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Thoughts and Opinions

It's summertime, and we have lots of heat. How can you use heat to get rid of excess heat?

It's as simple as an old gas refrigerator. Heat is applied to the ammonia and water solution in the generator. As the mixture reaches the boiling point of ammonia, it flows into the separator. Ammonia gas flows upward into the condenser, dissipates heat and converts back to a liquid. The liquid ammonia makes its way to the evaporator where it mixes with hydrogen gas and evaporates, producing cold temperatures inside the refrigerator's cold box. The ammonia and hydrogen gases flow to the absorber where the water collected in the separator in step No. 2 mixes with the ammonia and hydrogen gases. The ammonia forms a solution with the water and releases the hydrogen gas, which flows back to the evaporator. The ammonia-and-water solution flows toward the generator to repeat the cycle.

Now apply the same principal on a larger scale. Take heat, perhaps from solar hot water collectors or waste heat from boilers. Apply the heat to a larger version of the old gas refrigerator, called a chiller, and you can produce chilled water. You can pump it out to outlying buildings such as the village we lived in in Germany or the huge hospital complex in Louisville, Kentucky.

You can push as much heat through a one-inch diameter pipe water as you can through a 16-inch square air duct—remember cooling is really moving heat away from a room and to the outside to get rid of it. Now just imagine buildings that are half a mile from the chiller plant. How much easier is it to control water flow in a small pipe than air flow in a huge duct? How much easier is it to insulate? Chilled water is so much more easier and less expensive to move and control.

Contact an Alabama Solar Association Solarite and ask what cooling solution is right for your home.

ASA is looking for a few good men and women.

The Alabama Solar Association is looking for a few good men and women. We need folks willing to do something about the environment and the latest energy crisis instead of just talking about it. There are four of the ASA staff that regularly show up to work on projects and a few more that pitch in occasionally. We need more; we need many more! Who will rise to help Mother Earth?

We are living in exciting times. ASA got four inquiries about installing rooftop photovoltaics (PV) in a single week recently; three of the four projects were in the Tennessee Valley, and two of those are now underway. Coal plants from the 1950’s are ageing and not well; they need to be replaced. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has made elaborate plans to retire them in favor of nuclear and natural gas. Both are cleaner than the old coal-fired plants, but both methods are fraught with problems.

On December 22, 2008, families in Kingston, Tennessee, got an early Christmas present from Uncle Sam. An earthen dam at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant ruptured sending 1.1 billion gallons of concentrated liquid coal ash slurry around and through people’s homes. The mixture of harmful pollutants in coal ash may include arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, chromium VI, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, thallium, and vanadium, along with dioxins and PAH compounds, swpwnding on the particular type of coal used. These are harmful chemicals are deliberately washed out of the escaping smoke from burning the finely-ground coal to keep them out of the air. The process is intended to remove harmful chemicals from the air to safely store them out of harm’s way. Instead, the toxic sludge, about eight times the toxicity of the Gulf oil spill, killed a huge number of fish and wild life downstream of the Kingston plant. This includes a lot of the most beautiful waterfronts in North Alabama. It also challenged the water supplies drawing raw feeds from the Tennessee and the Clinch Rivers. An ongoing trial regarding this spill has brought fresh reminders of just how harmful coal can be.

The 2011 earthquakes in Japan and our Atlantic Coast well as flooding in the US Heartland have raised safety concerns about Nuclear power plants. These plants are already hugely expensive to build and will likely be more so as these safety concerns are addressed. Then there is still the problem of what to do with spent fuel rods and how to keep them out of the hands of those who don’t like us very much.

Natural gas is much cleaner than coal, but it still removes oxygen from the air and replaces it with carbon dioxide; this makes our air that harder to breathe. The natural gas boon today is due to a relatively new process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Registered Professional Engineers (PEs), those certified to protect public safety and general welfare, have been strongly arguing the risks and benefits of fracking for a year now. Fracking forces huge quantities of water and chemicals into the ground to break up rock formations and release natural gas. Many PEs have expressed serious concerns about the long-term effects of fracking and the potential damage to our limited supply of drinkable water. Once natural gas is out of the ground, engineers have to transport it long distances to from the production fields to generating plants. There have already been dangerous and environmentally-damaging US leaks.

Wind is a clean source of electricity, but areas of high wind velocities and volumes are usually far from population centers. Wind energy usually requires vast transmission lines just to get the energy to the municipalities that need it. Most consider the huge turbines themselves to be unsightly pushing them even further away from the need for electricity. Long distance power transmission has huge losses and higher costs.

Coal, nuclear, and natural gas, generating plants are all located far from the commercial and residential areas that demand the electricity. Wind turbines and hydro-power dams, the most environmental friendly of the above sources, are usually located even greater distances away. Most people think, “NIMBY! We want plenty of electricity, but Not In My Back Yard.

Only PV, solar-thermal, and geothermal systems harvest the electricity from the sun very near to the facility where it is consumed.

Silicon PV module prices are plummeting while efficiencies are climbing steadily. Solar installers are becoming more experienced and developing new techniques to reduce installation costs. The SunShot Initiative, inspired by the Moon Shot program of the 1960’s is racing toward a goal of installing complete utility-scale PV systems for less than a dollar a watt by 2025. We’re only about 13 years out, and we’re already well ahead of schedule to meet these goals. Commercial and residential PV systems may still cost as much as a dollar a watt more than the big projects, but the cost of even the small systems has dropped sharply in the past two years.

These are exciting times to be involved in solar, but we must seize the day. ASA needs more people willing to spread the word through education and outreach. The best ideas are practically worthless until they are implemented.

Will you join us in making a real difference?

Posted October 18, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Twelve Ways to Save Energy-Number 11: Buy or build Energy Star.

“So in summary,” began the DoE expert, as he began his speech, “buy Energy Star whenever it is available.” He went on to explain why he began his talk with a summary; he was speaking to the thousands of US Government employees authorized to use Government credit cards to buy small (less than $50,000) purchases. “Energy Star is 90 percent of what I am going to say to you. If everyone falls asleep for the rest of my speech, you will have gotten the most important part of my message.”

Look for the Energy Star logo before you buy or build. is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. Products bearing the ENERGY STAR labels are more energy efficient than standard products, thereby saving energy and money. In general, Energy Star qualified products including: appliances, HVAC equipment, office equipment, residential lighting, and even homes, reduce energy costs by at least 30 percent.

Energy Star is a voluntary program designed to identify, promote, and increase the use of energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment for future generations. The U.S Government established the program in 1992. The label is now found on more than 40 product categories for the home and workplace, as well as on new homes. These products deliver the same or better performance as comparable models while using less energy and saving users money.

Energy Star also provides easy-to-use home and building assessment tools allowing homeowners and building managers to begin the path to greater efficiency and cost savings.

The Energy Star label is an excellent place to start your search, but look beyond the label. “Energy efficient” is like lowfat milk. Two percent milk fat qualifies, but ½ percent is four times less fat than 2 percent. I looked for new windows to replace the leaky ones in my home. The set I finally selected were three times more efficient as ones that met only the minimum Energy Star standards.

With another energy crisis looming, we are all conscious of energy use. Do a life-cycle-cost analysis to see which will work best for your project.

Posted July 25, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

It’s time for Independence Day. Let Freedom Ring!

President Obama has opened the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) causing oil prices to drop. That’s good in the short-term, but what will be the long term effects?

When the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776, the population of the United States was only about 2.5 million people -- that is less than one person per square mile of our nation or about half the population of Alabama today. Transportation was mostly human, animal, or wind power. Wind energy came naturally from the sun's uneven heating of the eaarth. Most of our light came from the sun – most folks back then went to bed at sundown. Humans and animals got energy from the abundant crops growing naturally under the sun or enhanced by early pioneers. Our energy came from the land, and there was plenty for everyone.

As we grew, the internal combustion engine replaced the horse and wind for transportation power. The first diesel engine ran on peanut oil, and Henry Ford’s famous Model “T” ran on ethanol. Trees cut from riverbanks pushed the mighty steamboats up and down our magnificent rivers. We still got most of our energy from our abundant land.

That changed with the discovery of cheap oil. While petroleum seeps had been seen in the Middle East, Asia, and in many other places, the majority of oil discoveries in the first 50 years were in North America, mostly in the United States. The most significant oil well was in the middle of quiet farm country in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859. It began an international search for petroleum and forever changed the way we lived.

The first energy crisis hit the United States December 7, 1941. Japan perceived we were blocking the oil supply they needed to meet their goal of domination of the Eastern Hemisphere. They attacked Pearl Harbor to cripple our Pacific fleet; we won World War II, but it resulted in the rationing of oil.

After the war, however, oil seemed to be again plentiful, and our thirst for the “black gold” grew. When oil supplies in the United States began to dry up, vast supplies were discovered in the Middle East. By 1973, we were importing 28 percent of our oil from foreign countries. We were hooked.

In September, 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to raise the posted price of oil by 70%. Then, on October 19 - 20, in response of American support for Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict, OPEC proclaimed the oil boycott that provided for curbs on their oil exports to various consumer countries and a total embargo on oil deliveries to the United States. This began the second US energy crisis.

Prices spiked, but more significantly, there was not enough oil available to meet our demands. Long lines formed at the pumps, and many areas had to resort to rationing. The embargo continued into 1974. This raised the threat of oil shortage to our national security, much as Japan may have felt in 1941. The 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act limited speed limits to 55 MPH. The lower speed limits did reduce oil consumption and highway deaths, but the law was always unpopular. Later that year, Congress established the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to help prevent a repetition of the economic impact of an oil embargo. The capacity of the SPR is 727 million barrels. Oil is stored in a variety of locations including salt domes in Louisiana. I served as a safety officer on one or the SPR projects near Baton Rouge. We were drilling into an underground dome, where all the viable salt had already been mined. Oil was to be stored there until needed for emergencies.

The extended energy crisis of the 1970's soon demonstrated the need for unified energy organization and planning. By 1977, oil prices had dipped back below $40 per barrel on the world market. American price controls held the US price to about $25.The Department of Energy (DoE), activated on October 1st assumed the responsibilities of the Federal Energy Administration, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Federal Power Commission, and parts and programs of several other agencies. DoE was supposed to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but perceived abundance of oil once again overrode reason and the DoE’s efforts.

The 312 million Americans today face a third and completely different energy crisis. Emerging markets such as China and India have caused world energy demands to skyrocket. Gasoline here is still quite cheap by world standards. Gas in the Philippines is about $5 per gallon, but in terms of local buying power, it equates to about $150 per gallon in the US. Gasoline in Denmark has been over $7 per gallon for the past 30 years.

Our local demands for oil have increased, despite better fuel economy of most vehicles; we now import an incredible 57 percent of our oil. That’s more than twice what we imported in 1973. Just imagine if we were to face another boycott today.

President Obama’s release of the SPR oil helped to lower gas prices immediately; as it instantly raised his approval ratings, but I fear it will only cause even higher prices in the future. See my July 30th blog, A Dozen Ways to Save Energy, Number 2: Understand the law of supply and demand”. Lowering gasoline prices will help in the short-term, but it can only help over the long run if we realize that:

  • The SPR was designed for emergencies.

  • This current energy crisis is an emergency.

  • We need to reduce future consumption or face more shortages and price increases.
DoE took us from 28 percent importation on foreign oil to more than double that today. There are other options, as I have mentioned many times before and will summarize again in my next blog. We can continue to demand more from petroleum as world supplies dry up, we can face ever increasing prices until it is all gone, or we can start using more of the alternatives.

Let’s declare July 4, 2050, as our next “Independence Day,” the day we no longer depend on petroleum from foreign sources.

Posted May 15, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Clean coal, cheaper gas, and other urban myths:

"Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity,” claims the world’s largest energy company.

“Coal is cheap,” says a representative of Southern Companies, corporate parent of Alabama Power Company.

“There’s not enough sunshine in Alabama to make solar feasible,” proclaims another Alabama Power official, and he has a map from a US Government agency to prove it.

Be very careful about corporate and association claims, even when they are completely true. I once bought a product absolutely guaranteed that it “Attracts cats like a magnet!” and indeed it attracted cats as well as the most powerful magnet in the world - that is, not at all. Cats are not attracted to magnets.

A graphic one manufacturer uses shows a chart of how vacuum solar collectors are much more efficient than either flat plate or tubular collectors, when you require temperature increases of more than 100 F-degrees. The claim is absolutely true, but 80 percent of all solar hot water requirements are for much lower ?T, or temperature increase. It’s like saying a Porsche sports car is much more fuel-efficient than a Ford pickup at speeds above 150 miles-per-hour. The statement is absolutely true, but hardly applicable in America.

Myth: ‘Cleaner coal:’

Burning anything is bad for the environment. Let’s take natural gas, one of our cleanest fuels. Combustion requires oxygen. Burning 1,000 cubic feet of pure natural gas consumes 183 pounds of oxygen and produces 122 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Now consider burning a less-clean fuel. Huge wood-powered steamboats travelled up and down America’s mighty rivers a century and a half ago leaving a perpetual cloud of black sky over major ports like New Orleans and Saint Louis. Coal, which powered the Industrial Revolution and is still used for most of America’s electricity today, leaves a fine dust and other impurities in the air. On a visit to China in 2003 (See below.), I was dismayed by the brown sunrise each morning. The sun rose in a brown haze over Nanchang, China, every morning for the week we were there in October 2003. Breathing that air was not easy. Coal-fired electric generation plants made the Chinese air so unhealthy, that Beijing officials shut off the worst offenders for the Olympics in 2008. Even then, participating athletes from around the world reported diminished performances.

“A growing collection of studies demonstrate the correlation between electricity fueled by low-cost coal and improvement in health, longevity and quality of life,” continues the coal company ad. “The United Nations has linked life expectancy, educational attainment and income with per-capita electricity use, and the World Resources Institute found that for every 10-fold increase in per-capita energy use, individuals live 10 years longer. ... Peabody Energy is a global leader in clean coal solutions and is advancing more than a dozen clean coal projects around the world, leading to our ultimate goal of near-zero emissions from coal."

That is a wonderful idea, but industry is many, many, many years away from achieving anything near a “zero emissions from coal." The emissions captured from the air discharge have to go somewhere. They are collected in coal ash retention ponds. Coal ash contains mercury and dangerous heavy metals like lead and arsenic - materials found naturally in coal are concentrated in the ash. These ponds leach their deadly chemicals into the surrounding soil. These ponds may fail, such as the one did in Harriman, Tennessee, on December 22, 2008. Homes were flooded to the second floor, and the dangerous chemicals began a deadly trip to the Gulf. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Even if they coal were to achieve a completely emissions-free process, the process would still involve burning. So by this coal company’s wildest dreams, the process would be less environmentally friendly than natural gas would be, and natural gas removes oxygen while adding carbon dioxide to the air we breathe.

This coal company saves their most twisted claims for last. "A great deal of noise has been made of the risks associated with the production and consumption of coal. Yet even though those risks do exist, they have been very well studied, and we have developed ways of addressing them in a manner acceptable to doctors, patients, insurers, and society. Indeed, there are now a wide array of techniques and technologies for mitigating the risks associated with coal. Those techniques range from the financial - fiduciary devices to reduce the risk to investors and societies of the gambles involved in coal investment - to medical devices such as the inhaler, a lightweight, sophisticated solution to the inconveniences posed by childhood asthma. Together, all of these technologies make coal production and consumption one of the safest endeavors on earth."

Their statements are mostly true but highly misleading. As an asthma sufferer myself, I know not being able to breathe is much more than an “inconvenience.” It is downright terrifying! We can live weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without oxygen.

The thin blue line above, behind the tail of the Space Shuttle, is a picture of our atmosphere from earth orbit. That thin layer is all that keeps us alive.

Yes, coal is the cheapest way to generate electricity in Alabama if you ignore added health costs, the cost of distributing the electricity from remote coal-fired generating plants to the point of use, Government subsidies, and cleanup costs when there is a massive spill like TVA experienced in 2008 - it was eight times the magnitude of the Gulf Oil Spill - etc., etc., etc.

Myth: ‘Cheaper gas:’

Drill, Baby, drill! Demand for petroleum is increasing worldwide, so we can bring prices down by increasing supply. Isn’t that the theory of “The Law of Supply and Demand?”

Yes, that is the theory, but let’s look at the facts. The easy-to-reach gas is running out. We must now drill in more expensive and in more environmentally-sensitive areas to meet new demands. The April, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred from problems drilling in mile-deep ocean waters. The resulting leak shut down the Gulf Coast to fishing and recreation across four states for most of a year; these states depend heavily on revenues from these industries for economic survival. All of this cost money to clean up and money to pay for damages. It will also make future oil and gas exploration more expensive, as engineers scramble to make sure that never happens again. Drilling in the Arctic with minimum damage to the environment is possible, but it is also very expensive. The Washington Post reported declining production in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil field in 2005. Output had then fallen by nearly 75 percent from its peak in 1987 and was expected to continue dropping. Indeed, oil in the pipeline is flowing so slowly now, that Alaskan officials may have to close the it due to flow rates of less than one-third capacity. Building the pipeline was a huge expense, and building a new one to support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will cost even more.

The cheap gas is gone. It’s time to move on to smarter forms of clean energy.

Myth: ‘The sun don’t shine in Alabama:’

The Alabama Power official used an official Government map to support his claim, “There’s not enough sunshine in Alabama to make solar feasible.” If you look closely at the map, you will see that someone has covered up the word “Concentrated” in the caption. The official map was intended to show that concentrated solar power is not economically feasible except in the sunniest parts of the West and a bit of Florida. But does Alabama have enough sun?

This map shows the photovoltaic (PV) potential for the United States and for Germany. Why is Germany important to the PV potential of Alabama?

Germany leads the world in solar harvesting, and they have the same solar potential as does Southern Alaska. They also have a tremendous respect for the environment; I have had German citizens come tap on my car window to tell me to turn off my idling car engine when I let it run another 30 seconds to cool the turbocharger. They had the political will to make a difference.

Middle East countries, where most of the world’s petroleum resides beneath desert sands, are now developing solar power and net-zero energy cities. A net-zero building or municipality puts more energy onto a power grid from renewable sources than it takes off. If the people with all the petroleum recognize the end of oil, perhaps we should try to understand their point of view.

While Alabama does not have the solar potential of the desert regions of the American West, and though concentrated solar is not really economical here, we have more than enough solar for PV, solar hot water, and geothermal. There is plenty of sun in Alabama to power a number of houses that are completely off the grid and even more that are net-zero facilities.

Do you want to bet energy prices will not rise significantly in the next 30 years, or do you want to know exactly what your energy costs will be over that period?

Myth: ‘Just a little bit more pollution won’t hurt:’

What’s just 183 pounds less oxygen in the whole world’s supply of air? Not much, but that’s just for burning 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Consider that the world burns almost 80 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per day. That consumes over seven million tons of oxygen from the air we depend on to breathe to make almost five million tons of carbon dioxide which we can’t. Now consider that burning coal consumes 86 million tons of oxygen to produce 57 million tons of carbon dioxide every day. Add to the oxygen depletion problems all the impurities coal puts into the air when it burns and all the harmful chemicals the ash leaves behind, and we are doing serious harm to our air and water supplies. We are cutting down rain forests every day - trees that used to remove carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen. How much longer can we keep this up and still be able to breathe normally?

Removing 93 million tons of oxygen and replacing it with 62 million tons of carbon dioxide each day is not “a little bit.” We need more CO2-scrubbing, oxygen producing plants and less CO2 emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes.

Fossil fuels were great in their day, but their day has passed. Back in the 1800’s, the horse and buggy was the premier form of personal transportation. It makes no more sense trying to squeeze the last bit of fossil fuels out of Mother Earth’s bosom than it does to cling to the horse and buggy.

Get all the facts, challenge industry claims, and make smart choices. Let’s look to the future.

Posted May 15, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Twelve Ways to Save Energy-Number 11: Buy or build Energy Star.

“So in summary,” began the DoE expert, as he began his speech, “buy Energy Star whenever it is available.”

He went on to explain why he began his talk with a summary; he was speaking to the thousands of US Government employees in the US Army Aviation and Missile Command authorized to use Government credit cards to buy small (less than $50,000) purchases. “Energy Star is 90 percent of what I am going to say to you. If everyone falls asleep for the rest of my speech, you will have gotten the most important part of my message. is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. Products bearing the Energy Star labels are more energy efficient than standard products, thereby saving energy and money. In general, Energy Star qualified products including: appliances, HVAC equipment, office equipment, residential lighting, and even homes, reduce energy costs by at least 30 percent.

Energy Star is a voluntary program designed to identify, promote, and increase the use of energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment for future generations. The U.S Government established the program in 1992. The label is now found on more than 40 product categories for the home and workplace, as well as on new homes. These products deliver the same or better performance as comparable models while using less energy and saving users money.

Energy Star also provides easy-to-use home and building assessment tools allowing homeowners and building managers to begin the path to greater efficiency and cost savings.

The Energy Star label is an excellent place to start, but look beyond the label. “Energy efficient” is like lowfat milk. Two percent milk fat qualifies, but ½ percent is four times better than 2 percent.

I looked for new windows to replace the leaky ones in my home. The set I finally selected were three times as efficient as the minimum Energy Star standards.

With another energy crisis looming, we are all conscious of energy use. Do a life-cycle-cost analysis to see which will work best for your project.

Posted May 15, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

What now for Energy? Professional Engineers discuss the future.

The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE, have considered the energy picture in America. We’ve seen radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, coal mine collapses and natural gas refinery explosions worldwide. It's been a dangerous year for energy. Finding safe and clean ways to quench the US energy thirst is a critical issue - for national security, for economic well-being, and for the environment. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) tackles some tough choices we are facing now.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has announced plans to replace coal-fired steam plants with nuclear options. Nuke plants produce significantly less CO than do coal plants, but they also require significantly more water. With Georgia using lawsuits to against Alabama and Tennessee for the right to divert a large amount of the Tennessee River from Chattanooga to thirsty Atlanta, how much water can we afford to spend on energy.

Natural gas is promising, and it releases only half the CO of coal, but current production methods depend heavily on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but these techniques are drawing increased concerns over safety of the groundwater in nearby aquifers. With critical water shortages across the nation, we need to be careful to protect those we have now.

Renewables offer a bright future, but they have a high initial cost, and so many people do not understand how they work. we must work harder to educate people as to the simplicity and life-cycle-cost effectiveness of renewable energy.

Energy efficiency is the most readily available source of renewable energy. Studies show potential savings of 15 to 25 percent without any loss of quality of life just by eliminating waste. If people are willing to accept a few small lifestyle changes, the potential jumps to 25 to 50 percent savings. Energy efficiency can begin helping you immediately. You can go to your thermostat and turn the cooling setting two degrees warmer and save 5 percent. It’s also a great excuse to wear more casual clothing in the hotter months. Energy efficiency is the logical first step in any energy program be it convention or renewable fueled.

Charles Holliday, P.E., National Academy of Engineering member and Bank of America chairman, quotes a line from former Lockheed Martin chairman and CEO Norm Augustine: "If you're worried about the plane being too heavy, you don't throw an engine off." In other words, this is exactly the wrong time to not be spending money on energy, Holliday explains.

The American Energy Innovation Council is optimistic about U.S. ability to drive down the price of new technology—such as this iPod nano, which weighs less than an ounce and can hold 4,000 songs. With 1975 technology, an iPod would've cost $1 billion and been the size of a building, the council says. If science can make a toy that much more affordable and compact, what could they do with critical infrastructure such as our energy plants?

Read the entire article in the May Issue of PE magazine.

Posted May 11, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Twelve Ways to Save Energy-Number 10: Replace existing lights with LED or CFL bulbs.

The incandescent light bulb was a marvel of science when Thomas Edison invented the first practical one in 1879. It still works well in some applications, but today, there are usually much better options.

Fluorescent tube lights have been around since the 1890’s, but they were usually limited to large, commercial applications. Compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, became available in 1976, but they didn’t really hit the market until the 1980’s and didn’t become popular until the late 1990’s.

My CFLs in my garage cost over $10 apiece; they come on as a dim yellow glow and take almost a minute to give off a brilliant white light. This may not sound like much of a recommendation, but my garage lights are first generation CFLs and are ten years old. They are still burning after ten years, so why replace them?

Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, have been commercially available since 1960. The first ones came only in red. They were excellent for emergency exit signs but not very practical for reading lamps. When I commuted by bicycle 34 miles to and from work in Huntsville traffic, I had a number of red flashing LED fixtures on my bike and my body. They were highly visible and lasted years on a single penlight battery.

LEDs are not available in white. To make light from an LED fixture appear white, engineers combine the light from stacked red and blue LEDs and then filter the resulting rays through a yellow phosphor coating or lens.

Most lighting is designed for 110 volts alternating current (AC), normal household current, or higher. LEDs operate on low-voltage direct current (DC). Most LED fixtures operate with a “driver” that converts AC to DC while also reducing the voltage. The driver may consume 10 to 15 percent of the energy being used.

A few LEDs are available to operate on 12 volts DC, typical voltage for a car. Photovoltaic (PV) cells produce low voltage DC and typically have to be wired in series to get 12 volt or higher DC output. PV systems on homes typically invert low-voltage DC into 110 or 220 volt AC for most household uses. Inverters consume anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the PV output. Inverting DC PV output into AC and then running it through the LED driver to reduce voltage back again may waste from 20 to 45 percent of the lighting power. Using the 12-volt LEDs in an off-grid system could potentially save a lot of energy.

LED light beams are very directional—the beams fan out a bit, but they shine very little to the sides and rear. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. LED bulbs work extremely well as downlights and desk lights, but bulbs for general illumination may need built-in reflectors to diffuse the output of the light beams.

LEDs are still a bit expensive, just as my old CFLs in my garage were when I first installed them, but prices are dropping. The 12-volt LEDs are especially expensive, as the demand for them is still limited. I foresee future 12-volt LED lighting used extensively with PV panels in boats, recreational vehicles, and perhaps even in households. LEDs are becoming more popular in taillights and headlights for cars and trucks. Using them for interior and marking lights seems the logical next step.

LEDs are much more efficient than compact fluorescents. Straight-line fluorescents are still a bit more efficient than LEDs, but the LED technology is catching up. Fluorescent bulbs do contain a small amount of mercury, although you are likely to find more mercury in a can of tuna than you will in a CFL. Be a responsible consumer. Ask your local waste disposal authority about how to properly dispose of fluorescents as for any other potentially hazardous items.

About the only given is that both LEDs and fluorescents are much more efficient than are incandescent lamps. Do a life-cycle-cost analysis to see which will work best for you.

Posted March 19, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

SPR to ease gas prices?

The Obama administration is considering answering repeated calls to open Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to counter the current oil price spike. The SPR is for emergencies, and it is only a temporary fix.

If we recognize the current oil shortage as an emergency, then we should recognize that it is time now to begin working on a long-term solution. Electric cars powered by photovoltaic carports and garages offer one solution. Bio-fuels such as Hoover’s ethanol-powered police cruisers and bio-diesel powered-equipment—both made from waste—offers another.

It’s time to put the brains of the North Alabama that took us to the moon and back to work solving energy problems here at home.

Posted March 7, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Twelve Ways to Save Energy-Number 9: Buy less stuff.

I suffer, as do many of us, from TMS, or Too Much Stuff. Why did I even buy some of this junk?

Part of the problem was inherited. My parents and an aunt with whom I was very close died within five years, and I had to empty their houses. They too had TMS, as I learned trying to separate trash from treasure. I found valuable family history documents, letters from my dad’s service in World War II, war souvenirs, and stuff they had collected for 99 years. A few years later, I retired, as did my wife the next year. We cleared our respective offices of 36 years of our professional careers. Most of the stuff seemed important at the time, but we haven’t touched most if it since we piled it into our garage.

So what does TMS have to do with saving energy? it took energy to make the stuff and it takes energy to keep storing it. Watch Annie Leonard’s excellent video, The Story of Stuff at to learn how stuff relates to energy and the environment.

I am not suggesting you do without things you need. I only suggest you ask yourself three questions before making a purchase:

  1. Do I really need this?
  2. Where will I put it?
  3. Can it replace something else I no longer need?

Ok, so you’ve determined you have TMS. What do you do now? Now, we go back to the formula of Reduce, Reuse, and only then Recycle.

We’ve already talked about reducing, that asking ourselves the three questions above. But what about all the stuff we used to need but now we don’t?

Reuse is our next best option. Even if we no longer need it, perhaps someone else does. Consider donating used professional equipment and office supplies to local schools or universities. Their budgets have been brutally slashed recently, so they could really use the help. As Whitney Houston sings, “I believe the children are our future, teach them well, and let them lead the way.” If it isn’t something schools can use, how about donating it to a local rescue mission or thrift store? All these options reduce TMS and are even tax-deductible.

Notice how office supply stores offer you a hefty rebate for trading in your old printer for a new model? Aren’t they generous? Not at all! That’s “Lean and Green” engineering techniques. Big companies refurbish the printers and sell them to developing countries that could not otherwise afford them. They have reduced their waste stream headed for an incinerator or landfill, they have turned waste into a useful product, and they are helping people who are less fortunate than are we. This is reuse.

Recycling is the third best option. How about all those files from my old office I have not opened in almost ten years? They are candidate for recycling.

As a last resort, dispose of them in the trash. At least in Metro Huntsville, trash is burned to generate energy for Redstone Arsenal. Just be sure to keep anything out of the trash that might be harmful when released back into the air.

Plan ahead. Control your stuff, or it will control you.

Posted March 1, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Twelve Ways to Save Energy-Number 8: Recycle if you must, but first reduce and reuse.

Recycling is up, and that’s good—sort of. Recycling is the best way to get rid of something that cannot be used again by you or by someone else. But it’s only the third best way to save money, save energy, and reduce your carbon footprint.

Take those little plastic bags you get when you check out. The world uses 14 billion plastic bags every day consuming 55 million barrels of oil in the process; it takes a gallon of crude oil to make six plastic bags. When you see someone coming out of Wal-Mart with three plastic bags in each hand, they are actually carrying more than a gallon of crude oil, and that doesn’t count the waste oil in all the excess packaging inside the bags.

Reusable bags were around for ages before plastic was even invented. Picture an ancient Egyptian woman with a large basket of fruit on her head. When we lived in Germany in the 1960’s, we learned that plastic bags were not free at the grocery store; we had to pay for them. Europeans reused these bags until they wore completely out, or they brought shopping baskets with them.

But we get them free when we buy something here; or do we? When did any store give you anything that was really “free?” They simply include the cost as overhead in establishing the prices of other items. We are all paying for it.

So what’s the impact of a few plastic bags? Engineers estimate that the famous Gulf oil spill last year wasted 20 to 100 thousand barrels of oil per day. Global plastic bag consumption is still 5,500 times the worst case scenario of the oil spill.

And plastic bags are just one example of waste you can avoid. Here are a few other examples of opportunities to avoid getting to the need to recycle:

  • Reduce: Use real cups, plates, and silverware.
  • Reuse: When you get disposable plastic cups and tableware, reuse them.
  • Reuse: Donate used clothing to a homeless shelter.
  • Reduce and Reuse: Use aluminum bottles instead of plastic for water.
  • Reuse: Collect rinse water and melting ice to water plants.
  • Reduce: Buy from the local farmers’ market; get fresher food without the excess packaging.
  • Reduce: Grow your own.
  • Recycle: Compost.
  • Reduce: Use cloth napkins instead of paper, but if you use paper, compost them.
  • Reduce: Think; is it something you need, or just something you want.
  • Reduce: Say it with electrons instead of printing it on dead trees.
  • Reduce: If you must print, use soy ink instead of oil-based.
  • Reduce: Can you combine trips?
If something gets into your home or business, and it cannot be reused but it can be recycled, then recycle it. If you can keep such items from ever getting there, that’s all the better.

Think and Plan Ahead. Use your imagination. What can you reduce, reuse, or recycle?

Posted February 12, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Katrina aftermath

One Huntsville Times reader had a convenient memory of the Katrina aftermath. He claimed that oil company greed alone caused higher prices and all manner of other social ills.

Gasoline prices did indeed spike after Katrina reduced the supply of oil and demand remained high. As people conserved, demand dropped, and prices returned to lower levels. This is called the law of supply and demand.

The recession is now easing, people have more money, demand is rising again, and prices are rising. When gasoline prices rise, other energies follow suit. We can complain about rising costs and ask the Government to control prices—that hasn’t worked in the past—or we can do something proactive about it; we can begin a gradual shift to renewable fuels. Gasoline in the Philippines cost $3.90 per gallon in November, but in terms of purchasing power, it was over $100 per gallon.

In a typical day, there is enough sunshine reaching the earth’s surface to meet global energy demand more than 5,000 times over. Wind energy generated from the sun’s heat will generate more than 50 times global demand beyond direct solar. Geothermal energy stored in the ground will meet more than double our needs.

Learn how you can tap into the sun’s clean, renewable energy, including small steps everyone can take now, at the Alabama Solar Association website,

Posted February 7, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Twelve Ways to Save Energy-Number 7: Bike or walk to work or for local errands.

As I mentioned last month, driving a bicycle is about as “green” as you can get with a machine. The only thing better is walking. Unfortunately, these two options work best overseas, but they are no means impossible here.

Venice was designed with the idea that vehicles would have no place on the sidewalks and bridges over the canals. Zermatt, Switzerland, beneath the famed Matterhorn, has never allowed motor vehicles inside the city limits except for the train that deposits people on the edge of town. Vauban, Germany, was designed to be carless as was the futuristic city of Masdar now under construction in the United Arab Emirates.

But bicycle and people-friendly cities are not limited to Eurasia. Peachtree City, Georgia, south of Atlanta, has a network of paths behind each home. You never have to traverse more than a short city block of quiet neighborhood streets to enter the pathway network. Many of the Delta Airlines flight crews living there, such as Captain Dick Allis, enjoy the quiet pathways of Peachtree City after grueling motor vehicle transport schedules. Dick, a retired Delta captain is a cycling enthusiast who enjoys repairing donated bicycles for needy kids in his spare time.

Huntsville has many greenway paths for cycling and walking, but even better is an invention of former Mayor Loretta Spencer. The city is crisscrossed with bicycle routes. The 119-year old Spring City Cycling Club ( offers classes and rider training to help residents of the Tennessee Valley share the roads safely with our motorized cousins. The club has a “Roadies” group that takes pride in riding their bicycles almost everywhere in almost any weather. For years, I used a bicycle for almost all my travel while improving my health and saving about $8,000 per year. We didn’t even talk about carbon footprints back then, but mine was tiny.

Walking is difficult but not impossible here. I was attending a class at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, years ago. I brought my bicycle with me from Germany to have transportation around post. I was cycling to class from the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters when I spotted a three-star general walking to work. he was the post commander, and he walked to work most days.

Walking is fairly common of Army posts. After all, foot travel was the primary means of travel for soldiers for millennia. There is a nice path from the military housing area of Redstone Arsenal to the major office and lab complexes.

But even if you are not hard core enough to bike or walk full time, you can still make a big impact on the environment. Motor vehicles are most inefficient and polluting for short trips and in hotter weather. Even cycling or walking for short summer trips can reduce your carbon footprint.

Think and Plan Ahead.

Posted January 22, 2011 from Huntsville, Alabama, USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

A Dozen Ways to Save Energy, Number 5: Drive a bicycle.

Almost 30 percent of the world's total delivered energy is used for transportation, most of it liquid fuels. The United States uses 28 percent just for transporting people according to the US Energy Information Administration (

Gasoline in the Republic of the Philippines is about $3.90 per gallon, which represents two days wages for the typical Filipino worker. Gasoline in Denmark is now about $7.90 per gallon—I remember paying about $7.00 per gallon in the 1960’s. Danes and Filipinos are always cautious about using petroleum-based fuels for travel. On a family bike tour across Denmark in 1989, we decided to ride the train for the rest of the trip into Copenhagen. The local train station had three cars parked in front, but there were thousands of bicycles. The standard of transportation in the Philippines is the Jeepney, a small, open-air bus, but bicycles and motor scooters are common too—cars are rare.

Americans have been used to ridiculously low energy prices for years. Now gas prices are approaching $3.00 per gallon again; maybe now we will have enough incentive to go at least a little green.

The most green you can go is by bicycle. When I returned from the Marshall Islands (where bicycles were the only authorized private transportation) in 1991, I never replaced the car I sold when we left Germany. I commuted to work and ran errands by bicycle. My route to work varied from 7 to 35 miles round trip as my office moved. I once even rode from Huntsville to Nashville by bicycle for a training session. I saved almost $8,000 a year by not buying a replacement motor vehicle.

My health improved dramatically too. In 1991, my health survey indicated I was as healthy as a typical 47-year old American male; I was 49 at the time. A year later, the same survey found me to be fit as a 46-year old. I aged a year and seemed to get a year younger. Cycling let me combine my commute with an excellent exercise program.

Now I realized I could not bike all the time. I did ride home through a tropical storm, but I parked my bike when an ice storm hit on a workday. My savings by not replacing my motorized ride assumed I would rent a car four times a year and take a taxi once a month. As it turned out, I rented a car only twice in five years, and I could count all the taxi trips without taking off my shoes.

Walking is another way to “Go Green.” Soldiers living on Redstone Arsenal sometimes run or walk to work using the paved path from the military housing area to the Sparkman Complex, McMorrow Labs, the von Braun Center, and other office complexes. The distance is less than four miles, an easy run or an hour-long walk. I sometimes ran from my house to my office and back, when I was training for the Rocket City Marathon and my commute was only 7 miles round trip.

You can go green without committing to full time human-powered travel. Motor vehicles are least efficient and pollute more in hot weather. Just cycle or walk in fair weather, and you can still significantly reduce your carbon footprint while keeping more green in your wallet.

If you decide to give it a try, the Alabama Bicycle Coalition (ALABike, can teach you how a bicycle can safely share the road with the motorized behemoths that seem to dominate them. The 118-year old Spring City Cycling Club offers training rides in the Tennessee Valley.

See you on a bike route somewhere in Alabama. Happy trails!

Posted December 10, 2010 from Huntsville, Alabama USA
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

TVA Asks our Advice

Your Alabama Solar Association (ASA) has reviewed the 2010 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), TVA’s Environmental & Energy Future. This plan will establish a strategic direction for TVA for the next 20 years. They have asked for public input, and we offered the comments below.

ASA applauds TVA’s plan to retire coal-fired electric generating plants and expand consideration of renewable energy sources. Not only is TVA the largest utility in the United States; it is also a trendsetter. TVA can lead other American utility companies into the 21st Century.

In the IRP’s Foreword, the agency is seeking ways of “meeting the TVA system demand over the next 20 years in an efficient, reliable, and environmentally sound manner.” They could better meet these worthy goals and reduce dependence on foreign energy sources by adding several provisions to the draft IRP.

  1. Include more photovoltaic-produced electricity such as the rooftop solar under the TVA “Generation Partners” program.

  2. Include more distributed generation capacity, that is, small generating units producing electricity near where it will be used. Rooftop solar meets these criteria.

  3. Endeavor to better educate the public, businesses, and government agencies to take advantage of energy conservation measures and emerging technology. Conservation is our most readily-available source of renewable energy. The American Solar Energy Society (ASES, and local chapters can help. ASES chapters include Alabama Solar Association (, Tennessee Solar Energy Society (, Mississippi Solar Energy Society (, Kentucky Solar Energy Society (, Georgia Solar Energy Association (, and Potomac Region Solar Energy Association (Virginia,

  4. Provide loan programs to allow business and home owners to spread the high initial costs of renewable energy and conservation programs over the expected life of the project. Owners would use energy savings to repay the loans.

  5. Adopt a policy that will require resellers of TVA electricity, like utility companies and electric co-ops, to allow customers to connect renewable energy generation systems to the grid and sell excess power back to TVA. Such a policy currently does not exist. Such cooperation would benefit everyone.

We would appreciate a copy of the final plan, but we very much prefer to get it in an electronic format to minimize waste of paper and non-renewable resources. If the final IRP is posted on the Internet, a simple e-mail pointing to the URL is preferable to a paper copy.

Posted November 9, 2010 from Tarlac City, Republic of the Philippines
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Get Informed and Vote!

There are many opportunities to vote this November. The general election on November 2nd lets Americans choose the National leaders that will guide us into the next decade. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is asking our opinion as to how they will generate electricity for the next 20 years, but we have to answer by November 8th. The movie and book, Food Inc., tells us how we can vote for cleaner, more healthy, more environmentally-friendly food every time we shop. We have plenty of opportunities to make our voices heard, but first we need to be informed.

Comedian Jon Stewart at his rally on The Mall in Washington, D.C. on October 30th, said, “The country's 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected, dangerous flaming ant epidemic.”

In years past, the problem was getting enough information. Today, the problem is information overload. Today, anyone with a few computer skills and information, wise or otherwise, true or not, can spread it around the world with the click of a mouse. We need to be very careful what we accept as fact. Just because it is on the Internet does not mean it is true. Snopes ( ) can help us fact check, but nothing beats common sense and a trusted source.

I sincerely hope that all of you eligible to vote do so today after becoming well informed. I have my own political views, but I will not choose to share them here. Even if your views differ from mine, at least go make your views known. Vote!

Today is one chance to vote, but it is not the only chance you have this month or even in months to come. The second chance is anytime before November 8th. TVA wants our opinion, and we should give it to them. Read pages 1 and 2 of the October Sundial ( to learn more. Vote for more renewable energy in our future at I plan to ask for:

  • More photovoltaic-produced electricity such as the rooftop solar under the TVA “Generation Partners” program.
  • More distributed generation, that is, small generating units near where the electricity will be used. Rooftop solar meets these criteria.
  • More education to take advantage of energy conservation measures and emerging technology. Conservation is our most readily-available source of renewable energy.
  • Loan programs to allow business and home owners to spread the high initial costs of renewable energy and conservation programs over the expected life of the project. Owners can use energy savings to repay the loan.
  • A policy that will require resellers of TVA electricity, like utility companies and Electric Co-ops, to allow customers to connect photovoltaic systems to the grid and sell excess power back to TVA. The Arab Electric Co-Op in North Alabama refuses to even consider letting a customer connect.

We can vote for smarter choices every time we shop or drive. The movie and book Food, Inc. ( documents the health hazards and environmental impact of mass-produced food we eat every day. Watch the movie or read the book and make an informed decision. My family used to grow half of what we ate between our raised-bed, backyard garden, our fruit trees, food from a nearby farm, and fruit we gathered from the woods. Consider buying unprocessed food from the local farmer’s market or at least buying organic from stores like Earth Fare, Publix, and Wal-Mart.

Grocery stores in the Philippines cater to smart shoppers. Stores offer refills in recyclable foil packages to avoid unnecessary plastic bottles. Local foods are sold in bulk to reduce packaging. Even aluminum foil is available as a refill roll without the cardboard box and metal cutting edge.

With the average wages for a day’s work a little over $2.00 in the Philippines, shoppers look carefully at smarter choices available to them. When a day’s wages buys half a gallon of gas or 9 kilowatt-hours of electricity, Filipinos use energy carefully. World-famous Jeepneys provide economical mass transit, and their flamboyant colors make the ride more fun. “Trikes,” actually small motorcycles with side cars, serve as family vehicles, taxis, and most delivery transports. Yellow Cab Pizza Company delivers a delicious pizza hot to our door using a trike.

Compact fluorescent bulbs have all but replaced incandescent models, but LED bulbs have yet to catch on here in the Philippines.

Vote for better living and healthier lifestyles on November 2nd, before November 8th, or any time you shop. Together, we can make a big difference.

Posted November 2, 2010 from Tarlac City, Republic of the Philippines
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

A Dozen Ways to Save Energy, Number 4: Drive smarter.

When gas hit four bucks a gallon after Hurricane Katrina, people across America automatically started driving smarter. When we lived in Germany in the 1980’s, gas was already almost four bucks a gallon, and in Denmark just to the north, it has been over $7 per gallon since the 1960’s. Europeans have always driven a lot smarter than do Americans.

We Americans have been accustomed to cheap gas for so long, it’s one of the reasons T. Boone Pickens says we’re addicted to oil. Now that oil is beginning to run out, we have to make some changes.

The simplest way to drive smarter is to simply plan ahead. UPS, a master at fuel economy, recently revised their routes to include more right and less left turns where possible. This simple planning step minimizes delays waiting for left turn arrows or traffic to clear.

UPS also bought a fleet of hydraulic hybrids trucks. They are just as big as the old trucks, but whenever the driver brakes, he or she builds up and stores pressure in a hydraulic system. The system boosts acceleration when the truck is able to move again. Hydraulic hybrids are impractical as family vehicles, but there are several gas-electric hybrid SUVs available. Imagine plugging your hybrid into the grid at night when electrical demand is low, plugging into a PV shaded carport while you are at work, and still having the gasoline engine to keep going when batteries run down.

Another way planning ahead can help you drive smarter is to combine trips. Our hosts here in the Philippines own no car. When they rent a van to drive them for errands too big to do on their scooter, they carefully plan stops to take maximum advantage of the trip.

Can you car-pool? Perhaps you can convert a long drive to an opportunity to read a book or just relax. Here in the Philippines our hosts’ workers sometimes “car-pool” with five or more riding on a trike (a motorbike with a sidecar).

Keep your vehicle well-tuned and tires properly inflated. A well-maintained vehicle not only saves energy but significantly reduces air pollution.

Shed some pounds. Clean out the truck or cargo area. Think about walking up stairs carrying bags of groceries as compared to walking up empty handed. Your engine uses extra fuel climbing hills and overcoming wind resistance with extra pounds aboard.

Accelerate smoothly and avoid braking when you can. Braking destroys the momentum built by using fuel. Try coasting to a slower speed approaching a situation where you need to stop. You will still have to brake some, but try to do so less.

Challenge yourself to drive smarter. You’ll be amazed what a difference a few habit changes can make.

Happy Trails!

Posted October 22, 2010 from Tarlac City, Republic of the Philippines
by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

A Dozen Ways to Save Energy, Number 3: Plug into renewable energy.

At the Birmingham Green Expo and again at Green U, there were lots of folks very interested in plugging into renewable energy.

Germany currently is the leader in solar power. Having lived in Germany more than 10 years, this fact surprises me on several levels. The sun does not appear as often as does the sun in Alabama; I remember seeing the sun four days one spring in Wiesbaden, and that was in Southern Germany. Indeed a look at the solar potential map shows us that they have the sunshine potential of Southern Alaska.

Another surprise is the strong German sense of tradition in architecture. They usually don’t allow TV antennas on their red tile roofs; I was amazed to learn they allow solar collectors.

The German people, much more densely packed than we Americans and without the oil and coal resources we find here, have apparently realized that the sunset of fossil fuels is approaching. We’re not out yet, but it’s getting more expensive and environmentally risky every year. We must act soon, Germany chose to act now.

German politicians have not only offered a healthy subsidy for many more years than the U.S., but more importantly, it does not impose a massive bureaucratic barrier to approving new solar systems. Typically, a solar system in Germany requires one inspection and a few pages of paperwork before it can be connected to the grid, compared to up to a dozen inspections and a phone-book of paperwork in the U.S.

Photovoltaics is what most people think of when we mention renewable energy. It’s high-tech and it’s highly visible. Most of us have used it for years if only with a solar-powered calculator. Search the Internet of clip art libraries for “green energy,” and most pictures will be either rooftop solar panels or giant windmills. Giant windmills don’t fit in our backyard, so “Average Joe” is left with PV. Actually, it’s one of the least efficient green energies around.

Heat from sunshine is as simple as a cat or dog lying in a sunny spot. Capturing and storing solar hot water goes back to the first caveman discovering an outdoor pond was warm enough to swim in after weeks under the summer sun. Swiss naturalist Horace de Saussure took solar hot water a big step forward before our Declaration of Independence was signed by building an insulated wooden box with a glass cover and placed it in direct sunshine. A thermometer in the bottom measured temperatures above the boiling point of water. Such “hot boxes” form the basis of the flat plate collectors used today to capture solar power and convert it to hot water. Solar hot water systems are four times more efficient and five times more cost effective than are photovoltaic collectors.

Using sunlight for daylighting is the most efficient as it requires little or no conversion to be useful. High-tech window shades can react automatically to filter out excess light midday or open automatically during early morning or late evening. Some shades even change opacity darkening when light is strongest. Diffusers can spread light from a small roof opening to a large working area in the middle of a room. Mirrored trackers, powered by photovoltaic cells and efficient motors, can reflect light by constantly pointing at the sun and sending the light where it is needed. Window overhangs might block midday or high summer sun while allowing morning, evening, or low winter sun to bass underneath.

Wind occurs when the sun heats some air more than air in other regions causing uneven air pressure. Wind flows from high-pressure ridges to lower pressure troughs. Without wind power, Columbus would have never discovered America in 1492. Wind is a powerful force as Denmark has discovered on the country’s tiny islands. It could work here too, but NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) makes implementation if population centers difficult. This leave the problems of long transmission lines, also with NIMBY problems tor bring wind from the Plaines and desserts to the coasts.

Geothermal is heat from three sources. Near the surface, it’s energy stored from daily sunshine. Miles beneath the earth, it comes from heat left over from the formation of the earth billions of years ago and from the radioactive decay of fissionable materials. Upper level geothermal makes excellent storage for geothermal heat pumps; it makes the heat pump think it’s springtime all year long. Deeper heat pockets can provide heat sources equal to twice the entire world’s daily energy consumption from all other source. Low-energy geothermal heat pumps work well with photovoltaic arrays.

Conservation is the most readily available source of renewable energy. Studies have shown that we can, just by eliminating waste, reduce home and business energy 15 to 25 percent with no interference in daily life. If we are willing to accept a few simple lifestyle changes, we can save 30 to 50 percent. We have become so used to cheap energy for so long, that we have learned to ignore our wasteful habits. Now strip down to shorts and a “T” shirt and bump the thermostat up four degrees; you’ll save 10 percent on your air conditioning bill. This winter, bundle up in a sweater and warm pants, cuddle up to a loved one, and thru the heat down four degrees

While Germany leads in solar harvesting here on earth, the USA unquestionably leads above it. We have the solar potential, we have the technology, we have the labor pool to develop renewable energy. All we need now is the political will to make it happen.

August 30, 2010 Posted by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

It’s good to talk about these three ways to preserve our environment, but it’s much better to show them how, as the Huntsville Botanical Gardens ( did at the second annual “Green U: A Festival for the Environment” ( on Saturday, August 28, 2010.

Recycling is the third best option; it was the admission price for Green U. Admission was either $5 or five recyclable items. Recycling saves energy and reduces pollution over manufacturing items from raw materials; any items recycled stay out of the incinerator or landfill.

Reuse is better than recycling. Green U offered several craft sessions teaching children and adults to reuse items that would normally be recycled or, worse, trashed.

Reduce is better than recycling or reuse. Green U provided no tickets for admission. Attendees got their hands marked with a green stamp in exchange for their five recyclable items (or $5); the stamp allowed passage in and out all day.

The Alabama Solar Association booth practiced all there. We provided out own electrical needs with solar panels, we gave away reusable shopping totes, and we made fresh, fizzy sodas onsite without cans or bottles. We served the drinks in biodegradable compostable cups; we encouraged reuse of the cups before recycling them by offering free refills all day.

Thank you, Botanical Gardens, for showing Huntsvillians how our little acts can add up to make a big difference for our environment. How green are U?

August 30, 2010 Posted by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

A Dozen Ways to Save Energy, Number 2: Understand the law of supply and demand.

According to, “Supply and demand is an economic model of price determination in a market. It concludes that in a competitive market, price will function to equalize the quantity demanded by consumers, and the quantity supplied by producers, resulting in an economic equilibrium of price and quantity.”

You can usually get away with violating traffic laws, and many people often do. You can often get away with violating Murphy’s Law by planning ahead and being prepared for contingencies. You can never get away with violating the physical laws such as gravity and momentum, as some reckless drivers and daredevils sometimes find out. You can bend the law of supply and demand temporarily with price restrictions, but eventually, in a capitalistic society such as ours, this law will prevail.

The trick to understanding the law of supply and demand is to think long term. We have become a society of instant gratification, and we are not used to thinking of the future. Oh yeah, we get a six-year car loan and a 30-year mortgage, but only because that’s the only way we can afford these big-ticket items.

Most of us have limited resources. When prices go up, we tend to consume less. This demand reduction lets supplies gradually rise until sellers are forced to reduce prices.

The United States had a hard lesson in supply and demand in 1973. OPEC (The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided to drastically cut supply, and prices skyrocketed. Worse, we discovered that gas simply was not available at any price. Many dealers had to ration what gas was available, and drivers began to drive more conservatively. The 55 mile-per-hour National speed limit was born, and car pools became popular. Sales of smaller, more efficient foreign cars soared, and American manufacturers raced to build US models to compete.

Years went by, and we gradually forgot about 1973. Speed limits went back up, and every American driver just had to have a huge 4-wheel drive SUV. Supply was plentiful, and we ignored gradually riding gas prices. There was no rationing or long lines at the pumps.

Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf. Oil rigs shut down and evacuated the Gulf for weeks, supplies diminished, and gas prices skyrocketed on fear of the unknown. Gasoline hit four bucks a gallon, and people panicked. But the high gasoline cost was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We saw high gas prices in big numbers on every street corner; we couldn’t miss it. What we were ignoring, however, was the underlying problems, which, like 90 percent of the iceberg, are not immediately visible. These include the rising demand for oil in China and India, oil needed for increasing demand for plastics, oil being used for lubrication, increasing health problems associated with fossil fuel discharges, and many others. Imagine the US economy, represented by a ship looking like the 1912 luxury liner Titanic, sailing well clear of the tip of the iceberg but dangerously close to the underlying 90 percent. We are sailing blindly into the 21st Century with Early 20th Century technology and attitudes not seeing most of the problem hidden below the surface, and ignoring the sunshine and wind assets above us.

An unexpected side effect, though, was that people started recycling more and they began carrying groceries more in reusable “Earth Bags.” The recycling trends seem to be continuing, but drivers still race up and down our roads, ignoring safety and speed limits, like we still have an unlimited supply of oil.

Five years after Katrina, prices dropped below $2 per gallon and gradually climbed again. Surprisingly, the April oil spill south of New Orleans has not caused prices to again rise sharply. Perhaps suppliers knew the global recession would keep consumers from paying highly inflated prices. Now that the recession is easing, prices seem to be climbing again.

How can we make the law of supply and demand work for us?

We all use energy every day; even tribal members in darkest Africa will burn wood to cook and keep warm at night. Experience has taught us that we can reduce energy consumption 15 to 25 percent just by being careful and planning ahead. If we are willing to accept a few lifestyle changes, we can easily save 50 percent or more. Reducing consumption through conservation will causes energy prices to drop.

Using more renewable energy, such as solar and geothermal, will reduce the amount of fossil fuels we need. This will in turn cause fossil fuel prices to drop. Of course, if we change to use 100 percent renewable energy, we won’t care how much fossil fuel energy costs. Or would we?

Even if we generate all the power we use at home, even if we drive all our vehicles on biofuels, we would still likely indirectly use fossil fuels. Do you shop at local stores? Do those stores operate free of fossil fuels? Was the food and merchandise you are buying delivered by trucks and trains using fossil fuels? We can greatly reduce our carbon footprint, but, unless you are willing to adopt an Amish lifestyle, it is really hard to eliminate it entirely.

You have the power to reduce energy costs. Use the Law of Supply and Demand to help all of us. What will you do with your power?

July 30, 2010 Posted by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

A Dozen Ways to Save Energy, Number 1: Plan ahead.

Around the first of the Century, Redstone Arsenal held a contest to see which directorate could reduce energy the most. The Software Engineering Directorate (SED) won by a huge margin by planning ahead.

The SED writes software code for various Army weapons systems. The building allows entire systems from main battle tanks to missile launchers to park inside the building and connect via data cables to huge computers. Many Army systems operate on 600 hertz, ten times the normal current frequency.

Since it is impractical and uneconomical to run vehicle engines indoors, the building provides a large series of generators powered by 60-hertz electric motors and generating the 600-hertz current needed by the test platforms. For years, the first technicians arriving at work would turn on the generators. The last technicians to leave may or may not remember to turn them off. The SED director asked his staff how often these generators were actually used.

The answer shocked him. Most of the time, these power-hungry machines were spinning unused. The staff began to schedule tests to be done at certain times and the generators turned on only then. They further saved money by performing the tests with the night-crew, when TVA has much less demand for power. With the Arsenal’s demand charges exceeding a million dollars per month, nighttime testing saved the taxpayers significant money. Planning ahead to run the generators only when needed saved taxpayers both money and energy.

I once saw a young Army captain waiting for the elevator on the second floor of an office building on Redstone Arsenal. He had a gym bag over his shoulder. Now I usually take the stairs both to save energy and to keep my heart healthy. I walked down one flight of stairs and met the captain walking off the elevator and down the hall to the fitness center for a workout. He wasn’t deliberately waiting energy, he just didn’t think and plan ahead.

When I was 49 years old, I took a fitness evaluation. I was deemed as healthy as a typical 47-year old male. Not too bad, I thought. That’s also the year I began to cycle to work and for a lot of local errands. My route that year was only a little over eight miles each way—later year commutes would be nearly 18—and it actually saved me time. It took some planning ahead, I had to get up earlier, I usually showered and ate breakfast after I got to work, but I saved over $7,000 per year. The bonus? I did another fitness evaluation at age 50 and scored as a typical 46-year old. In 12 months I seemed to have gotten a year younger.

It’s very clear that many Alabama drivers fail to plan ahead. We see them one person per vehicle ignoring traffic laws, speeding and swerving from lane to lane while texting or talking on a cell phone. If they planned ahead, they would not be so rushed constantly.

The United Parcel Service, UPS, is planning ahead. Planners have revised routes to make more turns to the right. This planning allows them to avoid many delays waiting for red lights and oncoming traffic.

Planning ahead lets you take advantage of a host of energy, money, and time saving opportunities:

  • Analyze utility bills to plan and prioritize improvements.
  • Get an energy audit so you can plan upgrades and repairs.
  • Plan and schedule regular maintenance on your systems like you do for your vehicle. Clean filters before they become clogged.
  • Seal around vents before adding insulation.
  • Upgrade energy systems off season.
  • Combine your trips by planning stops; make right turns when you can.
  • Combine commute or errands with exercise; bike or walk to work.
  • Car pool and enjoy reading or quiet time while someone else takes a turn driving and you all save energy and money.
  • Use public transit; consider using the bike racks on Huntsville city busses for a multi-modal trip; enjoy the benefits of a car pool at a much lower cost and without having to drive.
  • Schedule activities so you can thru off lights and equipment off when you don’t really need them.

Most people don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.

June 24, 2010 Posted by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Your Carbon Footprint

Whether you believe in global warming (or climate change) or not, there is still ample reason to pay attention to your carbon footprint.

What exactly is your carbon footprint? It is the summation of all the greenhouse gasses caused directly or indirectly by a process. When you flip on a light switch, you are adding carbon to the air at the power plant that generated the electricity. You are also adding the carbon that coal mining equipment expelled while extracting the minerals. You are even responsible for the carbon released by the miners operating the equipment and the carbon used to manufacture the mining equipment years ago. We could go on and on, but you get the picture.

There is a lot of controversy about the science. There is a lot of evidence to indicate that the industrial revolution has added carbon to our atmosphere. There is a lot of scientific evidence to indicate that there have been high levels of carbon in our atmosphere in the past long before SUVs and coal-fired power plants came on the scene. Surely we cannot assume that industrialization caused elevated carbon levels millions of years ago.

There are excellent records of atmospheric conditions for the past 500 years. Ancient mariners were compulsive record keepers, and their logs indicate that atmospheric temperatures closely follow the documented levels of atmospheric carbon for the same period. The question is, did the increased carbon cause the elevated temperatures, or did the higher temperatures cause excess carbon? There’s strong evidence to support both theories, and perhaps it was a combination of events.

One scientific principle is certain, though; animals, including people, need oxygen to breathe. We can live weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without oxygen. The more carbon there is in our air, the less room there is for oxygen and the harder it is to breathe.

There has always been a small amount of carbon in our air in the form of carbon dioxide, or CO2. Plants need it to convert into sugar as they release more oxygen into the air for animals to breathe.

Unfortunately, industrialization has significantly reduced the amount of trees and other plants to absorb the carbon dioxide we breathe out. Add that to the carbon being emitted by burning fossil fuels, and you create air that is more difficult to breathe.

So even if you dismiss global warming and climate change, you can never dismiss the need for oxygen and the harmful effects of carbon dioxide to animals. It is clearly in our best interest to reduce our carbon footprint.

Next: Planing ahead to take advantage of other energy saving opportunities.

May 28, 2010 Posted by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

A dozen ways to cut your energy use 25 to 75 percent:

“I want to live off the grid,” says the idealistic homeowner.

“Cut your energy use in half and come back to see me,” responds the Alabama Solar Association Solarite and renown solar installer.

“I never hear from most of them, but a few come back to get a design,” he tells ASA.

In fact, you can cut your energy use and your carbon footprint by 15 to 25 percent without significant lifestyle changes just by eliminating waste. If you are willing to accept a more austere lifestyle, you can reduce your needs by up to 75 percent.

In this series of blogs, we’ll examine why you should care about your carbon footprint and look at the following dozen solutions:

  1. Plan ahead to take advantage of other energy saving opportunities.
  2. Understand the law of supply and demand.
  3. Plug into renewable energy.
  4. Avoid using plastic bags.
  5. Drive smarter; slow down, car pool, use public transit, and combine trips.
  6. Bike or walk to work or for local errands.
  7. Shed some pounds; unload unnecessary weight from vehicles.
  8. Recycle if you must, but first reduce and reuse.
  9. Buy less stuff.
  10. Use LED or compact fluorescent lamps.
  11. Buy or build EnergyStar®.
  12. Tap the power of Mother Earth—geothermal.

Next: Your carbon footprint

May 5, 2010 Posted by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Avoiding oil spills, a letter to the editor of the Huntsville Times

The Huntsville Times ran two editorials on Saturday, May 1, 2001. The first erroneously titled “Stop the drilling” points out that oil and coal are likely to be part of our future for the foreseeable future. “Bike on right” urged cyclists to act like a vehicle when using public streets and roads. A cartoon depicted a giant oily wave cresting into the shape of a hand coming ashore while a tiny character labeled “Government Response” is going out to try to meet it. I wrote this response to the editorials.

Saturday’s Times Letters offered problem and solution. The giant oil slick looming to destroy our Gulf Coast could have been avoided, if everyone rode bicycles correctly, we would not need oil, And if frogs had wings, they wouldn’t bump their bottoms every time they jumped.

Frogs are about as likely to change their anatomy as are Americans to give up automobiles. We will need oil for a while, but we must drill smarter and move now toward renewable energy.

Oil drillers need contingency plans to seal future leaks should they occur. They need a way to capture spilled oil into tankers bring it ashore to separate oil from seawater.

More importantly, we need to reduce demand. We need to use the Huntsville know-how that took us to the moon and back to make renewable energy cheaper and easier to use. We get enough sun on earth each day to meet global consumption for 16¼ years. The energy is free, but we need cheaper collection and conversion techniques. Wind power, without which Columbus would not have discovered America in 1492, could power us 58 times over.

Check out for ways you can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. If you think you alone are too small to make a difference, you’ve never tried to sleep with a mosquito buzzing your ear.

May 1, 2010 Posted by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

The prolific weed that grows rapidly in the south may hold a key to future energy savings.

Civil War soldiers used berries from the pokeberry bushes to make ink. Children smash them to stain their cheeks. Southern cooks have long used the young tender leaves as a cheap vegetable known locally as poke salad. Scientists are trying using them to gather solar radiation.

Researchers at Wake Forest University's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials have used the red dye made from pokeberries to coat their efficient and inexpensive fiber-based solar cells. The dye acts as an absorber, helping the cell's tiny fibers trap more sunlight to convert into electricity.

The fiber cells can produce as much as twice the power of current flat-cell technology. They are composed of millions of tiny, plastic "cans" that trap light until most of it is absorbed. The fiber solar cells can collect light at any angle from sunrise to sunset.

Let’s hope engineers can make them work in the field nearly as well as scientists can make them work in the lab. I have plenty in my yard I can share with production crews.

May 1, 2010 Posted by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Solar Farms Grow Electricity

Solar farms are an excellent way to generate electricity, and, in North Alabama, they are a profitable investment. They will work in the lower two-thirds of the state only if the owner has a use for most of the electricity onsite. Building a solar farm solely to sell electricity to Alabama Power Company ( is neither encouraged by the utility nor profitable.

Solar farms make electricity from sunshine with no pollution or noise associated with fossil fuel plants. Since fewer people object to living near a solar farm than object to living near a nuclear or coal plant, distribution lines to users are much shorter. More of the electricity generated is available for its intending purpose, because less is lost to the resistance of the distribution lines and transformers.

The perfect place for a solar farm is the roof of a large manufacturing plant, a distribution warehouse, or other structure that uses a lot of electricity while the sun is shining. Roofs are less shaded than are ground locations. Utility connections are usually found just below roof level on one corner of the building close to where you will mount the solar arrays. Roofs are seldom used for purposes other than weather protection, so they are almost always out of the way. In fact, rooftop installations work so well that 80 percent of all PV installations are located there. Properly designed and installed, rooftop solar panels can actually extend the life of a roof while making it cooler.

Building the PV arrays on top of a heavy daytime electrical user is a double bonus. You have all the advantages described above plus the advantage of shorter distribution lines. In most of Alabama, those regions served by the Alabama Power Company, solar farms are only financially feasible when matched to a facility that will use all or most of the electricity generated.

Under the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA, Green Power Providers program (, the utility will buy all the power your system will produce and pay you a bonus. TVA will reimburse you nine cents per kilowatt hour above the retail rate—even that you use yourself—for the first ten years. TVA then promises to pay you the full retail rate for all the electricity you generate during years 11 through 20 of the program. The Alabama Power Company is only obligated to pay you their “Avoided Cost” rate of about 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of only that portion of electricity you put back onto the power grid. If you are connected to the Alabama Power grid, you need to use as much of the solar power you produce as possible and minimize that electricity you put back on the grid.

Let’s suppose you want to build a modest 100 kilowatt (kW) solar farm. Prices are still dropping, but let’s say you will have to pay $3 per watt or about $300,000 for the project. You will likely be able to build your system for less by the time you are ready to proceed, but let’s stay with the $300,000 figure for now.

A 100 kW system in DeKalb County atop Sand Mountain, Alabama, will produce about 135,000 kWh of electricity for the first year. Productivity of the arrays will decrease to about 80% of the original capacity by the 25th year of the system. This solar farm will produce a little over three million kWh over the 25-year projected lifetime.

The same system in Clay County southeast of Birmingham would produce a little over 138,300 kWh the first year and more than 3.2 million over the 25-year project life of the system. So the Clay system would out produce the DeKalb system by about 6.5 percent. But what is the dollar value of this energy harvest?

Now grab your crystal ball, because here’s where it gets complicated. How much will electricity cost next year? How much for each of the next 25 years?

Let’s look back at the history of energy prices. They have climbed an average of three percent per year, adjusted for inflation, for each of the past ten years. In one of those ten years, however, energy prices climbed a whopping 13 percent. Even with the one anomaly, the past ten years are our best gauge of the next 25.

Inflation has added another two percent per year to energy prices over the past ten years. Inflation was likely slowed by the recession over the last five, but again, it’s the best data we have.

Assuming electric rates climb three percent per year for the next 25, and inflation adds another two percent, we can project TVA rates to rise from 11 cents to near 38 cents per kWh. Alabama Power rates will likely climb from the current 12.5 cent rate to about 43 cents over the same time. Alabama Power’s “avoided cost” rate might climb from 3.5 cents now to about 12 cents during the same period.

This means that the DeKalb system would produce about $772,400 worth of electricity during its lifetime. The Clay system would produce about $760,200 worth of electricity if and only if the system owner used every watt of electricity the project produces. Selling the same electricity of the same Clay farm to Alabama Power would yield only $212,900, or less than the original investment. Solar farms would likely break even in 7.2 years in TVA territory and 10.2 years in the rest of Alabama. Solar farms that sell most or all of their electricity back to Alabama Power would likely never break even. This is why solar farms in most of Alabama work financially only if the builder uses most of the electricity produced.

Supporting Data

We used the PVWatts program developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, to estimate energy production at the two locations being considered. We used historical data to predict future energy prices and inflation.

Red in the figure above shows years in which you will have spent more money so far than the system has generated. Green shows years of money coming in. Obviously, the more green the better. This project would likely break even at 7.16 years and provide virtually free electricity for the next 17.84 years. The Savings-to-Investment ratio is an excellent 2.96.

Now let's look at the same solar farm selling all the electricity it produces to the Alabama Power Company.

As you can see from all the red in the above chart, this project would never quite pay for itself. The projected Savings-to-Investment Ratio is only only 0.996.

Consider now the same system using all electricity generated by an onsite industry.

April 6, 2013 Posted from Tarlac City, Philippines, by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

Think it hard to recycle an aluminum can?

Think it hard to recycle an aluminum can? How would you recycle a ship?

The environmental Leader website of Environmental and Energy Management News reports that more than 1,000 large old commercial ships, such as tankers and container vessels, are recycled for their scrap metal every year. Unfortunately, these old vessels contain much more than steel. There’s asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tributyl tin and oil sludge — contained in end-of-life ships. Properly managed, these hazards pose little threat to the workers who recycle them.

Many European ships wind up in substandard facilities on the tidal beaches of South Asia. In 2009, more than 90% of European ships were dismantled in ship recycling facilities in non-OECD countries, some of which were substandard. Since I plan to go swimming from a beach in South Asia within 2 weeks, this startling problem hits home. I am in the Philippines to teach classes on solar and renewable energy and to install solar panels.

The European Parliament’s environment committee voted to create a Europe-wide ship recycling fund, in response to the European Commission’s proposed rules to ensure that European ships are only recycled in facilities that are safe for workers and environmentally sound.

Perhaps this trend will eventually catch on in other parts of the world. Read more at .

April 7, 2013 Posted from Tarlac City, Philippines, by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

What are "avoided costs" anyway?

The Alabama Power company pays customers about 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour “avoided costs” for any energy (kilowatt-hours or kWh of electricity) the customer puts back on the grid. But what exactly are “avoided costs?”

The term is defined by 18 C.F.R. § 292.302 of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's regulations. These regulations were issued to implement Section 201 and Section 202 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 ("PURP A") (relating to cogenerators and small power producers).

Section 292.302 (b)(1) provides “the estimated avoided costs for Alabama Power Company, solely with respect to the energy component for various levels of purchases. These costs are stated on a cents per kilowatt-hour basis, during daily and seasonal peak and off-peak periods for ten levels of purchases, by year, for the current year of 2010, and each of the next five years. All costs include fuel and variable 0 & M and CAA compliance cost, if any, and represent estimated avoided costs at the generator busses.” In other words, “avoided costs” are what it costs the utility to generate electricity from coal with no respect to transmission losses—even those within the plant itself. “Avoided costs” represent only 28 percent of the total cost of delivered electricity—or a little more than one-fourth.

Solar, on the other hand, has very few distribution losses. Energy produced on a residential or business rooftop is used right where it is produced. Photovoltaic (PV) systems avoid the costs of internal losses, distribution, billing, administration, taxes, and profit representing 72 percent of the electric costs customers must pay.

An Alabama Government Public Access website provides more insight into the calculations.

Perhaps one day the Alabama legislature will decide to join the 21st Century and allow solar producers to put energy back on the grid at a reasonable cost. Meantime, at least in North Alabama, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA, pays us a bonus of 9 cents per kWh for all electricity generated, while Alabama Power charges their customers a 9-cent per kWh penalty.

So, if you’re an Alabama Power customer with a PV system, for now, at least, it’s use it or lose it.

April 7, 2013 Posted from Tarlac City, Philippines, by
A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

There’s good news for energy this week (May, 2013).

Companies line up to drill after survey shows Dakota oil, gas fields,

Now it may seem strange for a diehard Greenie like me to applaud the massive oil reserves anywhere, but I am first of all a practical individual. As much as I would like to see us immediately shift to 100 percent renewable energy, I know that we will continue to depend on oil for years while we develop new technology. With 8 quarts of oil in every automotive tire and vast quantities of plastics, even Electric Vehicles and bio-fueled conveyances will need some oil. If we have to use oil, I would rather see it come from the United States from beneath the sands of folks who don’t like us very much.

Now a concern: let’s not take this newfound oil as an excuse to continue our wasteful habits of driving gas-guzzlers at breakneck speeds. Sooner or later, oil will run out. We need to begin now preparing for that day. We can’t wait until the last days to begin the transition to renewables.

We get even better news from Australia: Breakthrough in solar efficiency by UNSW team ahead of its time, .

Australian scientists have found a way of hugely increasing the efficiency of solar panels while substantially reducing their cost. The University of NSW researchers have come up with improvements in photovoltaic panel design that had not been expected for another decade.

Silicon wafers account for more than half the cost of making a solar cell. "By using lower-quality silicon, you can drastically reduce that cost," Professor Stuart Wenham said. "We've been able to figure out what the secret is that enables hydrogen to sometimes work the way people want it to, and sometimes doesn't."

At present, the best commercial solar cells convert between 17 and 19 percent of the sun's energy into electricity. “Tier” modules represent the top five percent of panels sold, and their criteria begins at 16 percent. UNSW's technique, patented this year, should produce efficiencies of between 21 per cent and 23 per cent.

Let’s hail the Dakota oil discoveries as a chance to import less oil and not as an excuse to waste more. Let’s use the advances in photovoltaic efficiencies as an opportunity to continue our shift from fossil fuels to renewables, before it is too late.

Consider the world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren.

April 7, 2013 Posted from Tarlac City, Philippines, by A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M.
President, Alabama Solar Association

" Alabama doesn't have enough sunshine for practical solar applications." (April, 2014).

This was a statement made recently by a senior official of the Alabama Power Company at the announcement of Calhoun Community College renewable energy laboratory in Decatur, Alabama.

Boston, Raleigh, Newark, Portland, Denver, and Indianapolis all have less daily sun than Huntsville, and each of these cities has at least six times more solar installed than we have in the entire state of Alabama.

But the coal industry is strong in Northwest Alabama. Yeah, but Indiana is a coal state, and Indy alone has 56 MW installed PV; The entire state of Alabama has less than 2 MW.

But Alabama has all that oil in the Gulf of Mexico; and yet New Orleans alone has 22 MW of solar, and YES, Louisiana is an oil state.

Source: Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution,
We have plenty of coal in the ground, but coal has its own special challenges.

Most of us remember the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010, but how many of us remember a spill eight times more toxic just 16 months earlier and four times closer to Alabama? On December 22, 2008, the dike on the 84-acre pond ruptured sending a 20-foot high wall of 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry into homes of nearby residents. The sludge included arsenic, mercury, coal particulates, and other nasty chemicals—Merry Christmas, everybody.

Even without the disasters of spills, coal is not a good fuel source to produce electricity. According to the US Energy Information Administration 42 percent of electricity in the US is generated by burning coal. I got to see just how dirty coal can be on 2003. I took the pictures below mid-morning in Nanchang, China. Look carefully at the picture on the left to see if you can spot the sun. Then look at the sun circled on the right photo. Now look back to the left picture to see how faint the sun appears in the brown sky. Do we want to breathe this air in Alabama?


Now I’m not suggesting that solar can immediately replace oil, gas, or coal, nor am I suggesting that we can immediately abandon the present power grid. We do, however, need to join the rest of the United States and begin a gradual shift toward renewable energy sources before fossil fuels become prohibitively expensive. Electricity produced by photovoltaics (PV) is already cheaper than electricity purchased from your local utility via the power grid. Over the 25-year guaranteed life of a PV system, you can expect to produce electricity to pay for your initial system costs three times over.

Alabama has 1.4 percent of the US land area and 1.5 percent of the population, but we have only 0.017 percent of the US PV capacity. With slightly better than average sunshine on the planet, we should be doing a lot better.

Where’s the leadership that Alabama showed in making flight practical a hundred years ago? In the space race in the middle of the last century? Now we have a new millennium and enough smart people to show that leadership again. Will we accept the challenge of the future of energy? We have plenty of smart people, but do we have the political will?

Any more excuses, or is Alabama ready to join the 21st Century?

April 15, 2014 Posted from Huntsville, Alabama USA, by
A. Morton Archibald, Jr., P.E., C.E.M., NABCEP PV Installer
Chairman, Government Activities, Alabama Solar Association Chief Engineer, Affordable Energy Solutions LLC

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