solar energy

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: Bronwen Murray

Meet Bronwen Murray: Journalist, Marketing Maven, and Sunshine Grabber. Bronwen lives in a solar-powered home.

SunsetHOME FACTS

  • FACT: Solar energy provides 100% electrical power
  • FACT: Solar system completed July 2015
  • FACT: System consists of 18 solar panels
  • FACT: 16 storage batteries
  • FACT: Average total installation costs: 20K
  • FACT: Home age: 100+ years
  • FACT: Square footage: 1200 square feet

 

I met Bronwen outside her family home, as the sun sank into the fields, creating a peachy glow from the front porch steps.

Bronwen is inspired by her 83-year-old Grandmother and beloved mentor to live sustainably. Her dedication is evidenced by the 18 solar panels on the roof of the small bungalow where she resides.

 

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“This is an over 100-year-old house. It belonged to my great grandmother. This is also the Humphrey farm which has been in my family for about seven generations.”

When the family discussed adding solar power, Bronwen resolved to maintain the integrity of the original home, with its rustic character and small footprint. At just 1200 square feet and one bedroom, it is the perfect size for a single woman.

“I like the idea of making something of what you already have.”

tankless water heater

One feature Bronwen added was an on-demand water heater. As faucets pull water into the house, the system very quickly heats it to the 140 degree range. It is powered by propane (think ubiquitous silver bullet-shaped tank hugging the ground).

 

As the panels draw solar into the home, the sunshine is converted into DC (direct current) electricity through a method called photovoltaics (PV).  An inverter changes the DC power into AC (alternating current).

 

And off it goes, into a box that Bronwen calls the “heart” of the system. That system ferries current where needed. Any unused energy is stored in big battery packs. During overcast, rainy time periods, the “brain” pulls power from the batteries. If necessary, the system can toggle over to Bronwen’s public electrical source.

“The ‘Midnight Classic’ system is really kind of like the brains of what makes this guy work.”

BronwenBrain (1)

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But that’s not all.  Inside her home, Bronwen uses energy-efficient appliances. She even purchased an energy efficient washer/dryer combination. But there was a downside: it took almost five hours to do one load of laundry. I’m not kidding.

Sometimes, convenience trumps sustainability.

“So I had to get rid of it and then this one didn’t fit in the space. So, it’s going back. Hopefully, something else is coming that will let me do laundry,” says Brownwen.

With the light from that magical orb long disappeared from the sky, we moved conversation indoors where we talked for several hours gathered around a very different kind of light.

IMG_3578

 

 

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

UAH Students Install Solar Panel to School Golf Cart

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – A University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) golf cart will never need to be plugged in again. Some young minds outfitted it with solar panels so it gets natural — and free — energy to power it.

With help from Energy Alabama, the golf cart is the only one being outfitted — for now. The team hopes it will become a moving billboard as it moves students and staff across campus to promote the accessibility and convenience of solar power.

To read the full article, please visit: http://whnt.com/2015/07/08/uah-students-install-solar-panel-to-school-golf-cart/