solar energy

Avion Solutions Solar Ribbon Cutting

Avion Solutions Solar Array

Avion Solutions, a Huntsville-based company that specializes in aviation and engineering within Army Aviation, recently unveiled their new 50 kilowatt solar array. During the Avion Solutions solar ribbon-cutting ceremony, Randy Buckner, the Director of Research and Development was quick to point out that this was not the first step they’ve taken to reduce their energy use. Whether you are seeking energy efficiency in a home or a commercial facility, the first steps are in reducing energy use and making the overall facility more energy-efficient. Only after that is complete do you install something like a solar array.

Under Buckner’s leadership Avion has taken many steps to cut their energy consumption. When Avion was first entered their data in ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager, the company’s facilities only received a score of 2 out of 100! Buckner set his sights on changing that and by making just simple small changes within the building they were able to increase their score to 54.

Buckner said the first step was awareness. Knowing the tools they had available and how to use them properly was the first step. Utilizing the software that came with their HVAC system, Buckner was able to optimize the system, and determine that a few small upgrades would mean big payoff.

Heating and cooling was responsible for 54% of Avion’s energy use. Using the tools they already had available, Buckner discovered that they were cooling already cold air in the winter. The HVAC system was running constantly. Optimizing the system use netted Avion a 41.3% energy savings.

The next step was upgrading the outdoor lighting to LED. This simple retrofit saved Avion another 11.6% on their energy bills.

Avion’s most recent (and largest) energy improvement was the installation of a revenue-generating photovoltaic system. They sell all their energy directly TVA under their Green Power Providers program at a 40% profit margin from the going retail rate (~$0.10/kWh). This agreement will provide Avion with a net profit of over $111,000 over the course of 20 years.

Avion Solutions solar grid tied system

Future Plans

But, they aren’t finished yet! Avion still has more plans to improve their energy efficiency with the goal of ‘Net Zero Energy’! They are partnered with Energy Alabama in our North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge to help other companies int the Huntsville/Madison County area reduce their energy usage too.

Buckner continues to work on awareness among the companies employees, showing them how small changes within their individual offices can net big payoffs. Where employees used to use space heaters to keep their office warm in the winter they are finding that they can now stay warm without it.

Avion already has automated lighting systems throughout the building, but Buckner has found that a small change in how those lights are set up could provide even more savings, while allowing individual employees more control over the level of lighting in their offices.

Avion has also placed an advanced order for a Tesla Power Wall which will use stored power to assist in reducing their overall usage during peak times. They also have plans to install electric car charging stations that will be available to Avion employees, customers, and neighbors.

This is obviously just the beginning for Avion as they lead the charge towards bringing Huntsville businesses to ‘Net Zero Energy’.

Learn more about the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge.

Google’s 100% Renewable Energy Alabama Campus – What it Means

North Alabama welcomes Google with its 14th data center! Yay Alabama! OK, so what does it actually mean?

There are two key takeaways that matter to you:

  1. It is now clear that clean, sustainable energy is extremely important to companies of the “new economy”.
  2. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is re-purposing its shuttered coal-fired power plants to create even more jobs and economic activity than these plants previously provided.

Importance of Google’s Alabama Campus in the New Economy

North Alabama has traditionally been extremely competitive in luring new companies to the area. That said, the game is changing and North Alabama is keeping up. Looking around the country you’ll notice that more and more companies are considering renewable energy and highly energy-efficient buildings as prerequisites for opening up shop. Want some examples?

  1. Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, TN plant is home to the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified auto plant in the world. This plant is also home to a solar array that produces more than 13 gigawatt hours of energy or enough to take 1,200 area homes off the grid. You may remember that this plant came down to a decision between Chattanooga, TN and Huntsville, AL.
  2. Apple’s Claremont, NC data center is powered by 100% sustainable energy. Their acquisition went so well, they kept going with another 100-acre, 17.5 MW plant. Apple recently made a commitment to power 100 percent of their Apple Retail Stores with 100 percent renewable energy.

This means that as you see Alabama continues to compete for the jobs of the 21st century, expect more announcements like Google’s. Companies care about sustainable energy because their customers care about sustainable energy.

Oh and don’t forget, it saves them money too! Google’s newest technology allows them to get 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of energy, compared to just five years ago.

Re-purposing of Coal-Fired Power Plants

After the announcement that the Colbert Fossil Plant was closing, there was much speculation about what would become of the old sites. Additionally, while some employees were able to find work elsewhere in the TVA, many people were literally worrying about what they would do after their jobs were eliminated. Just a short time later, TVA announced that the site of the Colbert Fossil Plant would become home to Alabama’s largest solar power plant.

A recent study by the University of Alabama shows that the new solar-power plant will generate $52 million in additional local taxes and will create over 400 jobs with cumulative earning of over $24 million. Talk about a boom to the local economy! In fact it was so good Lauderdale County Commissioner Fay Parker said, “I have reviewed the study several times, just to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing.”

By itself, this conversion of the Colbert Fossil Plant was simply great news. But with the Google announcement, are we witnessing a clear strategy by TVA?

If so, we applaud them. As the numbers prove, these new sustainable-energy projects will generate more jobs, income, and tax revenues for their local areas than their predecessors did. In Stevenson, AL the announcement called for at least 100 “high paying jobs” which should be considered in contrast to the 90 jobs lost that probably paid less than Google. This doesn’t even consider the increase in tax revenue to the local school systems and Google’s well-known generosity.

Why old coal-fired power plants?

A couple of reasons. First, there is a significant amount of electrical transmission infrastructure already in place that is attractive to an energy-intensive project like a data center. Think about the money Google will save by building there or the money Alabama saved by not having to build out additional infrastructure as a recruiting incentive. Hint: your tax money was spent wisely! Second, coal-fired power plants typically use a lot of water, and data centers like Google’s can tap into that infrastructure, as well, for its own massive water needs.

Governments also care about sustainable energy because it is now a proven way to create more jobs and increase local tax revenues. Additionally, they can use their recruiting incentives in a more targeted way by properly utilizing existing infrastructure.

So what does it matter for you? Wouldn’t you want to work for Google? Take a peek inside of a Google data center and let us know in the comments.

Fraternity Works to Create Tiny Home Village for Homeless Vets

We’re honored to play a small part in this project!

The men of Phi Kappa Psi have created a Foundations for Tomorrow, a program to help provide Huntsville’s homeless vets with tiny homes. Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy has partnered to provide solar panels for the “tiny home” village, which will include a garden to be maintained by the residents. This is meant to be a step for these vets as they work towards improving their lives.

 

UAH Student Helps Homeless Vets with Tiny Homes

We’re ‘electrifying’ this community!

Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy is providing solar panels to help electrify a new village of tiny homes being created by a UAH student and his fraternity brothers.

They’re called tiny homes, but the idea is anything but tiny. A UAH student and his fraternity are working to raise enough money to help take homeless veterans off the streets and put them into their own homes.

Taylor Reed, Phi Kappa Psi president, has the plans in place, permits in the works, and volunteers to help create a village of the tiny homes. While tiny homes are no more than 300 square feet, their effect on the homeless could be massive.

Read the article at WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Redstone Arsenal Goes Solar

The recent announcement that Redstone Arsenal will house the largest solar installation in the state is great news for Huntsville and Alabama, but also a reminder of how much work remains to be done. If solar installations are a force multiplier for the military, they are also a force multiplier for communities throughout our state. If our local communities adopted the same commitment demonstrated by the US Army we could open up a significant wealth creation opportunity and in doing so build stronger and more resilient communities.

Consider this quote from Richard Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability, “We look at renewable energy as a means to secure energy for our installations. We are not doing these projects for politically motivated reasons or because of the mandate (energy goal of 25 percent production of energy from renewable sources by 2025). We are doing them for mission effectiveness.”

Redstone Arsenal goes solar!

He clearly states that renewable energy is simply the strongest way to secure clean, reliable and affordable energy in order to accomplish the Army’s mission. Losing power for a week is not an option when lives are on the line. Not to mention that this monumental effort is being accomplished with private money. No additional burden to taxpayers and the Army gets predictable and affordable prices. What could be better?

Spoiler alert! What would be better is a thoughtful but determined approach by towns and cities across Alabama to begin their switch to clean energy as well.

Just the fact that there were no prime contractors from the great state of Alabama bidding on this opportunity demonstrates how far behind we are.

But we, too, can do this. The magnitude of Redstone’s announcement may fade but the challenge will remain: how we respond as a community and as a state to this wholly feasible opportunity to generate our own clean, reliable and affordable energy. Will our communities also start to build resiliency? Will we see wisdom in the Army’s electricity choices? It won’t happen overnight but let us begin now.