The E in STEM Also Stands for Energy

ALCSE CEO, Daniel Tait, shared an opinion piece on AL.com about NerdWallet’s ranking of Huntsville, AL as the best place for STEM careers. Tait was sure to point out that the E in STEM also stands for Energy, and that sustainable energy careers are booming.

Last week NerdWallet, a national financial ranking website, proclaimed that Huntsville is the best place in the United States for a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) career.

Huntsville claimed the title due to plentiful STEM jobs and a low cost of living ahead of other high profile STEM hubs including California’s Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Coming as no surprise to anyone who has lived in Huntsville for longer than two weeks, the ranking is a testament to the vitality and potential of our community.

Traditionally, Huntsville’s economic fortunes leaned heavily on NASA, the Department of Defense and their related support structures. Recently, STEM innovators like the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology have exploded onto the scene and expanded STEM opportunities into diverse fields beyond those of the aerospace and defense industries.

If this success is to continue, Huntsville’s must include a broader spectrum of STEM-related careers. Differentiation in the STEM field enables our city to build on a positive track record of innovation and cements our status as technology leader in the 21st century.

One of the most promising STEM career fields is energy, particularly sustainable energy. Sustainable energy careers are booming across many areas the country

Read the full article at AL.com.

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

Toyota USA Foundation to Support Local Charity with $100K Grant for Sustainable Energy Education

Huntsville, Ala – Energy Alabama was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the Toyota USA Foundation to support sustainable energy education in the Huntsville community. The grant will support sustainable K12 energy curriculum development and for the construction of “net zero energy” or off-grid tiny homes. Energy Alabama has partnered with Bob Jones High School and the Huntsville Center for Technology and construction of the first tiny home is already underway. The grant also enables more than 10,000 students to receive clean, sustainable energy instruction, events, and hands-on activities, all with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We know that the future of our society will be built on increasingly sophisticated technological expertise and innovative problem solving,” said Michael Rouse, Toyota USA Foundation President. “That’s why Toyota USA Foundation is proud to support these nonprofits, who are creating exciting opportunities to train and inspire the next generation of leaders in science, technology, engineering and math.”

High school students may be building the tiny homes but the community will be invited to finish assembly of the first tiny home over the summer of 2015.

“With this grant from the Toyota USA Foundation, we are able to provide the STEM education in sustainable energy and students will be inspired to enter careers in STEM related fields,” said Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama.

Examples of activities already undertaken as a result of this grant are:

  • The “Switch Blade Competition” in which a team from the University of Alabama in Huntsville redesigned a wind turbine blade that performed 44% better at low speeds than the original design
  • Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Fest with a hands-on wind energy display reaching over 500 students at the K-12 level.
  • Participation in two Earth day events with hands-on demonstrations including an ‘energy bike’ which taught more than 500 students the basic principles of energy.
  • Hosting a public documentary screening of “Switch: Discover Our Energy Future”

 

About the Energy Alabama

Energy Alababma is accelerating the transition to sustainable, clean energy throughout Alabama. We do this by widely promoting sustainable energy as a feasible, state-wide goal, by executing high-impact clean energy projects across the State, and by providing people with information and opportunities to help make clean energy choices. We work with policy makers, public agencies, local governments, educational institutions, utilities, business and civic leaders and individuals to transform Alabama’s energy marketplace and beyond. ALCSE is committed to powering Huntsville with 100% clean and efficient energy by 2025 and Alabama by 2035.

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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Daniel Tait at (256) 303-7773 or email at dtait@alcse.org.