September 2009

In this issue:

Energy Law

Site Assessment

President's Corner

Kids' Page

Beware of Find Solar!

Solar Calendar

The Pros

We're choking on our own pollution. If not HR 2454, how do we clean our air?

Ideas, anyone?

Alabama Solar Association, P.O. Box 143 Huntsville, Alabama 35804
Established 1981 to Promote the Use of Our Sun’s Renewable Energy to Preserve Our Environment
The Waxman-Markey Debate Rages
Still Don't Panic Yet!

Environmentalists say the Waxman-Markey Bill, HR 2454, is too weak; opponents say it’s entirely too strong, and public utilities are too scared to even try. We need to study this bill closely before we jump into the fight.

Title 1, Clean Energy: Get 25% of our electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2025. States may meet 20% of this requirement through conservation. Some are trying to stretch the definition of “clean” and “renewable” to include nuclear, coal, and other questionable sources.

Title 2, Energy Efficiency: Sets standards for everything from buildings to appliances and helps consumers to conserve.

Title 3, Reduce Global Warming: Mandates pollution reduction and establishes the controversial “cap and trade” system.

Title 4, Transition to a Clean Energy Economy: Make U.S. manufacturers competitive in a global marketplace and create “green” jobs in the USA.

ASES Executive Director has asked we all contact our Congressman and express three concerns:

  1. Let them know that you're concerned about the Energy Bill.
  2. Urge him to add a 20% distributed generation carve-out to the Renewable Energy Standard.
  3. Ask him to amend the climate change title - 10% of the pollution allowances need to be allocated to renewable energy.

The Alabama Solar Association believes the current bill is about as good a compromise as we are likely to get anytime soon. There’s a lot to like about it; there’s a lot to fear. The bill has passed the US House of Representatives, but Senate passage now seems unlikely.

If not this bill, then what can we do about our choking pollution? I'm not saying HR 2454 is the answer, but We need some answer.

Stay tuned, folks!


Needed: Energy Legislation

The 2009 Alabama legislature considered 12 energy bills and four resolutions; only four bills and the resolutions passed.

The one survivors was an RPS. Act No. 2009-796 calls upon the Alabama Congressional Delegation to “make known that federal efforts to impose renewable portfolio standards that do not appropriately protect the economic as well as the environmental well-being of the state are unacceptable.”

A critical failure was HJR 41, a resolution that would have requested the adoption of residential and commercial energy codes when a statewide building code is adopted. Legislators seemed afraid there would be no way to enforce it, but state Professional Engineers and Registered Architects would have solved that problem.

Across the USA, the 2009 legislative sessions, states introduced at least 2,000 bills related to renewable energy. These bills include a range of incentives, training for green jobs, directives on the use of Federal funds, comprehensive energy policies, net metering, updates to renewable portfolio standards, and more.

It’s time for Alabama to catch up.


Performing a Site Assessment

The firing sequence of Ready, Fire, Aim” may work well with the Army’s new guided missiles, but for most things, we need to know our target before we pull the trigger. Whether you are an architect, an engineer, a solar installer, or a homeowner, you can benefit from a good site assessment. It's a natural first step in any renewable energy project.

A site assessment begins by determining the potential of the site. First consider where in the world is your site. Looking at a world map of solar potential, German sites are all in the lower third of potential yet Germany leads the world in solar harvesting. Alabama has slightly above average potential; it’s not as good as Hawaii or Arizona, but enough to support off-grid houses.

Few of us live in Germany or expect to do a project there, so why do we mention that country? We compare to it because Germany leads the world with solar harvesting. If Germans can do so much with so little potential, why can't we do more?

Wisconsin has an excellent site assessment program that offers an independent third-party look at what is available and recommends designers and contractors to meet the client’s needs. Alabama does have some excellent solar installers who do a good job of site assessment. Perhaps an enterprising Alabama solar pro will begin making independent site assessments based on the Wisconsin model.

A solar professional should consider the characteristics of your property and your lifestyle before discussing options. The pros should measure solar radiation in a area that is shade-free 9 AM to 4 PM. Computer programs can map solar potential in individual segments of roofs and yards given known location and geometry. They should measure wind potential over time, check the potential for a ground-source heat pump. The team should consider building envelope improvements, especially a new roof and more insulation, and should check for available renewable energy incentives. Installers and vendors may offer valuable input, but an independent designer should make decisions with the owner.

An ideal site might be a large, empty field with an old-growth forest at one end; it is suitable for almost any type of development. The homeowner built a country house in Corner, Alabama, to take maximum advantage available solar power. The primary roof faces due south. The roof pitch is set for the optimum fixed tilt angle. The geothermal lines are buried horizontally. There is no vegetation to shade the collectors. This 17 Kw, grid-tied PV system was the largest in Alabama when it came on line in 2008.

If an ideal site is not available, almost any site will do. Access to power grid would be very helpful but not essential. If there is an existing structure, a large, south-facing roof or clear area looking south will accommodate collectors well. Any undeveloped land of several acres will work well for a horizontal piped geothermal heat pump. Even an old house in a subdivision in the middle of Hoover, Alabama, can use a vertical well geothermal heat pump and be converted into a Zero Energy House (ZEH, a housing unit that produces more power than it consumes annually).

In addition to considering sunlight, check local building materials. Brick and concrete, have a high thermal inertia and diurnal capacity; they buffer incoming heat during the day and return it to the living spaces during the night. Other materials may be cheap locally and allow for thicker wall or roof construction. Check to see what materials are available near the project.

Check vegetation and soil conditions. Be sure to check local restrictions to avoid long and costly legal battles.

Do your homework, and your project will go a lot smoother.


Needed: More Energy Literacy

President’s Corner

A taxi driver delivering an attendee to the American Solar Energy Society annual convention in Buffalo this year commented on the solar street lights, “Yeah. Those lights with the big panels on top were ugly. I’m glad they took them down.

“These are the most worthless things anybody ever came up with,” groused the older clerk in Wal-Mart after struggling to fill my reusable grocery bag “Well, it saves a lot of oil,” I replied. She looked at me with sheer frustration; I could almost read her thoughts, “What do plastic shopping bags have to do with oil? How much difference can one shopping bag make?”

Drivers on I-65 race on complaining about fuel prices but not understanding how slowing down a little can save a lot and reduce prices for all of us.

One driver speeding won’t make much of an impact, but millions of them will. One shopping bag ill not make much difference, but world consumers use 5 trillion plastic bags each year consuming 20 billion barrels of crude oil—that’s a gallon of crude for every six bags.

Somehow, we’ve got to educate our friends and neighbors until folks really understand the impact of energy waste and the benefits of just a little conservation.

If you’re not part of the solution, then, by definition, you’re part of the problem. What can you do to help?


Alababa Solar Association
Sundial Kids' Pages
September, 2009

Using solar power to recycle crayons

Learn how here

Next month: Learn to make recycled paper to put your new crayons to use.

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)

Find Solar is Just Another Advertising Scheme.

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is alive and well in Alabama. There seems to be a rash of cottage industries springing up to connect homeowners to solar providers. Unfortunately, none make any attempt to separate qualified installers from the fly-by-night vendors that will vanish with the first rays of sunshine.

The American Solar Energy Society’s partner, “Find Solar” was founded with a noble purpose. People attending the national solar tour each October generally had two questions: (1) Does this stuff work? and (2) Where can I get one.

ASES funded the compilation of the “Find Solar” database to connect potential customers with solar installers. “Find Solar” initially listed all ASES professional members and recommended them to nearby potential customers. ASES pros were allowed to list their experience and qualifications on “Find Solar.”

ASES reported that one problem soon cropped up. Potential customers requested a bid, “Find Solar” sent a request to one or more nearby firms, but customers then called back to complain that nobody contacted them.

Last October a flurry of e-mails from ASES chapters across the USA reported a major shift in “Find Solar.” A for-profit company called Cooler Planet had taken over the function for a hefty fee structure. Solar firms had to pony up $500 up front just to be listed. The listed firms would also be charged $60 to $120 for each potential contact. Referrals were supposed to be pre-qualified, so that firms would get only serious inquiries. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be happening. The one Alabama Solarite participating reported he spent over $200 to get one cold lead.

Feedback from other ASES chapters indicate that Cooler Planet’s operation of the current “Find Solar” function is far from satisfactory. I logged on myself and checked the Solar Calculator for Huntsville. The first thing they asked me was to specify an “Electricity Offset” of 25 – 100% with no explanation of what this term means or how to obtain it. The website also quoted a non-existent local rebate program which would supposedly reduce the cost of my solar project.

To the credit of ASES, they have promised to make Cooler Planet correct any of the database errors, but they are depending on us to find these mistakes.

“Find Solar” is as good a resource as the old Yellow Pages, but like for any advertiser, don’t rely on them for professional advice. Ask potential solar professionals about their staff. Do they have registered Professional Engineers (PEs) or Certified Energy Managers (CEMs) on staff? Are they licensed or bonded? Do they have any other solar installer certifications? What training have they recently attended? Ask for a list of satisfied clients or customers and go speak with them.

As with all advertisers, Beware!

Jeff Shaw, the Director of the Louisiana Solar Energy Society and President of Gulf South Solar takes a much stronger view in his article How Do You Find Solar .


Solar Happenings

See what's happening in your area

Did we miss anything?

Tuesday & Wednesday, October 13 – 14, 2009, Energy Forum 2009, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Details

Wednesday, October 21, ASES Webinar on The Functionality of Find Solar, Details TBD

Saturday, October 31, 2009, 9 to 12 , BSA Recycles, Benefits Meals on Wheels, Latham Methodist Church, Weatherly Drive, Huntsville

Thursday, November 12, 2009, noon, ASA BoD Meeting, Southern Solar Systems,Huntsville, Visitors welcome

Thursday, November 12, 2009, 6 PM, ASA General Membership Meeting, guest speaker, 1 Professional Development Hour free, Southern Solar Systems, Huntsville, Visitors welcome

Thursday, November 19, 2009, Morton teaches "The Solar Energy Course for Architects, Engineers, and Contractors," Birmingham, Details

Thursday, December 3rd, the annual HATS Holiday Reception and the ASA Christmas Party at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens

Thursday, December 10, 2009, noon, ASA BoD Meeting, Southern Solar Systems,Huntsville, Visitors welcome

Saturday & Sunday, October 1 – 2, 2010, Annual Solar Tour, across Alabama


Those energy professionals who support The Alabama Solar Association and solve your energy challenges.

Summerdale, Alabama,
(Mobile Area)
Affordable Solar Hot Water and Power LLC
Barton Craig McManus
P.O. Box 375, Dothan, AL 36302
Green Works
Design - Build - Remodel
  • New Home Designs & Reviews
  • Home Energy Performance Clinics
  • Passive and Active Solar Applications
  • Member Southface Energy Institute
    Stephen Guesman
Mark Friedline
Mobile, AL
Reisz Engineers
3322 Memorial Parkway S.
Huntsville, AL 35807

11807 South Memorial Parkway
Huntsville, AL 35803
(256) 883-9848
Southern Solar has what it takes to meet your energy needs.

Debra Rucker Coleman, Architect
18250 Tanner Rd.
Citronelle, AL 36522
(251) 341-0509

Room for another Solarite here. Anybody know a solar pro not listed here?

Learn more about your Solarites on the Solarite Webpage

Richard E. Martin

P. O. Box 611
Lanett, AL. 36863