solar energy

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

Mission: Net Zero Solar House

Mission: Net Zero Solar Marketplace Launched in North Alabama

Huntsville, AL – Mission: Net Zero, a marketplace designed to drive down solar costs and increase solar installations, launched this week in Huntsville. The program is administered by Energy Alabama and its partner Solar Site Design. Mission: Net Zero pairs solar originators, those who add projects to the marketplace, with solar fulfillment companies, those who can build the installations. The two largest solar companies in the area, Southern Solar Systems and Lightwave Solar, joined the program.

This partnership allows non-traditional solar companies to enter the market in a low-cost, low-risk way and provides traditional solar companies with a more consistent sales engine built on trusted relationships.

“Economics drove us to create this program. Solar on rural small businesses right here in North Alabama can see paybacks between two and four years,” says Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama. “People and businesses need to know the possibilities. This is real.”

“The next few years will be revolutionary for solar energy across the Southeast United States,” said Jason Loyet, Solar Site Design founder. “Demand is increasing, public policy is becoming more supportive and carbon-based fossil fuels are being regulated more and more as the public calls for cleaner energy solutions. At the same time, solar equipment costs are continuing their historic decreases. And that’s where Solar Site Design comes in, to reduce what remains the most challenging portion of the cost structure in the solar equation – soft costs and customer acquisition. We have teamed with Energy Alabama to activate the next generation of solar originators and referral agents.”

Companies or individuals who are interested in becoming solar originators or exploring the economics of solar at their home or business can learn more at: https://alcse.org/mission-net-zero

About Energy Alabama

Energy Alabama 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.

About Solar Site Design

Solar Site Design is a collaborative, cloud-based platform that connects highly-qualified solar project referrals to leading solar companies to drive down customer acquisition costs. Our proprietary business process is designed to reduce the solar industry’s customer acquisition costs by up to 50%. In May of 2015, Solar Site Design won the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst Award. The aim of SunShot is to bring the cost of solar energy down to parity with fossil fuels as quickly as possible. To learn more, please visit www.solarsitedesign.com.

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

Sun Saves Money for Alabama Chicken Farmer

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue. To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.”

~Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

 

 

Powering chicken coops with solarRicky McGee of Fyffe, Alabama is a poultry farmer. When I visited his business on an overcast day in October his coops were empty and clean, awaiting the next batch of chicks.


The roof of that same coop, however, was anything but empty. It was being outfitted with 161 solar panels by Tennessee Tennessee Solar Solutions of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

Putting solar on a chicken coop

 

Why put solar on a chicken coops?

Ricky McGee is a pioneer among his peers as the first poultry farmer in Northern Alabama to tap into the sun to offset enormous electrical costs associated with poultry farming.

 

“I’m a guinea pig, that’s what I am,” Ricky says good-naturedly.

Heating and cooling chickens can cost a lot. The birds are very susceptible to temperature change, especially in the summer months.

 

Pictured (L-R):  Tennessee Solar Solutions: Josh Hood, Installer; Anthony Roden, President; Rod Harrison, Sales Manager; Brandon Carter, Vice President.
Bottom:  Ricky McGee

Chicken farmers going solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They run huge water coolers in here to keep it cooled…they have utility bills that could be well over $1,000 a month.” – Rod Harrison of Tennessee Solar Solutions

Solar SolutionsThe biggest cost is the initial installation but that investment would be higher if not for two factors on Ricky’s side: the project is both agricultural and rural. That makes farmers eligible for a special USDA grant called REAP. The grant pays one quarter of the install costs. And, as a commercial operation, Ricky will be eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.

Ricky won’t use the solar directly. Instead, he sells it back to Sand Mountain Authority. “He feeds back into the grid and they offset his bill by the amount of energy he generated. It’s a credit and debit transaction,” says Rod Harrison.  If all goes as planned, the sun’s energy could cover 75% of the farmer’s electrical costs.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

 

 

Tennessee Solar Solutions ranks 319 out of more than 10,000 solar installation companies in the nation and this project is their first poultry farm. They hope others will soon follow, spreading sunny savings throughout the southeast states of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.

 

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.

 

UAH AEE Student Chapter Installs Solar Panels to Golf Cart

Last week, The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) student chapter outfitted a golf cart with solar panels, making the vehicle virtually maintenance free. The event served as a kickoff for the AEE student chapter to raise awareness among the UAH community about sustainable energy.

“Working with UAH students is easily the best part of my job! They come up with crazy fun ideas like these and make them happen. It really encourages me that these students will be the ones leading Alabama to sustainable energy future,” said Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama.

To read the full article, please visit: http://www.uah.edu/news/campus/uah-aee-student-chapter-installs-solar-panels-to-golf-cart