Sustainable Energy Superstar – Randy Buckner

For Randy Buckner renewable energy isn’t about saving the planet or “doing the right thing”, although he says that is definitely a part of it. For Randy, choosing alternative renewable energy sources is the smart thing to do from a financial perspective. Randy is a data man. He’s the type of guy that doesn’t just install solar and forget it. He wants to know exactly what installing solar means to his bottom line and he can tell you that in exactly 8.1 years (or less) his solar system will be making him money. For Randy, solar was an investment, one that is giving him 8.0% ROI.

Randy built his house from the ground up about five years ago, and in doing so he made choices that would make it a very energy-efficient home. Rather than the standard HVAC system he installed a horizontal closed loop geothermal system which takes the cool air from the ground and circulates that into the house, and not forcing the HVAC system to work overtime trying to cool extremely hot or heat extremely cool air. The air below ground is a constant 55° all year around resulting in less work and a more energy-efficient system.

Geothermal (or ground source) systems are more energy-efficient because they are heating warmer air in the winter and cooling cooler air in the summer (as compared to the outside temperature). The system involves two parts, the heat pump and the underground pipes. Since the warmer or cooler air is not having to be created, only transported, no fuel is burned.

Horizontal systems are great for people who have large amounts of land. A series of six pipes are laid horizontally below the frost line, requiring no drilling. The closed loop system recirculates the same water and antifreeze solution continually. This water solution absorbs the warmer (or cooler) air from the ground and transports it back into the home where it is then converted to air and distributed throughout the home.

It sounds complicated but it’s really simple –you have a more efficient system that isn’t having to work as hard. A system that isn’t having to work as hard equates to lower utility bills, and that’s the bottom line for Randy and his wife.

spray foam insulationIn addition to the geothermal system, Randy installed low-e windows throughout the home, and opted for LED lighting over traditional options. He also had spray-foam insulation installed throughout the house as it was being built. He didn’t stop at just the walls but made sure that the inside of the roof was also covered, and used the left-over shavings as added sound-proofing and insulation in the ceiling between the first and second floor. The house has two air-handling units –one for downstairs (which is their main living area) and a second for the upstairs, which is used only when the grandchildren come to visit. This, again helps improve energy efficiency and cuts their utility bills because they aren’t heating or cooling the upstairs when it’s not in use.

It seems like they invested quite a bit into energy efficiency, but really when building a new home that you intend to live in for the rest of your life these are affordable investments. Randy knew that he would get a solid return on investment in comfort, and dollars. And, because of this he had no trouble selling these budgetary upgrades to his wife.

It took Randy almost five years before he took the next step and installed solar. He says the delay was partially because their horse barn had to come first. However, once it was installed, giving him the perfect place to put his solar panels, he knew it was time. Of course, convincing his wife took a little doing. He had to show her the money, so to speak, and how it would pay off in the long-run.

About a year ago Randy installed his 20 kW solar PV array –a 6-string, grid-tied system. Being grid tied allows the Buckners to sell their energy to the grid, and buy back what they need. He said their system produces about 60% of what their home typically uses, but because they sell at a slightly higher rate than they buy at it works out nicely.

invertersThe 6-string system is connected to 3 inverters (2 strings per inverter), with 12-13 panels per string. They are grid-tied through the TVA Green Power Providers program. Through this program they are paid a rate of .04 cents over retail for the first ten years, then after that they are paid the standard retail rate. They have two meters on the side of their home, one measuring what they are using, and the other measuring what they are selling.

Their utility bills now shows line items for what they use, as well as what is purchased by TVA, resulting in a net amount that they either owe or are owed. Additionally, they get a check each month from the Green Power Provider for the difference in the two rates. When they combine that amount with the tax credit they received and the ability to depreciate the system as part of their attached business, the savings are astounding. Basically, they received over half of their investment back in the first year just from those savings.

As mentioned, Randy is all about the numbers. He even took the time to sit me down and show me the data. He has a software package that came with his solar system (a package that most people probably don’t use) which constantly shows the energy created, hour by hour. He keeps this data and updates his own spreadsheets on a regular basis so that he knows exactly what his system is doing. If there’s a change or it seems his system may not be working just right, he knows it. He can also tell you exactly the amount he’s getting paid on a day-to-day basis, and this is how he knows exactly when he can expect to start seeing profits from his system.

I asked Randy why it wouldn’t be better to be off-the-grid, that way if the power goes out they’d still have power. He pointed to the financial side of the equation as the answer. Not only would he have to invest in batteries for storage of the power, this way he will eventually not only be providing his own power but he will be getting paid to do so.

 

North Alabama’s Only Renewable Energy Degree is at ACECET

ACECETCalhoun Community College is home to Alabama’s first and only renewable energy degree as well as a number of certification courses. Not only is this the first in the state it is one of only a few in the country.

The program, which was funded by a $3.47M Department of Labor grant in 2010, offers a renewable energy curriculum with a 2 year technical degree in renewable energy. Jerry Adams led the project which involved completely retrofitting an existing campus building. This involved tearing the existing building down the bones, but Jerry was happy to report that in doing so less than 20% of the removed materials went to the landfill. Most were recycled for other uses. The cement was sent to a company that breaks it down and recycles it, the asphalt shingles were recycled for road use. All of this along with the energy-efficiency improvements lead to the ACECET building becoming one of the first commercial buildings in the state to be LEED Platinum certified.

Jerry Adams showed me around the building, which is designed to be energy efficient with LED lighting on sensors throughout, a 3-phase 24 KW solar photo-voltaic grid-tied solar system that provides about 80% of the 11,000 square ft. building’s energy needs. Water collection units provide the non-potable water for the building (toilets, lawn watering, etc). One of the most extensive geothermal arrays in the Southeast powers the HVAC systems in the labs, and solar thermal units are used to heat the water for the building. Adams pointed out that “it’s all about teaching and learning tools for the students.”

ACECET is setting standards both at home and abroad as it serves as the standard for future programs across the country. I asked Jerry if the facilities people at Calhoun are taking notice and making changes across campus based on the program. His response was that they “have attended many of our classes and what they are learning from the ACECET experience is being reflected in energy savings with the other buildings on campus.”

solar thermal systemThe focus of the program is teaching renewable energy in a way that the students can put it to work in either the electrical field or the HVAC field, both of which are ripe for opportunities throughout the country. The program has seen over 100 students graduate so far, and expects another 50-60 in the fall. Short term (1 day or 1 week) classes are available that lead to certification, as well as BPI analyst building classes, and energy code classes.

I spoke with Shelton Wright, a current student of the ACECET program, and asked him to share his thoughts. He told me that he chose the Calhoun ACECET program because “They have a great program with excellent resources. The facilities are fantastic, with everything from PV panels, solar thermal panels, wind energy, and even hydrogen fuel cells and biodiesel. The labs are full of hands-on learning and the instructors are very knowledgeable and enjoy teaching.”

Shelton feels that the ACECET program is giving him the knowledge he needs for a career in the future. Students who have graduated from the program are now working across the country and across the world. Jerry Adams said that they have students working both locally and as far as Nicaragua improving energy efficiency across the globe.

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!

Employees build strong ties with community

Employees build strong ties with community

While most U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville projects usually take weeks or sometimes even months to complete, some Huntsville Center employees helped demonstrate how a home can be built in a weekend.

Huntsville Center’s Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate’s professionals were asked to participate in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math event with the Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy and Foundations for Tomorrow for the Tiny Home Build weekend Aug. 8-9, at Sci-Quest in Huntsville, Alabama.

The ISPM Energy Team was the solar lead for the construction event. ISPM STEM professionals Raul Alonso, Dominic Ragucci and Jeffery Watts installed solar panels for a pre-existing tiny home and for the home that was built on site.

The team showed area students and the community how to build and power a tiny home in just two days. Tiny houses are often mobile houses of less than 500 square feet and feature multifunctional living spaces, energy efficiency and use of vertical space. During this free community event, visitors were able to see this transportable tiny home being built from start to finish and learn about what it takes to make the tiny living spaces.

Read the full article at http://www.hnc.usace.army.mil/Media/NewsStories/tabid/10749/Article/613118/employees-build-strong-ties-with-community.aspx

ALCSE Projects

Clean Power Plan Could Create Boom in Tenn. Valley Tech Industry

TENNESSEE VALLEY (WAFF) – In the past several years, utility companies have started to move away from coal, opting for cheaper natural gas.

On Monday, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan highlighted the government’s commitment to renewable energy, and showed power companies that they will profit from their investments.

Daniel Tait, with Energy Alabama says there’s still a lot of unknowns surrounding President Obama’s plan, like, what will this mean for your electric bill?

“Until we really learn about what the state of Alabama will be able to do at the state level we don’t necessarily know a whole lot just yet for local consumers or local residents.”

However, he sees the plan as an opportunity for growth in the tech industry in the Valley.

“If we’re looking at technological development in these industries, it could be a huge boom for our area to really try and take advantage of that,” said Tait.

WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

To read the full article, please visit WAFF.com