Tinsel Trail is Among the Brightest, Longest Christmas Displays in the Southeast

Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama, sponsored a tree for the first time this year because the Tinsel Trail draws large crowds.

“Who doesn’t love Christmas trees?” Tait said. “For us, it is just a great way to introduce ourselves to people who may not know us. And also to show off a little of our personality.”

Tait’s tree features LED lightbulbs as ornaments and is topped by a star shaped like the sun. His nonprofit offered free home energy audits to visitors who posted a selfie with the tree and used the hashtag #netzeroenergy.

To continue reading the full article, please visit: http://www.al.com/news/huntsville/index.ssf/2015/12/post_128.html

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.

Executive Actions on Energy – What It Means

The last few years have seen a slurry of executive actions on clean, sustainable energy from the Federal government. There’s way more than just the Clean Power Plan. So what is there and what does it mean?

In March of this year, President Obama signed an Executive Order, Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, which also included some interesting policy steps and aggressive Federal energy targets. In August the White House announced a whole host of actions, some new and some not. Here’s just a few significant pieces from the August announcement.

  • Making an additional $1 billion loan guarantee authority available and announcing new guidelines for distributed energy projects utilizing innovative technology and states looking to access this financing
  • Unlocking Residential Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing
  • Launching a new HUD and DOE program to provide home owners with a simple way to measure and improve the energy efficiency of their homes, by increasing homeowners borrowing power

Loan Guarantees

Loan guarantees have been a much discussed tool of the Department of Energy (DOE). Perhaps you remember Solyndra? There are two key things to remember about the new action announced in August. First, DOE is no longer placing loan guarantees on companies, like Solyndra or Tesla, but on projects. This is notable because it makes loan guarantees company agnostic and technology-centric. In other words, DOE doesn’t care who you are or, to some degree, what you are selling. They only care that your project makes economic sense. If it does, they can help with a loan guarantee. A good example of this in practice would be an energy-storage project with a signed contract from a utility company.

Second, the new announcement calls for $1 billion on loan guarantees on distributed energy technologies. This includes technologies such as rooftop solar, energy storage, and smart grid technology. Loan guarantees have been around quite some time, even before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This is a specific carve-out for distributed energy technologies which represents a fundamental bet on the future of energy in America.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing

We wrote about PACE in Alabama a while back. Feel free to read up on it!

PACE financing has not always been well received. The main issue at hand is its senior loan position. Mortgage companies typically have the first right to the property after a governmental property tax lien. If you default on your property taxes, the government, typically local, can seize the property. The same thing can happen if you don’t pay your mortgage. But what happens if you don’t pay either? Well, the government gets their share first.

Herein lies the problem with PACE. If you are repaying energy-efficiency or renewable-energy upgrades through your property taxes, it becomes senior to the mortgage. If you default, there are less possible funds available to make the bank whole on the mortgage.

The big news here is Federal Housing Administration (FHA) backed loans are now compatible with PACE. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is issuing a preliminary statement indicating the conditions under which borrowers purchasing or refinancing properties with existing PACE assessments will be eligible to use FHA-insured financing. Since FHA backs an enormous amount of mortgages, PACE could become much easier for millions of Americans.

*Note: But not in Alabama. PACE, as currently defined by Alabama law, is only available to commercial properties.

FHA, HUD and Energy Efficiency

It turns out that people are much less likely to default on a home that is energy-efficient. This is pretty intuitive actually. If the home costs less to operate, chances are higher that the homeowner will be able to make their monthly mortgage payment.

To that end, HUD and DOE are launching a program to provide potential homeowners with an easy way to measure and improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Under the new HUD and DOE Home Energy Score partnership, in areas where the Home Energy Score is available, single family households will be able to increase their access to financing tools to make energy-efficiency improvements.

Note: DOE’s Home Energy Score offers a “miles per gallon” type rating to estimate a home’s energy use on a 10-point scale. A “1” corresponds to the least energy-efficient homes and a “10” corresponds to the most energy-efficient homes, while the average U.S. home will score a “5.”

Through this new partnership, home buyers or homeowners who want to obtain an FHA-insured purchase or refinance a mortgage for a single family home that receives a Home Energy Score of 6 or higher will be eligible to increase their income qualifying ratio by 2 percentage points above the standard Single Family FHA limit, making it easier to secure financing to make these improvements.

Summing it Up

Most of the recent action can be described as those to make clean, sustainable energy easier for the average American. This is being achieved through new programs, reducing red tape and increasing investment in targeted areas. If you’re in the market for a new home or a new to you home, take a look at what is out there that you can take advantage of. Energy efficient mortgages and 203(k) renovation loans are still great tools to help you. Long story short? Sustainable energy at the individual level was already cost-effective. And it just got easier too!

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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