New Survey Results: Alabama Voters Want Energy Freedom in a BIG Way

In Alabama, we are all about freedom and market choices, and that’s as true of our energy use as anything else.

Alabama Wants Renewable Energy Choices

Recent results from a survey of 600 likely Alabama voters show that Alabamians want freedom of choice, a competitive marketplace, and the right and opportunity to choose where their energy comes from – and the right to produce their own electricity if they want.

That means more energy providers and more renewable energy sources – which is exactly what Alabamians are asking for: 81% support the development of clean energy like solar and wind. 79% say it’s important to them to have the choice to buy power from a company that uses more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

An even higher total of 83% agree that increasing our use of renewable energy sources in Alabama, such as wind and solar, will create jobs and encourage economic development throughout the state.

More choices, more renewable energy AND more jobs and a stronger economy? It’s a no brainer!

What About Our Utilities?

Specifically, Alabamians want to see more development from their public utilities. A whopping 90% of respondents think we should accelerate the growth of clean energy so that we can produce more of our own electricity in Alabama and rely less on importing from other states and countries. 87% think the public electric utilities should lead the way in developing renewable energy options for customers. Unfortunately, most Alabama utilities have been doing the exact opposite.

A big motivator for this stance appears to be a desire for Alabama to be independent. 90% support the acceleration of the growth of clean energy so that we can produce more of our own electricity in Alabama and rely less on importing from other states and countries.

The Politics of Renewable Energy in Alabama

Clean energy is good politics, too. Alabama voters across the political spectrum say it is important that a candidate share their opinion on energy issues. And as we’ve seen in these results, a significant majority across party lines support the development of clean energy in the state.

Alabamians know that more renewable energy = more jobs, stronger economy, more choices, and a more competitive energy market.

There is a lot more to these survey results, like what Alabama voters think of the solar tax (spoiler alert: they don’t like it). Read more and see the data for yourself.

 

Header image source: Unsplash

Solar 101: Frequently asked questions about solar

Solar 101: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Solar Energy

Solar energy is the future of energy, allowing you as an energy consumer to not only be energy efficient but also save money. Solar energy is one of the main clean and sustainable energy sources that benefits both the consumer and world we inhabit.

 

So, what should you know?

 

What is solar energy?

Solar is the most abundant source of energy we have available to us on Earth. The energy from the sun is more than 10,000 times what the world needs in terms of energy, at any given time of day. It is a form of “renewable energy” or “clean energy” which is energy that comes from natural sources that are always available. In recent years, scientists have studied solar energy as a power source for homes and businesses–it now accounts for more than one-eighth of the energy sources used across the United States. 

This 1/8th includes the energy that has been used to grow our crops, dry foods, and keep us warm, but now it can be used to warm your water and power your homes and businesses.

How does solar energy work?

The US government’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy states that “the amount of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in an hour and a half is enough to handle the entire world’s energy consumption for a full year.” Solar energy is derived from the sun. Solar energy comes from the light emitted by the sun—electromagnetic radiation—that reaches the Earth’s surface. Through the installation and use of solar panels, sunlight and solar radiation is converted into power that our technology can use. The heat radiation from the sun triggers a reaction that produces electricity for use.

Does solar radiation have any negative affects to our Earth?

There are no negative effects from the sun’s radiation with the use of renewable energy. On average, 70% of the radiation emitted by the sun is absorbed into the Earth while the other 30% is reflected back into space. However, greenhouse gasses emitted from burning fossil fuels (a non-renewable energy source) trap the sun’s radiation, causing the temperature of the Earth to rise. Earth’s average global temperature that covers the entire surface depends on how much energy we receive from the Sun and how much returns into space, and as a result of non-renewable energy, Earth has experienced an approximate 1℃ global change in temperature.

How is solar power produced?

Solar radiation is captured through photovoltaic (PV) cells in solar panels where it is then converted into electric energy. Solar panels used to capture sunlight and radiation consist of 60 or more solar cells, and comes in two main types—monocrystalline or polycrystalline—with a marginal difference in wattage. Both cell types serve the same purpose for the solar system, but monocrystalline solar panel cells are made from a single crystal of silicon while polycrystalline solar panel cells are made from many melted silicon fragments. Monocrystalline panels -considered the premium of the two- have higher conversion efficiencies and are sleeker looking. Polycrystalline cells are the cheaper option, but they have slightly lower efficiencies and look less aesthetically pleasing to some.

In order for the conversion of sun radiation to electric energy through the solar panels to successfully occur there is a complex process that consists of the following elements—solar panels, PV module, wiring, inverters, etc. The PV module is the core of the solar cells, when light from the sun hits the conversion module, each cell produces direct current (DC) voltage. DC and alternating current (AC) wiring are responsible for switching the power on/off and from the inverter. The inverter is responsible for taking the DC from the solar and/or batteries and turning it into AC for use in a building or on the grid. Batteries are sometimes installed to store the electric energy chemically to be used when the sun is not hitting the panels, like during the night-time. Finally, solar controllers are used to regulate the energy current into the batteries. Solar energy is made possible through the work of each of these components.

How much does solar power cost?

The prices of solar panels are ever dropping. What you should expect depends on the system size and federal solar tax credit, with a 10-kilowatt ranging from $17,650 to $23,828 and the average price per watt ranging from $2.40 to $3.22. The cost depends on how much energy you want to generate, depending on whether you’re planning on fueling solar electricity through your home or business. The below chart depicts the average cost for solar panels depending on the size of the system:

System sizeAverage solar panel system cost before tax creditsAverage solar panel system cost after tax credits
2 kW$5,620$4,159
3 kW$8,430$6,238
4 kW$11,240$8,318
5 kW$14,050$10,397
6 kW$16,860$12,476
7 kW$19,670$14,556
8 kW$22,480$16,635
9 kW$25,290$18,715
10 kW$28,100$20,794
12 kW$33,720$24,953
15 kW$42,150$41,588
20 kW$56,200$41,588
25 kW$70,250$51,985

The solar tax credit reduces your cost by 26% simply for installing a solar energy system, saving you thousands of dollars for going solar. Costs can depend on your state, so it’s best to compare prices with various providers in your area to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

What can solar energy be used for?

The sun makes plants grow, causes the wind to blow, and affects the temperature across the globe. It can also power your household appliances, your cell phone, and your air conditioning. Solar can be used to:

  1. Provide electricity for homes and businesses – a solar system installed on rooftops can power the entire establishment.
  2. Heat your water – solar panels absorb heat and then transfer it into a water tank. This can be your home water or even your swimming pool.
  3. Heat your home or business – solar space heating systems paired with forced hot air systems can heat homes.
  4. Provide light within your home or business (one of the most common uses) solar lighting is present in homes, streetlights, and road signs.
  5. Charge portable batteries – portable solar PV chargers can be used for charging your portable electronics such as your cell phone.
  6. Power your method of transportation – solar power has been used to power buses, trains, and airplanes. Though not widely available, solar-powered cars are in the works. In 2015, we worked with UAH to solar power some of their golf carts.

With the potential to power your everyday necessities, solar energy has the potential to power your future.

Why isn’t solar power more widely used?

Solar energy is not a new concept, but even just a few years ago, it could be expensive to implement and not readily available to many people. However, now, many families across the U.S. and the rest of the world have converted to using solar energy as their primary source of energy. Solar energy is becoming more widely used as time progresses and prices continue to drop.

The advantages that come with using solar energy include:

  • We can’t run out of solar energy, making it a renewable source that we will always have available.
  • What you pay for energy will drop, how much depends on the size of your solar system.
  • You can generate electricity and heat, making its uses diverse.
  • Maintenance is cheap and easy. It’s as simple as cleaning the panels a few times a year.
  • Improvements are consistently being made to current solar energy systems in the industry.
  • Solar panels typically last for about 25 to 30 years, or even more.
  • Solar energy is more optimal for the environment.
  • While solar energy may cost more starting out, there are tax credits that lower the prices.

The disadvantages that come with using solar energy include:

  • The upfront or initial cost can be high—paying for the panels, inverter, batteries, wiring, and installation.
  • Solar energy is dependent on the weather, and you may need batteries to smooth out your production or save it for later.
  • Adding battery storage makes a system more expensive.
  • You may need more solar panels than you have available space.
  • There is some pollution that comes with the initial manufacturing process of the solar panels.

Who can benefit from solar energy?

Everyone can benefit from the use of solar energy. You don’t have to live on a sunny beach to benefit from the energy that the sun provides for us, nor will you be without if you live in a cloudy region. As long as solar energy systems are properly manufactured and placed, the risks fall far below that of the non-renewable energy the world uses now.

What is the reality of solar energy?

Solar energy has proved to be abundant and is becoming more popular as years progress. Solar pollutes far less, is energy efficient, and saves money. There are many misconceptions about using a solar energy system that have caused people to avoid it, but with our help and determination to teach you about renewable energy, we can move past those misconceptions and implement a clean energy future.

 

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Greener State Only Leaves You With Less Green. Here's Why.

Greener State Only Leaves You With Less Green. Here’s Why.

Greener State is a new program from Alabama Power that claims to give utility customers the chance to cover up to 100 percent of their energy usage with renewable sources. Which sounds great in theory because, after all, who doesn’t like renewable energy? In practice, though, Greener State isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

TL;DR – Alabama Power, and really all utilities, should stop charging their customers a premium for the privilege to buy renewable energy. Renewable energy is already the cheapest power to procure. Instead, they should focus on expanding access to renewable energy sources – for everybody. Alabama Power should make it easier for people to use renewable sources, not charge them extra.

The Skinny on RECs

Renewable Energy is great! Let’s expand access to it, instead of charging a premium.

Now, let’s back up. According to Greenerstate.com, the Greener State program allows Alabama Power customers to “greenify” their energy consumption with something called Renewable Energy Certificates. They’re called RECs for short, and the idea is that you can buy enough of them to cover all of your energy usage.

If you do that, you will have (in effect) used 100 percent renewable energy without buying and installing an expensive solar setup at your home. Meanwhile, you’ll be helping Alabama Power invest in wind, solar and biomass sources. The program doesn’t cost a whole lot, and you’re even taking care of the environment at the same time.

What’s not to like? More from Greenerstate.com:

RECs are the strongest driver of renewable energy development, and give you the ability to support renewables without the heavy cost of owning personal systems. You can certify that your electric usage is covered by renewable energy, but not spend tens of thousands on a solar panel system.

Since 2014 Alabamians have covered 3,267,000 kWh of their homes’ usage with renewable energy through our REC program. Now you can be a part of the movement with Greener State. This market force leads to more demand and accelerates the growth of renewable energy. RECs are a win-win-win.

A Win-Win?

First of all, a solar panel system for your home doesn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. But let’s leave that for another time. Instead, let’s focus on that last part. For Alabama Power, Greener State definitely is a win-win. For customers, it’s really not.

To understand why, let’s take another look at the Greener State website. An article titled “The Future of Renewables in Alabama is Bright… Literally” notes that in December 2017, Alabama Power will begin receiving energy from a 72-megawatt solar plant in Lafayette, Alabama. And that’s not all. Not nearly. The same article mentions 14 hydroelectric facilities, a couple of wind projects and even some biomass energy – all of which Alabama Power supports.

Here’s the thing. If I’m a paying customer of Alabama Power, shouldn’t my money already support renewable energy? I mean, since Alabama Power is so invested in renewables, it just makes sense.

Well, Alabama Power never explains that part. Not at all.

Greener State: Really Just Leaving You with Less Green

Who doesn’t love solar? What we need is MOAR renewables! (Not a premium for the privilege.)

So, what’s the alternative? Here at Energy Alabama, we believe that renewable energy is the best and most cost-effective energy available. So, yes, utility companies should be investing in it. Heavily.

But while Alabama Power’s marketing is slick, Greener State just doesn’t add up. To be clear, investing in renewables is unquestionably a good thing. But in its current form, Greener State merely serves as an example of how Alabama Power values one form of green over another.

Instead of charging a premium to “support” renewable energy that is already in place, why not just continue investing in renewables while expanding access for all? In the long run, that’s the best and most cost-effective solution for Alabama Power and its customers.

And in the long run, that would be the real win-win for everybody.

What Is Blockchain? Is it the Future of Energy?

What is blockchain, and why is it important for the energy sector?

If you know anything about blockchain, you are probably wondering how it is related in any way, shape, or form to energy. Indeed, the concept of blockchain was originally confined to the cybercurrency known as Bitcoin, where the technology chronologically records and links transactions made across the network, securing the Bitcoin environment.

Now, however, the blockchain concept is being applied to situations beyond Bitcoin, and especially in the energy sector. Inquiring energy experts asked if this same technology used to track the flow of cybercurrency could be used for energy transactions. And, as it turns out, it might be able to. Thanks, energy experts!

With blockchain, an energy consumer would be able to securely sell any unused energy to a willing buyer, such as a neighbor. Blockchain would track the flow of electrons on a distributed grid, much like that of currency in a cyberenvironment. At its core, blockchain would be able to create a secure, instantaneous, and independent system for energy transactions.

For all its positives, there are some obstacles that blockchain must overcome before it can meet the high expectations of energy experts, especially on the technical side. For instance, blockchain does not currently provide the sufficient bandwidth and throughput needed to make global energy transactions a reality. But don’t despair! Many are working to create blockchain a usable, everyday part of life. This map shows the areas where blockchain research has made headway:

What would a blockchain future look like?

If blockchain technology gets past the current technological barriers, it would significantly alter the energy sector. For one, it would eliminate the need for an electricity retailer, as transactions would happen directly between an energy producer and an energy consumer. This means that a household would be able to buy the energy it needs from a preferred sustainable energy producer. Furthermore, any unused energy by a household could be sold or gifted to a neighbor. The blockchain future is a bright one, and we look forward to it!

the duck curve of renewable energy

The Duck Curve: What is it and what does it mean?

So let’s talk about the duck curve and what it means in the world of renewable energy. But what is the “duck curve?” Does it involve our adorable little animal friends who quack the day away? Well, kinda, but not really.

Put simply, the duck curve is the graphic representation of higher levels of wind and solar on the grid during the day resulting in a high peak load in mid to late evening. The difference in the Duck Curve and a regular load chart is that the duck curve shows two high points of demand and one very low point of demand, with the ramp up in between being extremely sharp. It looks like a duck! Since renewable energy has become more common over the years, the duck curve is appearing more often and is getting worse.

Let’s look at an example of what the duck curve looks like:

 

The duck curve, explained.

As you can see, this chart shows the electric load of the California Independent System Operator (ISO), just think the California grid, on an average spring day. The lines show the net load—the demand for electricity minus the supply of renewable energy—with each line representing a different year, from 2012 to 2020. The chart also shows that energy demand reaches its peak in the morning (between 6 A.M. and 9 A.M.) and afternoon times (between 6 P.M. and 9 P.M). This demand shows that people need more energy as they get prepared for work or school in the morning and when they come home from work or school in the afternoon.

Let’s look at lines 2012 and 2017, for example. Comparatively, the 2012 line is much more smoother than the 2017 line. This is because the feed of a renewable power supply has not yet been introduced. By slowly integrating solar energy, the demand for electricity from the electrical grid becomes smaller and smaller. However, the renewable energy source is not enough to meet the demand in its entirety, especially in those peaks hours that I referenced earlier. So the electric grid is left to pick up the slack, which can sometimes be problematic.

Why is a duck causing problems?

As you can see by the chart, solar energy works best during the bright hours of the day, which makes energy demand lower greatly. We’ll call this the duck’s belly: the lowest point of demand. The demand begins to rise rapidly as the sun sets and people get home at 6 P.M. There’s no sun to power all of the appliances getting turned on by people returning home from work or school, and the grid is left to answer to that high demand. Therefore, the demand rises very rapidly (the duck’s neck) to a peak in the afternoon hours (the duck’s head).

For many decades, energy demand followed a fairly predictable pattern, with very little change in levels of demand. This allowed electrical workers to become experts with sustaining a stable output of energy. Well the duck curve kinda throws a wrench in that. In order to meet the baseline requirement, or “baseload”, utilities run BIG power plants that run on either nuclear or coal, which run around the clock. The problem with coal and nuclear power plants is that they’re expensive to completely startup and shutdown, and are more effective in ramping up or down. Then there’s the “peak load,” which is satisfied by peaker plants that usually run on natural gas, and more frequently renewables.

In order to maintain top efficiency, regulators will often turn peaker power plants off and ramp down the baseline plants during times of very low demand, such as hours of the “duck’s belly.” However, the sudden and rapid increase in demand means that regulators have to quickly turn back on these power plants, which is not only expensive, but could lead to more pollution and high maintenance costs.

Another problem with the duck curve lies in the belly of the duck. In some places, demand becomes so low that grid operators are forced to turn off the peaker power plants and ramp down the baseline power plants. Then, just a few hours later, they all have to get ramped up again with little to no warning, which can cause problems for grid stability.

So problems with the duck curve lie in those sudden and steep changes in demand. Grid operators and regulators struggle to maintain stability and efficiency by turning power plants on and off, causing instability in the power supply, large expense to taxpayers, and pollution to the environment.

So what can we do about the Duck Curve?

One probable solution for the duck curve can be found in a method called interconnection. This strategy involves connecting multiple energy grids together to make a large energy grid. In theory, this would broaden and disperse the load and availability of solar and wind across a larger area, which in turn would flatten the duck curve.

This strategy could provide a long term solution to the problem. However, although the technology already exists, the politics of a large, interconnected grid is unlikely due to “not in my backyard” concerns and securing the rights of way.

The second method of smoothing out the duck curve is committing to the storage of energy generated by solar and wind, instead of immediately sending that energy directly to the grid. The energy can then be “dispatched” when it’s needed, and would almost definitely flatten the curve. This method could prove very expensive to execute in near term however battery storage continues to fall in price and more utilities are actively seeking it as a viable solution.