, TN and Huntsville, AL.
  2. Apple’s Claremont, NC data center is powered by 100% sustainable energy. Their acquisition went so well, they kept going with another 100-acre, 17.5 MW plant. Apple recently made a commitment to power 100 percent of their Apple Retail Stores with 100 percent renewable energy.

This means that as you see Alabama continues to compete for the jobs of the 21st century, expect more announcements like Google’s. Companies care about sustainable energy because their customers care about sustainable energy.

Oh and don’t forget, it saves them money too! Google’s newest technology allows them to get 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of energy, compared to just five years ago.

Re-purposing of Coal-Fired Power Plants

After the announcement that the Colbert Fossil Plant was closing, there was much speculation about what would become of the old sites. Additionally, while some employees were able to find work elsewhere in the TVA, many people were literally worrying about what they would do after their jobs were eliminated. Just a short time later, TVA announced that the site of the Colbert Fossil Plant would become home to Alabama’s largest solar power plant.

A recent study by the University of Alabama shows that the new solar-power plant will generate $52 million in additional local taxes and will create over 400 jobs with cumulative earning of over $24 million. Talk about a boom to the local economy! In fact it was so good Lauderdale County Commissioner Fay Parker said, “I have reviewed the study several times, just to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing.”

By itself, this conversion of the Colbert Fossil Plant was simply great news. But with the Google announcement, are we witnessing a clear strategy by TVA?

If so, we applaud them. As the numbers prove, these new sustainable-energy projects will generate more jobs, income, and tax revenues for their local areas than their predecessors did. In Stevenson, AL the announcement called for at least 100 “high paying jobs” which should be considered in contrast to the 90 jobs lost that probably paid less than Google. This doesn’t even consider the increase in tax revenue to the local school systems and Google’s well-known generosity.

Why old coal-fired power plants?

A couple of reasons. First, there is a significant amount of electrical transmission infrastructure already in place that is attractive to an energy-intensive project like a data center. Think about the money Google will save by building there or the money Alabama saved by not having to build out additional infrastructure as a recruiting incentive. Hint: your tax money was spent wisely! Second, coal-fired power plants typically use a lot of water, and data centers like Google’s can tap into that infrastructure, as well, for its own massive water needs.

Governments also care about sustainable energy because it is now a proven way to create more jobs and increase local tax revenues. Additionally, they can use their recruiting incentives in a more targeted way by properly utilizing existing infrastructure.

So what does it matter for you? Wouldn’t you want to work for Google? Take a peek inside of a Google data center and let us know in the comments.

Sustainable Energy Superstars – Rick & Pat Trescott

Sustainable Energy Superstars – Rick and Pat Trescott

Rick and Pat Trescott - Sustainable Energy SuperstarsRecently we had the pleasure of visiting the home of Rick and Pat Trescott. They are a couple of real Sustainable Energy Superstars from the ground up. While many people would write off a 50-year-old home as not worth the effort, Rick and Pat have instead done everything in their power to improve the energy efficiency of their home, and they aren’t ready to stop any time soon.

 

When they first wrote and told me about the improvements they’d made to their home including a 5.7 kW solar array that powers their home and business. I didn’t think beyond the solar. I really didn’t imagine all that it would take to make an older home energy-efficient to the point that solar panels would even make a difference. It takes a lot!

 

Rick and Pat live in the the community of Royal, Alabama. They are one of about seven homes in their community that some type of solar. Of course, most of those homes were built from the ground up to be solar.

 

“We have a 1960’s vintage ranch type house that was poorly insulated, and shaded by a very large Oak tree growing just south of the house. We have done extensive retro-fitting to make it energy-efficient enough to make solar realistically viable. This has been an ongoing project over the past 9 years and is still not complete.”

 

The Trescotts have two main buildings on our property, totaling over 3,800 square feet of conditioned space. The main building is their home and the second is used for their business (a dog grooming parlor, kennel, work shop) and also includes a guest apartment. Because the house has no southern exposure, the solar panels had to installed on the second building. The panels provide electricity to both buildings and the Trescotts sell the extra electricity that is produced back to the grid. While they do have a battery back-up system, the batteries are only used in the case of a power outage (so far they’ve not had to use the batteries at all).

 

Here are just a few of the energy efficiency improvements that the Trescotts have made to their home:

  • Replaced inefficient heat pump with a geothermal ground-source heat pump.
  • Replaced an asphalt shingle roof with ENERGY STAR metal roof, extending the overhang to 4′.
  • Pumped foam insulation into exterior walls.
  • Added insulation to the attic and crawl space.
  • Sealed ductwork.
  • Installed double-cell insulated blinds on almost all the windows.
  • Replaced all appliances with ENERGY STAR appliances.
  • Replaced all light bulbs with LED lights. Their entire kitchen is now very well lit with less than 95 watts.
  • Replaced all windows with high-efficiency double-glazed vinyl windows.
  • Provided outside air supply to the wood-stove that is used as auxiliary heat.
  • Replaced and built new decks using composite decking boards.
  • Installed 5.7 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) solar array, that is grid tied, with battery back-up.

 

blinds
kitchen
 composite decking and 4' overhang

 

Pat reminded us several times that you can’t just go solar. It doesn’t do you any good unless you’ve ensured that your home is energy-efficient to start with.

 

I asked Rick and Pat why it was important for them to make their home more energy-efficient.

“Part of the changes were just much needed upgrades that added to the comfort level of our home.  My wife and I built the area that is used as the Grooming Parlor from scratch, using mostly reclaimed and recycled materials. We are both believers in the concept of “Recycle, Reuse and Repurpose.” I have children & grand-children. I would like to be able to have a more positive impact on their environmental future. Solar power had been an interest of mine since the 70’s, (I’m almost 66 years old.) We felt that we should support the developing technology of alternative energy.”

What does energy efficiency mean to the Trescotts?

“The late industrialist Ray C. Anderson said, “The greenest kilowatt-hour is the one that you don’t use.” I think that pretty much sums it up. Don’t be wasteful.”

The Trescotts credit the success of their project to their friend and neighbor, Mr. Daryl Berquist of Earth Steward Solar Consulting, who did everything from the original site survey to filling out the forms for Alabama Power. He might just be the reason that there is an entire community of solar homes in the middle of Blount County, Alabama. Daryl Berquist can be contacted by phone at (205) 429-3088 or via email at steward@otelco.net

You are our sunshine!

 

 

Energy Saving Tip – Wash in Cold Water

Did you know that making one simple change can save both energy and save you money? A push of a button or a twist of a dial on your washing machine could save you as much as $250 a year. Washing your clothes in cold water instead of hot or warm water takes very little effort but can have a big impact (especially if we all do it). In addition to saving you up to $250/yr, making the change to cold water wash can save you even more in the long-run because cold water doesn’t wear your clothes out as fast or cause them to fade. This means that your clothes last longer and you replace them less often.

Check out this infographic from Huntsville Utilities and remember that Cool is Clean & Clean is Cool!

USDN-Cold-Water-Outreach-Fl

Here are a few other tips you can use to save energy & money when doing your laundry.

  • Choose an ENERGY STAR rated washer and dryer system
  • Make sure you choose settings that use the right amount of water for your load size
  • Clean the lint trap in your dryer after every load
  • Choose a dryer with a dampness sensor. It will stop running when the clothes are dry.
  • Wash and dry full loads of laundry rather than partial loads.
  • Wash and dry towels and heavier items separately.
  • Have your dryer vent inspected and cleaned regularly.
  • Air-dry your clothes on a line or rack to save energy and prolong the life of your clothes.
  • Use the nozzle on your vacuum to clean any lint that collects just below the lint filter.
  • Use the right detergent for your machine. If you have a high efficiency machine use He detergent. If not, choose detergents that are made for cold water wash.
  • Use ECO wash detergents and get more for your money. One small bottle of ECO detergent will last longer than a larger bottle of regular detergent.

Do you normally wash in cold water? If so, leave a comment below to tell us why you feel it’s important?

If you liked this post you should check out 10 Ways to Increase Energy Efficiency in Your Home

What is ENERGY STAR anyway?

What the heck is ENERGY STAR anyway?

You know you are supposed to buy ENERGY STAR appliances, and somehow they are supposed to help cut your electric bill, right? But, why and how? Why does it really matter if you buy ENERGY STAR products?

I admit it, I’ve wondered about all of these questions, but no more!

What is ENERGY STAR?

The ENERGY STAR program was developed by the US government (and the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA) in 1992 as a voluntary measure to allow businesses and industries to find ways to reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency without the government stepping in and creating laws requiring it.

This has resulted in appliance companies, car companies, home builders, and more stepping in to create and promote more energy efficient products. This has not only improved energy efficiency but has saved consumers an estimated $295+ billion on their utility bills.

Additionally, many ENERGY STAR improvements come with a tax credit of up to 30% of the purchase price (as of 2015).

But, what does it mean to be ENERGY STAR rated?

Both products and buildings can be ENERGY STAR rated but the overall idea is the same. To be ENERGY STAR rated, a product or a building must have energy performance among the top 25% of all products or buildings of its type.

  • For products to be ENERGY STAR they must be certified by an independent third-party to provide increased energy efficiency. If the product costs more than a similar non-ENERGY STAR product the purchase must be able to recoup their investment through utility savings.
  • For new homes to be given the ENERGY STAR rating they must go through a similar third-party verification process. Homes can be given the ENERGY STAR rating based on a set list of improvements, or through custom improvements and must meet the requirements of four checklists. These checklists seek to make sure that the building practices and improvements used promote improved comfort, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and durability of the home.
  • Commercial buildings must receive a score of 75 or higher on the Portfolio Manager and be verified by a licensed professional before applying for ENERGY STAR approval. The Portfolio Manager is an energy-tracking tool that can be used to measure the energy and water use of any building. Industrial plants must meet the same requirements, but then must be certified by a professional engineer.

So now you know. They can’t just say they are ENERGY STAR and throw a label on the appliance or building, they have to prove it and be certified by a third party. Now that you know what ENERGY STAR is and how the rating is achieved you can feel more confident that your purchase is actually providing an advantage that is more than just a tax credit.

ENERGY STAR requirements change from year to year as new technology is created. They are continuing to improve, so much so that ENERGY STAR homes built in 2012 were 15% more energy efficient than ENERGY STAR homes built in 2009. If we can keep this trend up in Alabama we’ll hit Net Zero Energy in Huntsville by 2025 for sure!

By choosing ENERGY STAR compliant appliances and building techniques you can cut your energy consumption, and create a more energy-efficient environment while cutting your utility bills. That sounds good to me!

You can learn more about the ENERGY STAR Program at EnergyStar.gov