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OLLI Course, Spring 2017

"Review of Renewable Energy"

OLLI at UAH is an organization for 50+ adults who enjoy learning, laughing, questioning, and sharing with other lifelong learners.

OLLI supports healthy aging, provides intellectual stimulation, and offers many

opportunities for social interaction.

This spring, Doug organized & offered a course on renewable energy thru OLLI on the UAH campus.
It consisted of 6 classes taught by local experts :

4/13   The Solar Big Picture                            Daniel Tait

4/20   A Solar House                                         Michele Sneed   

4/27   Photovoltaics                                         Doug Elgin

5/4     Ground Source Heat Pumps               Keith Key

5/11   Energy Conservation                            Doug Elgin

5/18   Other Renewable Energy Sources    Doug Elgin 



Solar (PV) Panel Prices are Rapidly Coming Down

as # of Installation Rise

in Last 10 Years

"Review of Renewable Energy" 2017 OLLI Course - 6 Classes

"The Solar Big Picture"  Apr 13  by Daniel Tait of Energy Alabama

Energy Alabama focuses on energy policy in AL and educating the public

  • in the past, energy generation has been centralized

  • in the future, with a smart grid & microgrids, energy generation can be distributed, reducing the waste of lost electricity ( also reduces the size & # of power lines

  • smart grids can handle energy as a 2-way street, monitoring the flow & store of electricity during off peak times

  • 3 trends

  1. Decentralization

  2. Zero Marginal Cost

  3. The 3 Laws (Moore's Law, Metcalfe's Law, and Sach's Law)

  • power outages due to weather cost the US Economy $20-40 billion/year

  • At least 61% of all energy in the United States is wasted (38% within buildings)

  • $0.5 trillion in investment we could save $1.9 trillion in energy costs in buildings

  • solar industry growth means jobs !!!

  • PV Systems cost has gone down by 75% in 10 years (from $8/W to $2/W for residential, note businesses get to Accelerated Depreciation on fed taxes)

  • current Internal rate of return is almost 15% on a PV System (the cost of electricity saved, due to generation by your system, is over 3 times the cost of an installed PV system

  • for the future of sustainable energy, these policies need to change

  1. Standardized Interconnection Standards

  2. 3rd Party Ownership

  3. ease of local permitting

  • 2016 solar Report Card Overall Grade for most of AL (not TVA part of AL) is F

"A Solar House

Apr 20 by Michele Sneed

Michele, a retired teacher, has completed an ultra green house from the ground up about 10 years ago.

Her house demonstrates

  1. construction reducing energy consumption

  2. Solar Panel system

  3. Solar Hot Water system,

  4. Geothermal H/C,

1. Construction reducing energy consumption

  • Length of house faces South/North

  • materials used have little pollutants to indoor air

  • construction materials were local as possible

  • 2" x 6" studs in the outside walls (instead of the conventional 4”) adds insulated buffering space from the outside temperature (sprayed full of soy-based foam insulation.)

  • Paints/Finishes with low VOCs, no particle boards, no wall to wall carpets

  • Sustainable supplementary heat from wood burning stove

  • sky windows … ledge below for reflection of light into house

  • gutters collect rainwater

2. Geothermal heat pump uses free thermal energy from the earth & lasts 30 years

3. Solar Panel system

9K of solar panels produce more electricity per year than the house uses, earns her money from the Utility Co.

4. Solar Hot Water system produces hot water saving over 1/2 on electricity


Go Green & Conserve

  • keep the thermostat at 65 degrees in winter & at 78 in summer

  • collect rainwater into a pond or into other containers for watering

  • recycle & compost

  • eat organic, grow a garden with Heirloom Seeds

  • read ingredient labels on foods

  • choose fuel efficiency

  • use clothesline for drying

  • Learn about permaculture

Solar Industry Growth  U.S. Jobs !!!

Solar Industry Growth Rate    vs.   Solar Jobs

Grid Parity

When electricity from alternative energy is equal to or cheaper than the price of buying it from the power company

How Does a Solar Panel generate electricity?

The silicon wafer is the basic component in each solar cell.  This silicon wafer is processed with one side charged + and the other side charged - .  When light hits it, in the form of photons, electrons are "excited" & flow to the other side.  This creates a current.  This current is then transferred to electricity in your house. 

Most solar panels are garanteed for 25 years with only a 20% degradation in efficiency.

"All About PV"  

Apr 27 by Doug Elgin of ASA

Doug is the past President of ASA

  • How a  PV (Solar panel)  Works - a silicone wafer is doped with negative charge on 1 side & positive charge on the other.  The photons of sunlight ‘excite’ the electrons and cause them to flow, producing current

  • types of PV - Monocrystalline Silicon, Polycrystalline Silicon & Other :



Thin film


  • ‘Putting it together’ terminology of the most common sold, Silicon : 

several PV cells (a silicon wafer) make up a module that are encapsulated in a resin, covered by  strengthened glass & filmed with a protective coating & supported by a frame, several modules make up an PV array/system

  • some of the pros of installing a PV system – saves $ on Utilities for at least 30 years, does not pollute, provides backup power, …

  • some of the cons – initial cost is expensive & payback is slow (~ 10 yrs)

  • 2 types of installations 1) grid-tied & 2) off-grid/not connected to the Electric Co. (needs a battery & battery controller)

  • PVs can be mounted to the roof or on the ground (Reflectors can increase the output up to 20%)

  • in addition trackers can allow PVs to follow the sun, increasing the electrical output of the system

  • the cost of a PV panel today is about $1/output watt and still decreasing in cost

  • An array is rated at its peak power output, but 1) ½ of the day  -  it’s night, 2) Inverter losses, 3) Cloudy periods & 4) Off-axis light

  • Cost & Payback Example – Install a 5 kW PV System

  • cost before incentives  - $17.5 K

  • Incentives 

  1. Federal – 30% tax credit

  2. Huntsville Utilities – buys PV generated power at retail & $1,000 installation incentive

  3. Nexus – 30%, $3,000 max – requires energy audit.

  • Net cost (after above) is $11.6 K

  • Income / yr is $ 853.

  • After 12 years, you have recouped all your expenses & after 30 years you’ve made $ 11.8 K

  • Grid parity is when the cost of generating power from solar panels is at or below the cost from the utility company.  It depend on your state, but as a nation we are very close to it.

  • PV costs are decreasing at a trend of 7%/yr, but this curve may be bottoming out

  • Off-grid system requires a battery – battery (only lasts 6 – 15 yrs)

  • Battery types 1) Flooded (lead-acid), 2) AGM, 3) Gel

  • Conserve Electricity 1st

  • “Soft” cost of a PV system is 2-4 times the cost of panels – Permit/Inspect, Install, Monitor performance

  • Financing Options 1) Buy outright, 2) nothing-down financing, 3) Lease, 4) PPA, 5) Community Solar

"Ground Source Heat Pumps"

May 4 by Keith Key of Geothermal Solutions

  • Geothermal/Ground Source Heat Pump uses the constant temperature (65-67 degrees) in the ground to exchange heat in winter & cool in the summer with your indoor air

  • although the up-front cost is 2-3 times more, the operating cost saves you over 1/2 the money used for electricity over a traditional heat pump

  • 13 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) means for each 1 watt of Electricity, 13 btu’s is output

  • Standard Heat Pumps are effective until around 35 degrees outdoors ($1.00 in $3.00 out) & must have back up heat (usually electric strip heat) for weather under 35 degrees

  • in winter, Geothermal Systems doesn’t create heat by burning fossil fuels but collects it from the earth & transfers/moves it into your house

  • with a Geothermal Heat Pump the outdoor unit, outdoor fan, defrost cycle & additional refrigerant & electrical connections are eliminated

  • only moving parts are the pump & blower, this means less maintenance & longest life span of any H/C system

  • In addition, in the cooling mode the excess heat from the house is used to heat hot water for use

  • Geothermal Heat Pumps are rated in EER, not SEER :  16 SEER is equal to 13 EER

  • traditional returns $1 of heat for every $1-$3 (depending on outside temperature) spent on electricity while geothermal returns $5 of heat for $1 of electricity

  • underground pipes that exchange the temperature are called a loops :  closed loop 1) vertical 2) horizontal & 3) pond (coiled on bottom of pond) and open loop, well water system

  • loops have 55 year No Leak warranty

  • vertical loops go straight down & horizontal loops go down 6 – 10 ft & then run horizontally

  • Geothermal Benefits

      - energy savings up to 60%

      - safer - no flame or fumes

      - quiet operation

      - more even heat

      - no noisy outdoor unit

      - less maintenance

      - long equipment life

      - clean and green

"Energy Conservation"

May 11 by Doug Elgin of ASA 

Doug is the past President of ASA

  • The USA is the largest consumer of home energy in the world

  • in Huntsville, electricity costs $1,200 - $2,000 / year

  • go to & request a survey !!!

  • professional energy audit costs about $300.

  • in US, biggest use is heating and cooling, 2nd is all appliances (Refrigerator accounts for about 20% of household electricity) {in the South cooling is the biggest use of electricity, at 16%}

  • washing clothes in cold water saves about $150 / year

  • cheap tricks – put gaskets on outlets and switches, use space heaters, use ceiling fans, switch to CFL (uses 25% of electricity)  & LED uses 17% of electricity), insulate water heater & pipes, install programmable thermostat

  • cheap tricks – plant shade trees, caulk/weather strip doors & windows

  • not so cheap tricks – seal HVAC ducts, storm windows (reduces heat loss by over 25%), window shades, reflective films, or screens (block up to about 60% of heat from sunlight)

  • expensive investments – switch to Energy Star appliances, HE washer, upgrade HVAC to SEER of at 13-18, attic insulation to R-30

  • GSHP (Ground Source Heat Pump) pays for itself in 4-10 years & saves 60% in electricity (equivalent to 40 SEER) & lasts at least 3 times longer

  • new construction –architecture, light color metal roof (save up to 20% on cooling costs), Clerestory windows, skylights

  • Insulation – attic at R30 – R60, floor at R19 – R25, walls at R5

  • Solar Water Heating pays for itself in 5 yrs

  • Energy Star qualified items are 15 to 20% more efficient than conventional units

  • Solar Panels (PV) pay for themselves in 10 yrs, after that you are making money for at least another 20 yrs

"Other Renewable Energy SourcesMay 18

by  Doug Elgin

Doug is the past President of ASA

  • Renewable energy is derived from natural processes that are replenished (“renewed”) on a SHORT time scale

  • Renewables reduces GHGs & decrease the need for oil which is getting more expensive & harder to find

  • in the world, 17% of energy used is from renewables & 80% is from fossil fuels

  • Renewable Power Sources

  1. Biomass (like trees and switchgrass) - 71% of renewables

  2. Hydropower (like hydroelectric dams)

  3. Biofuels (like 10% ethanol gasoline) – reuse the CO2 emissions & release Oxygen

  4. Wind (wind turbines) - potentially provide more electric power than we consume {Denmark gets 20% of their energy from wind}

  5. Solar (Solar Hot Water & Photovoltaics & Concentrated Solar Power)  Concentrated Solar Power focuses sunlight unto water in a glass receiver, the water is heated to make steam, steam runs turbines that convert energy into electricity

  6. Geothermal (like geysers)

  7. Ocean power (tidal generators)

  • Greenhouse Effect & Greenhouse Gases (GHG) – GHG’s (such as carbon dioxide, methane & water molecules) hold the heat from the earth around the earth by keeping the heat from dissipating into space.

  • Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and deforestation effects have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 40% since the beginning of the industrial revolution (120 yrs)

  • Power stations & Industry is responsible for over 50% of the CO2 emissions

  • Nuclear power is not renewable but produces virtually no CO2, runs day & night, its source is sustainable/unlimited, safe & the plant although costs $24 billion, lasts a very long time (60 yrs)

  • in the world, nuclear produces 16% of all power, France is 80 % & several countries in Europe is at least 30%

  • US produces the most nuclear energy in the world, but it’s only 20% of all our energy needs

  • downside of nuclear :  1) no way to dispose of radioactive waste, 2) possible disasters, 3) escalating costs, & 4) life cycle costs may be higher than competing sources

  • solar power is similar cost (and continually getting cheaper) than nuclear for the same output

Gov. & Utility Incentives

to Install Solar Panels

- 30% Federal Tax Credit

- $1,000 TVA connection credit

- TVA Green Power purchase buys power generated at retail price

- Nexus – 30%, $3,000 max – requires energy audit.

To extend the life of your Lead batteries, keep them at least 50% charged.

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