November 2009

The laws of supply ahd demand

In this issue:



President's Corner

Berlin Wall

Kids' Page

Building Envelope

Your ASA Officers
and Directors

Solar Calendar

The Pros

We're choking on our own pollution. 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
Black Diamonds

“Get on, old son,” he called to the rapidly receding truck, “Get them black diamonds to market.” “He” was a mining engineer, the superintendent of the local coal mine, and one of the two heroes of The Red Helmet by Homer Hickam. America’s favorite coal miner turned self-taught rocket scientist spins a delightful yarn guaranteed to make all of us appreciate our primary fuel more.

The other hero is a Chinese-born daughter of an American businessman, herself a powerful businesswoman from New York. On page one she is arguing with her assistant over her Bluetooth headset. On page two, her fiancé, the first hero, brings her back to a beach in a Caribbean island to mention that the preacher has just asked her if she will marry this man. By page 60, she has negotiated the end to a gunfight. By mid-story, she has donned the red helmet of an apprentice miner and descended into the deep mine. Read The Red Hemet to get an appreciation of the dangers of deep coal mining.

The alternative to deep mines is surface mining. Unfortunately, our hunger for more power has redefined the “surface” as deeper and deeper. The DVD Kilowatt Ours (learn more at ) shows entire mountains being removed in West Virginia and elsewhere to get access to “surface” coal deposits.

Coal mining of either type poses huge risks to our air, our streams, and even our lives. Blasting releases tons of coal and earth dust into our air complicating asthmas and other lung diseases. Retention ponds sometimes fail releasing walls of sludge to destroy buildings and lives downstream. Coal mining is risky.

But we’re a solar association. Why should we care about coal?

Energy in the Early 21st Century is not a pretty picture (see above). What it will look like as the century progresses depends on us and our children.

Your Alabama Solar Association endorses the 25 x ’25 vision of getting 25 percent of our total energy from renewable sources by the year 2025. This is a wonderful goal, and it is achievable, but that means we will still need to get 75 percent of our energy from conventional sources. As Alabama now gets 60 percent of our electricity from coal, the fuel is likely to be with us for many years to come.

We need to convince our neighbors and then our legislators that business as usual is just too costly. Will you help?


Conservation—You hold the power

Renewable energy projects are always life-cycle cost effective, but initial costs are huge barriers to implementation Photovoltaic systems have 15 to 34-year payback, thermal systems such as solar hot water are much quicker but still measured in years, geothermal heat pumps will pay back in a few years, but conservation pays back immediately. Many states adopting a Revised Portfolio Standard (RPS, ASA Sundial, April 2009, page 1) recognize the clue of conservation and allow it as a way to meet goals. The Warren House in Hoover reduced the heating and cooling load by 25 percent just by sealing leaks in the building envelope. This saved drilling one geothermal well, allowed a smaller heat pump, saved on the size of the PV array, and saved a fortune on future energy bills.

Apartment dwellers and renters can reduce their carbon footprint by changing lighting. See the Kids’ Pages for how even your children can save on lighting and electric use.

The most energy efficient appliance still uses more energy when it is turned off. Simply turning off lights and appliances when they are not needed can add up to big savings. A word of caution here—never ask anyone to do without something he or she really needs to save energy. Just focus on the waste.

Conservation pays back immediately. What can you turn off that's not needed right now?


Die Maür—a barrier falls

In Germany, “die Maür” or “the Wall” refers to the Berlin Wall. The word “Berlin” is unnecessary. To Germans, there is no other.

Twenty years ago this month, probably the greatest barrier of the 20th Century, fell. Why? Because of a lot of little things, and it led to the end of Communism, the greatest social experiment the world ever knew.

We face more huge barriers in the 21st Century. Oil supplies are dwindling, no one has figured out what to do with nuclear waste, and coal mining is threatening our air and our streams. Lobbyists spend millions to keep us using outdated energy sources, we are giving $700 billion per year to people who don’t like us very much, and we’re choking on our own pollution. People don’t understand the benefits of renewable energy or the harmful effects of continuing status quo.

Energy literacy is a major barrier to renewable energy. People do not understand how energy systems work and how effective they can be. High initial costs are more barriers to going “green.” When energy prices go up, people get excited, but when costs go down briefly, they forget about it.

How can you help break down the barriers to renewable energy? Who can you teach about the benefits of going “green” and the cost of continuing “brown?”

December 21, 1989, "The Wall" in front of the Brandenburg Gate has just opened. Morton (kneeling at the base of the light pole) chips off a piece of "The Wall" as Steve (blue hooded jacket) watches.

What was it like? Well, imagine after the Iron Bowl if Auburn and Alabama both won the gane, . . . ,
now multiply that by Ten.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Pogo by Walt Kelly, Earth Day 1970

Energy Demand

President’s Corner

Why does Alabama Power Company insist on using mostly coal to produce electricity here knowing all the while how it dirties our air? Because Alabama consumers keep demanding way too much power than can be produced with “green” energy sources, and we are demanding it at artificially cheap prices. Artificially cheap energy prices are huge barriers to solar and other renewable energy projects.

Energy prices have been very turbulent in recent years. Oil prices soared, dropped off sharply, spiked again, and are coming down again now. Other energy sources have followed the trends of oil but to fewer extremes. All energy prices are related to the laws of supply and demand. If we can reduce demand through conservation or through use of alternative energies, prices will drop. Wouldn’t it be nice to “fire” our foreign oil” suppliers?

Conservation can have a huge effect on the law of supply and demand. Each consumer contributes to the quantity of demand, so each consumer can likewise reduce that demand. Imagine if each of us reduced our consumption by just one percent. Research has shown we can easily save 15 to 25 percent, with little effort and no lifestyle changes, just by eliminating waste.

Increasing supply has the same effect as does reducing demand. As more solar panels sprout on roofs, each of us helps solve the problem. You have the power to make a difference.


Alababa Solar Association
Sundial Kids' Pages
November, 2009

Black Diamonds

Coal takes millions of years to create. Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock composed mostly of carbon. It is the most abundant fossil fuel produced in the United States. It is sometimes called “black diamonds,” because both diamonds and coal are mostly carbon.

Learn more here

Sealing the Building Envelope

The first step of any renewable energy project

Would you leave your front door open on a cold winter day? You may be doing more than that without knowing it.

A study showed that a typical new home in Huntsville had leaks through the building envelope equivalent to leaving a door open year round. The building envelope is the roof, the walls, the floor. Doors and windows are the most common sources of leaks, but wiring and plumbing penetrations add up as well.

The best way to check for leaks is to have a professional perform a blower door test. One exterior door is removed and a temporary door with one or more surface to seal the door to the adjacent walls. With interior doors open and all exterior doors and windows closed, the fan sucks air out of the house. Resulting outside pressure makes any leaks obvious. A calibrated blower door can actually measure the tightness of your building. Learn more from the DoE at:

You can perform a simplesimilar test yourself to get some idea of the big leaks. Close all exterior doors and windows, fireplace dampers, etc. while opening all interior doors. Turn on all vent fans such as range hoods and bathroom vent fans. Now walk around with an incense stick or a candle and check for leaks. Check carefully around doors, windows, electrical fixtures, and any other openings.

Seal around doors with weather-stripping. Remove plastic covers and spray foam insulation around wiring and outlet boxes. Replace leaky windows with double-pane EnergyStar® models. Consider adding insulation whenever your remodel. Seal your leaks; you’ll save money, save energy, and reduce your carbon footprint.


Your Alabama Solar Association Officers are here to serve you.

Check us out on our website

Solar Happenings

See what's happening in your area

Did we miss anything?

Thursday, December 8, 2009, HATS Holiday Reception, Huntsville Botanical Gardens, Huntsville, AL

Saturday, January 9, 2010, Boy Scouts recycle for Meals-on-Wheels, Huntsville, AL

Saturday, January 16, 2010, Engineer's Week, Future Cities Competition , Huntsville, AL

Wednesday & Thursday, January 20 - 21, 2010, Solar Power USA, utility-scale event, , Las Vegas, NV

Thursday, January 21, 2010, ASA BoD Meeting, Visitors welcome, Huntsville, AL

Wednesday Friday, February 3 - 5, 2010, Renewable Energy Technology Conference and Exhibition, , Washington, DC

Monday - Saturday, May 17 - 22, 2010, ASES National Solar Conference, , Phoenix, AZ


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