An Alabamian’s Guide To Sustainable Energy
Hey there! Thanks for signing up for Energy Alabama’s email list. For being such a great person, we’re giving you exclusive free access to this handy little guide we put together about sustainable energy in Alabama. If you’ve ever had any questions about sustainable energy, or about how to get involved, you’re in the right place.
So without further delay, let’s get started!
Understanding Sustainable Energy
If you’re interested in sustainable energy—and since you’re here, there’s a decent chance that you are—then it’s probably a good idea to start from the top. Whether you’re building a sustainable energy project, gathering information about sustainability for your employer, or just looking around because you’re interested in the topic, the first thing you need to know is what exactly we’re all talking about.
So, what is sustainable energy? Right this way, please…
What is Sustainable Energy?
Sustainable energy is energy that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations. Sustainable energy is about finding clean, renewable sources of energy—sources that sustain themselves, rather than sources that can be depleted.
The sources of energy most commonly used, like coal and natural gas, may meet our needs now, but at the rate we’re using them, we’ll burn through them and leave none behind for our children. Our children will then have to find new ways of generating energy—which is what we could have been doing right now, in the present.
Many forms of energy are considered sustainable, including wind, solar, water, bioenergy, and geothermal energy. There will always be sunlight, wind, and rain, and that means they’re sustainable. It also means that they’re the best sources of energy we could possibly find.
In addition to being naturally replenished, sustainable energy causes no harm to the environment. Sustainable energy sources emit no greenhouse gases or other pollutants.
What’s the Purpose of Sustainable Energy?
The sustainable energy industry aims to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels toward the use of a clean, infinite energy supply that has a more positive impact on the environment.
Here are some benefits of sustainable energy:
- A Cleaner Environment: Less pollution = cleaner air and oceans, healthier plants and animals, and happier people. Enough said.
- Energy for the Future: Eliminating our reliance on non-renewable sources of energy means our children and their children may never need to worry about running out of options.
- More Jobs. Better Economy: Sustainable energy is a community business. Instead of relying on costly imported fossil fuels, sustainable energy only requires facility maintenance and engineering. More local jobs will help boost the economy from the ground up.
- Security: Bringing energy back home reduces America’s dependence on other countries for its energy needs.
What’s the Difference between Alternative, Renewable, Clean, and Sustainable Energy?
Sure, it might seem like we’re splitting hairs, but there really is a difference between renewable and sustainable energy. For that matter, there are differences between all of these terms. Let’s take them one by one.
- Alternative: This is energy that’s derived from nontraditional sources—usually any energy source that’s an alternative to fossil fuels. Alternative energy sources include landfill gas, liquid natural gas for cars, geothermal, biofuel, solar, and hydrogen.
- Renewable: This refers to energy that comes from resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale. In other words, after each use, the resource can be remade or reconstituted to be used again at exactly the same usage standards. Examples of renewable energy include wind, solar, geothermal, biofuel, and hydro.
- Clean: This is energy that produces no airborne emissions, which is the opposite of fossil fuels. The process of burning the fossil fuels to make our electricity produces greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane. Clean energy, which can come from sources like wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and nuclear, doesn’t produce greenhouse gases.
- Sustainable: This refers to energy derived from sources that cannot be Sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro, will always be around. They’ll never be depleted, and that means they’re fully sustainable—both for today and tomorrow.
Got it? Great, but remember that these terms can apply in different ways. An alternative source of energy is not necessarily renewable, sustainable, or clean. In other words, an alternative energy source should not be called alternative only because it is renewable or sustainable.
What is Net Zero Energy?
Net zero energy means that the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable energy sources is equal or equivalent to the amount of energy used. This concept can be applied to neighborhoods, states, and the United States as a whole.
If a building is net zero, it means that the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is equal to or less than the amount of sustainable energy created on-site. A net zero building is typically still connected to the grid and can sell excess power, as well as buy additional power during times of high-energy demand. However, over the course of an entire year, this building will be net zero because it cleanly produces as much energy as it consumes.
Once we understand how net zero energy works at the level of a single building, we can expand the concept to our entire community and to the State of Alabama. Therefore, if a community or state reaches net zero energy, the community as a whole creates more energy through sustainable sources than it uses. When that happens, the community can create income by selling any excess energy to its neighbors.
Now that you know the basics of sustainable energy, it’s time to take the next step. Sure, knowledge is a powerful tool, but without taking action, your knowledge will only get you so far. With that in mind, let’s look at a few things you can do to make a positive difference in your community.
What is Energy Efficiency?
The first step you can take toward a more sustainable future is practicing energy efficiency at home. Energy efficiency is all about using energy optimally. So if you’re energy efficient at home, it means you’re wasting as little energy as possible. You don’t have air leaking out of windows and you don’t have cold air seeping into the house through wall sockets or unsealed duct work. When your home is energy efficient, you aren’t wasting money on your electric bill. You’re using exactly what you need and no more.
And that’s something everybody can get excited about.
So, how can you increase your home’s energy efficiency? We’re glad you asked…
How Can I Increase Energy Efficiency in My Home?
Energy efficiency is a pretty simple concept. Basically, all it means is that you’re using your energy effectively—and not wasting it. If you’re looking to increase your energy efficiency at home, there are tons of small things you can do.
- Seal your ductwork. Buy a tub of duct sealant (mastic) and make sure that your ductwork is sealed, including the ducts under your home and the vents inside.
- Seal your home. Just like your ductwork, your home is likely leaking massive amounts of heated or cooled air that you paid good money for. Make sure to seal all cracks and penetrations.
- Check your faucets for leaks. A leak left unfixed can cost you big time on your water bill. Too often we don’t even realize there’s a leak until it’s too late, and often months have passed with increased water and/or electric bills.
- Insulate your water heater and pipes. If you’re like lots of people, your water heater is in your uninsulated garage. But don’t worry—you don’t have to insulate your entire garage to insulate your water heater. You can purchase a water heater jacket for a minimal price and install it yourself. This helps keep the water in your tank warm for longer periods!
- Install a programmable thermostat. Whether you go with a basic unit or one of the fancy new thermostats that program themselves based on your actions, a programmable thermostat will not only save you money but will keep your home much more comfortable.
- Wash your laundry in cold water. Your clothes will be just as clean, but you’ll save a ton of energy because you won’t be heating the water.
- Swap out light bulbs. If you take a look around your house, you’ll probably find that you still have some old incandescent bulbs. Swap out those old energy-stealing bulbs for new LED and CFL bulbs. Those will use as little as one-tenth of the energy of the old bulbs and put out as just as much (or more) light.
- Replace appliances before they die. Chances are your appliances are 10 years old—or even older. If you’re still using old non-ENERGY STAR appliances, consider replacing them with units that are more efficient. Yes, do it before they die. You’ll not only save energy (and money) in the long term, but you’ll save yourself from the short-term headache of having to rush out and replace a dead unit.
- Clean and replace filters. Check your air filters and replace them regularly.
- Check the humidity. If you struggle with keeping your home cool enough in the warmer months, you may want to check your humidity levels. A $10 humidistat will give you a readout of the humidity inside your home. If it’s too high, you’ll want to purchase and install a dehumidifier. Doing this will reduce your cooling bills and make your home much more comfortable.
- Caulk leaky windows. Use rope caulk to seal those leaky windows. You’ll be glad you did, once you see the savings on your energy bill. Did you know you’re losing loads of energy to leaky windows even if they’re new? Those little cracks can equate to having a window (or even two) wide open.
These are just a few of the many easy things you can do around your house to save energy and money. Some of these steps may sound really simple, but you might be surprised by how much of a difference they’ll actually make.
How Do I Go Solar?
Ever thought about going solar at your home or business? It really isn’t that hard, and the economics are better than they’ve ever been. Even though your contractor will probably be the one completing some of the following steps, it’s always good to know what should be happening!
- Determine property feasibility and your personal objectives
- Confirm utility participation in Green Power Providers
- Ask for project analysis from Energy Alabama
- Determine how to pay for your system
- Work with TVA and your local power company to get approval for your system
- Buy and install your solar power system
- Get money!
If you need any assistance at any point in the process, remember that Energy Alabama is here to help. Visit us online at https://alcse.org for inspiration, guidance, and pointers.
Is Going Solar Really Worth It?
Absolutely! After the initial installation fees, solar power is virtually free and 100% renewable!
Without any financial assistance, it takes about 20 years to see the financial return on a residential solar electric system investment. However, there are tax incentives, loan programs, and grants that can help offset the cost of the initial investment, assist with maintenance expenses, and accelerate your return on investment. With incentives, the payback on a solar photovoltaic (PV) system can drop to about 10 years for homes in North Alabama, and seven years for businesses. Currently, the federal government offers a 30% income tax credit for the purchase and installation of solar.
But you never know how long those incentives will be around. That’s why there’s no better time to start your solar project than today.
Does Solar Really Work in Alabama?
The amount of viable sunlight an area receives is called insolation. The value of an area’s insolation is measured in kilowatt-hours per square meter. In other words, insolation is the amount of energy produced by the sun striking one square meter of a surface. Several factors affect an area’s insolation value, including humidity, cloud cover, weather, and smog.
Alabama, despite humidity and rainfall, has a healthy insolation value of about 5.0 kWh/m2. (For comparison, Las Vegas has a 6.6 and Miami has a 5.26.)
The bottom line: Solar really does work in Alabama. Because science.
How Can I Help My Community?
So, you’re ready to get involved. Congrats—you’re a sustainability hero! But where do you start? Here are a few ideas.
- Stay up to date on the latest sustainable energy news:
- Volunteer on local projects
- Attend sustainable energy events
- Subscribe for alerts to take action on community issues
- Vote with energy in mind
Energy Alabama believes in a future where Alabama is 100% powered by sustainable energy. For everyone. Energy Alabama focuses its work in three specific areas to move our state forward.
- Education: Changing the way our community interacts with energy
- Advocacy: Advancing policy supportive of sustainable energy
- Technical Assistance: Providing direct support to identify and complete high-impact projects
Of course, we can’t do any of that without help. And that’s where you fit in. Starting a movement requires all kinds of work, as well as massive investments in time and money. We’re confident we can accelerate the transition to sustainable energy in Alabama, but we know we’ll have to work hard together to make it happen. If you’re ready to get involved and take the next step toward a more sustainable future, visit us online at https://alcse.org.