Solar Technology Alabama Renewable Energy & Solar Power Solutions Mon, 18 Oct 2021 15:21:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Grid-Tie Works in Alabama, even for Alabama Power Customers Mon, 18 Oct 2021 15:21:56 +0000 You have heard that solar can reduce or eliminate your power bill. The power company will purchase any excess power and you can even make money. If you covered a few acres with solar panels, you might even have a nice retirement income.

All of the above is true in states where the utility offers NET metering. Net metering exchanges kWh at the retail rate. The utility pays you the same amount for a kWh as you pay them. No utility in Alabama offers net metering and it exists mostly (maybe ONLY) in places where it is mandated by the state. Net metering is bad for utilities and their customers. Every solar system results in lost revenue to the utility and forces rate payers to subsidize the lost revenue. I think net metering will eventually go the way of the dinosaur.

The intent of a grid-tie system is to offset kWh you would otherwise purchase. This it does. Here is how it works in Alabama. Every kWh you generate and consume saves you the cost of the kWh and the associated taxes, including the state and federal income tax. A solar kWh consumed by the owner saves around 16 cents. That is a good deal. Most Alabama utilities will purchase any excess kWh you generate at the “offset”, or wholesale rate, of around 4 cents. That is a reasonable and fair deal.

Technically, you can offset every kWh your house consumes, making ownership of a grid-tie system very green. However, reducing your power bill is another matter. A grid-tie solar system sized to maximize the return-on-investment will be sized to minimize the generation sold to the utility at the reduced rate. In other words, you want to minimize the kWh you generate and sell for 4 cents. This is the current situation with most all electric coops in Alabama, including TVA.

Alabama Power is a little more jealous of their revenue. They got the PSC to approve a Capacity Reservation Charge, or CRC for short. It is currently about $5.50 per system kWh rating per month. Their take is something like this. The capacity they have installed to serve your house is idle when the sun is shining. But they must maintain the capacity because they have to meet your electrical demand when the sun is not shining. So, they charge you a fee for holding that capacity in reserve. This makes perfect business sense to a utility and I suspect many other utilities will follow this model and small roof-top grid-tie solar will disappear.

Alabama Power likes solar. They own a lot of it. And they seem very friendly to their customers owning solar. But the CRC protects their revenue by essentially putting the generation of your solar system into their pocket. If your goal is to be green, this program works for you. If you are interested in reducing your power bill, not so much.

By the way, grid-tie systems must be connected to the utility to function. They go down with the grid. Many people are disappointed that their grid-tie solar system does not produce power during a grid outage.

But solar is not going away. In fact, it is now a force to be reckoned with and will play a significant role in the future of residential power. Easily 90% of our systems involve energy storage – batteries. These systems reduce or eliminate your dependency on purchased power. They are fully capable of interacting with the grid, but because of the complexity of utility interconnection agreements, most owners choose not to connect their solar system to the grid. These systems power select loads much like an uninterruptible power supply and can push power into your grid panel, reducing your purchased power. No grid interconnection agreement and no permission slip required from the utility. The technology is amazing.

A solar water heater is an excellent way to use solar energy to reduce your dependency on fossil fuels and will save a boat load of money if you replace an electric water heater. Solar water heaters cost less than a modest grid-tie system, break even in around 7 years, and will return around $20,000 over its expected 30+ year lifetime. No permission slip or contract with the electric utility required. This is a better solar option for many people.

Thanks for your interest in solar and I appreciate your reading this blog. We would love to help you tap into the abundant solar resource – the natural and renewable source of energy.

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Grid-Tie Solar for TVA Co-Op Customers Thu, 30 Sep 2021 04:17:53 +0000 The TVA administers the solar program. Click this link for details. The process starts by making application with your electric utility and Co-Ops are not required to participate. Make application, get the information and study it well to understand how this works. You can’t connect a solar system to the utility without a signed agreement (usually lasting 5 years) between your utility and the TVA. Your solar installer must also be qualified and be approved by the TVA.

Let’s start with a few facts about grid-tie solar. First, a grid-tie solar system is grid-dependent. It will not work if the grid is down.

Second, solar is fully capable of offsetting every kWh your house consumes. However, eliminating or reducing your power bill is another matter. There was a time when net metering was popular in parts of the US. Net metering provides for an even exchange of kWh through the meter. In other words, the utility pays you the same thing you pay them. Consider that a TVA utility purchases a kWh at one rate and sells it to you at a higher rate that allows them to remain in business and make a reasonable profit, as regulated by the Public Service Commission. If they pay you the “retail” rate for a kWh, they will lose money when they sell it to your neighbor because of the losses involved in moving energy. This loss is actually paid by the rate payer. Net metering is not a good deal for the utility nor the non-solar owning rate payer. I’m not aware of a single utility in Alabama that uses net metering. Legislated net metering made solar grid-tie systems very popular, but I think they will eventually go the way of the dinosaur.

The TVA does offer options that accommodate those that just want to be green and those that want to lower their power bill via solar. Let’s talk about the latter.

Grid-tie solar systems generate kWh, the exact thing you purchase from the utility. Every kWh your system produces goes to one of two places. If you consume it, it offsets a kWh that you would have otherwise purchased. If you don’t consume it, the TVA purchases it for the offset rate. If you consume a kWh your solar system produces, you save something close to 15 cents. If you don’t, TVA purchases it for around 4.5 cents. This huge disparity tends to keep the grid-tie systems connected to a TVA Co-Op relatively small. A larger system will produce a lot of 4.5 cent kWh, making a large system less profitable than one designed around your average summer and winter consumption.

Solar water heating offers another way to reduce your power bill. A solar water heater costs less than a small grid-tie solar system and breaks even in about half the time. Solar water heaters do not require a contract or a permission slip with the utility or TVA. If lowering your power bill via solar is your goal, I suggest you start by considering a solar water heater. Watch the video on the water heating page for more details.

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What can solar do for me? Fri, 26 Mar 2021 22:31:39 +0000 The prospect said he was interested in having solar panels installed on his roof. When I asked why, there was a long silence.

This is not a hypothetical situation. It happens often. The prospect may be thinking the answer is obvious and pondering why I asked the question, because in most cases, the person wants solar to reduce or eliminate their power bill. They have never thought it can do anything else. So, let’s start with power bill reduction.

By the way, the gravy is at the end. Stay with me…

There is not an electric utility in Alabama that will allow you significantly reduce your power bill via solar. Electric utilities generate revenue by selling kilowatt hours. Anything you save reduces their revenue. They already have the pole, wire, and transformer in place, and they will still restore power during a stormy night if needed. If everyone cut their bill in half via solar, how are they going to stay in business? Yet many Alabamians think that solar will negate their power bill and maybe put some spending cash in their pocket. Sorry, but that is not the case.

Generally speaking, utility companies are not interested in their customers cutting their bill while increasing the utility’s administrative costs. (Somebody has to keep up with what you buy, what you use, and what you sell.) Alabama Power, for example, has removed all financial incentive for owning solar specifically to discourage their customers reducing their electric bills via solar. In the absence of state incentives, every utility in the US will eventually do the same. These kinds of solar systems are going the way of the dinosaur.

But solar has some highly desirable capabilities. It can provide power. It can pump water. It can heat water. It can do all of these things completely independent of the grid. If you are interested in staying your house through a prolonged power outage with some level of comfort and security, solar is the answer.

That said, solar can still help you reduce your power bill. The least expensive solar option is water heating. It also has the strongest return. Watch the video on solar water heating on this web site. And non-Alabama Power customers can reduce their power bill a little by owning a solar grid-tie system. Just be advised that heating water with solar breaks even in about half the time as a solar grid-tie system.

Can we install solar panels on your roof? Of course, we can. But what do you want them to do for you?

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Why I prefer Diesel over LP Generators Sat, 20 Feb 2021 16:32:04 +0000 My preference for diesel strikes some as odd, inasmuch as they will have an LP tank for other appliances. LP stand-by generators are very popular, so why not? Here is my reply to a recent inquiry.

You can use an LP generator if you like. Here are the reasons I prefer diesel.
1. Diesel engines are low maintenance and long lasting. The machines I have built use Kubota Tier-4 engines. The engine has an air filter and a fuel filter. I recommend an oil change every year and replacing all fuel lines every 3 or 4 years. You can pass this thing down to your great grandchildren. By the way, I also specify a brushless alternator. Think low-maintenance.
2. Diesel engines are non-carbureted. Carburetors are a royal pain. My bend pushes me to lean toward bullet-proof systems that deliver, last, and require little in return.
3. I’ve not found a quality LP generator that can be recoil started. The bullet-proof formula requires a generator that can be started from a battery OR via recoil. Start batteries die. Pull ropes are a good backup. Think options.
4. Diesel is a stable, non-volatile, high-btu fuel. I include a 55 gal drum filled with treated fuel, along with a hand-crank iron transfer pump. If you maintain your fuel, it will last 10 years and provide you with between 4 and 5 years of support.
5. An LP generator will be in competition for fuel with all your other appliances that use LP. Your battery DEPENDS on a reliable generator. If your power system depends on LP and something interrupts the supply, you lose.
6. LP engines are very popular in stand-by generators. Off-grid demands a back-up generator. It is a different machine. Generac makes an 8kW propane standby generator and an 8kW propane backup generator. The latter costs twice as much. It is more than twice the machine (but still does not meet my specifications). LP generators can’t be made to meet the bullet-proof formula; Single cylinder, air cooled, diesel, starts from a battery or a rope, and has a brushless alternator.
7. But your requirements don’t have to match mine. It depends on your reason for wanting grid-independence. If you want bullet-proof to be part of the package, an LP generator will be a chink in your armor. If you are not interested in armor, don’t worry about the chinks.

Your thoughts?

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Selecting appliances for Off-Grid Sat, 20 Feb 2021 16:18:43 +0000 Most of us were born into a grid world. Our minds are steeped in grid dependency. Effort is required to change the programming and a change of mind always precedes a change of state. So, exactly what appliances can be operated from an off-grid system? Below is a copy-paste from a recent inquiry:

Regarding appliance selection, here is a list of appliances that are grid-dependent. Electric stoves, ovens, water heaters, clothes dryers, and almost all forms of electric heat. The absolute best way to do air-conditioning is with a mini-split. Insulate your house well, use glass moderately, and you can figure 12,000 btu (one ton) per 1000 ft2. That is one half of the standing rule of thumb used by almost all HVAC contractors. I strongly recommend you consider Sundanzer for your refrigerated and frozen food requirements. Small microwaves are no problem. HE washers, gas dryers, gas stove/oven are standard along with the usual array of kitchen countertop appliances. Wood or gas heat, but you may want both. Gas for convenience and wood for sustainability. We use a different well pump than the standard grid type, but I’ll handle that for you. You will see it all when we meet.

The above list will allow you to make an almost unnoticeable transition from grid to off-grid. However, there are some that want a different life with little semblance of their former grid life. That is a conversation reserved only for those interested.

Your comments…

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Off-Grid Battery Considerations Thu, 27 Aug 2020 16:30:15 +0000 It is late August and there are storms in the gulf. Due to the weather for the last few days, my battery has not been to 100% SOC (state of charge). Lead acid batteries need to get there once every three or four days. The forecast for today is 75% cloud cover and my battery was at 83% at daybreak. The lack of sun also did not trigger a mini-split operation for two days and the inside humidity was at 85%. Temperature was OK, but it was stuffy. So I hit the generator for about 1.5 hours.

My inside humidity dropped to 65%, in the “normal” range. My battery hit 90% and I expect the sun to top it off within a few hours, even under the cloudy conditions.

This is an example of the load management and adjustments required to live without a grid power connection. If you have a grid connection, I can configure the system to take care of this automatically. You will have to play a role when the grid is down, but it is completely invisible if the grid is there.

Lithium batteries make off-grid a lot easier. They can operate at a partial state of charge without a problem. However, the mini-split air-conditioner is still operated from solar, not battery. This means that you won’t get any air-conditioning and humidity reduction unless the sun is out in force. So even with a lithium battery, you will still have to consider a generator run to satisfy that need. But a lithium battery will allow you to simply wait out many low-sun conditions without generator assistance as the sun will often come to the rescue. You are relieved of the lead-acid requirement to hit 100% SOC twice a week, and that is a lot of load off your mind!

Lithium batteries has been around for some time and we understand the technology well. However, they have only recently been introduced into the off-grid market at a reasonable cost level. Maintenance free AGM (lead-acid) are still a good option if you need to keep the initial cost down. But if you have the funds, lithium is well worth considering.

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I Want To Go Off-Grid Tue, 27 Mar 2018 17:01:24 +0000 One of the most frequent requests I get goes something like this. “Can you put some solar panels on my roof? I want to get rid of my electric meter all together.” I think the prospect is looking at his/her bill when he/she calls.

The short answer is no. Abundant, readily available, reliable, low-cost power has turned Americans into willing killowattaholicis. We like convenience and the addiction happened naturally. The wall plug and light switch were there when we were born. If we want something, we plug it in or flip the switch. We are largely unaware of how much power we consume, and our appetite has no end. I don’t like the term “addiction” either, and I was a kilowatt pusher for 20 years. But examine our behavior. If the power goes off, we panic. We complain about the bill, but don’t change our behavior. The caller wanting to go off-grid is simply tired of paying the going rate for power and is looking for another pusher to get his fix. Here is the truth. The lowest cost power you can currently get comes through the meter. If you are unhappy with the bill, lower your consumption.

Here is the problem. The houses we’ve built consume so much power that we are locked into dependency on the utility company. Here is a list of appliances that are grid dependent; electric stove and oven, dryer, water heater, heat pump, central air conditioning (including ground source or geothermal). It is not possible to power these kinds of appliances during the winter from an off-grid system. The number of houses that have an electric meter that I’ve converted to off-grid: ZERO.

I worked for Alabama Power as an electrical engineer for 20 years. I now live off-grid and help others break their dependency on purchased power. Most of the systems I install are off-grid (stand-alone) power systems and most go into grid-connected houses. The owners simply want options. A small but growing number of people actually move off-grid. Anyone interested in owning their own power system is encouraged to visit the Alabama Solar Technology Center, my home and base of operations. You will see a renewable energy building capable of supporting a number of people with a high degree of comfort and security. It CAN be done, but it WON’T be done in the conventionally built house designed to be grid-dependent. When you tour the Solar Center, you will see how to successfully implement off-grid and you will be thrilled at the possibilities.

Here is a recent request via email with my thoughts and replies. This is an actual case.

New construction: Would like feasibility of using solar system and wind generated power to provide electricity and hot water in an off grid environment. Living quarters in new construction will be 2000 Sq Ft. I need estimate of system size needed and cost of system.

My Thoughts
Solar – yes. Wind – no. Solar heated water – yes. Estimate the size of the required power system based on square footage? You know a square foot does not consume any power. I need to get this person to come to the Solar Center for a tour.

My Reply
The nature of this inquiry is too complex to answer via email. Please call on Monday at your convenience.

House is 60×40. 60ft side faces due south with no shade. Not sure of roof angle, it’s standard trusses across the 40ft span. I suspect I will need somewhere around 800 to 1000kWh system, based on my current usage in present home.

My Thoughts
Hum. This person does not listen. Didn’t I say this is too complex to discuss via email. And now I have an email with kWh usage of her PRESENT (grid-dependent) house.

My Reply
You will have to help me with the 1000kwh thing. Where did you get that number? And per day, week, month?

Off-grid house. 1000kWh per month, based on size and design of house. I have made the size and design determinations based on an engineering background.

My Thoughts
A well-designed air-conditioned off-grid house will require approximately 450 kWh/month during the summer and around 300 kWh/month during the winter. I need to get this person to tour the Solar Center.

My Reply
Have you toured my place?

I haven’t toured your place yet. I have viewed your website. My policy is whomever has the best price for what I need, will get my business. I also like to keep my business in Alabama, if possible.

My Thoughts
I probably don’t want this person to become a customer. She has a “policy” and already knows what she needs (but is clueless and resistant). I think she should consider a new policy: I won’t purchase an off-grid system from someone that does not live off-grid and I’m willing to pay for a functioning system.

My Reply
I think you will benefit greatly from a tour of the Alabama Solar Technology Center, my home and base if operations. I’m in my 7th year off-grid, living more comfortably than ever, and I do not come near 1000kwh per month.

The tour is free whether you buy anything from me or not. I’ll prepare a budget quote when we have the tour completed and things better defined. Let me know when you can come.

Based on the square footage of my current grid-based home and its electrical consumption, nine months out of the year I use approximately 600kWh per month, or less. The other 2 – 3 months (Dec, Jan, Feb), electrical consumption is approximately 1400kWh per month. I like to maintain a consistent temperature in my home. Of course, when I move, I’ll be using propane for some appliances (stove, oven, etc.) as opposed to electricity, which is currently used. Thus, my electrical usage will be somewhat different. I’m also not opposed to Geothermal heating & cooling, but need more information before going that route.

I’ll let you know when my General Contractor has the house built. You may want to take a look at the location.

My Thoughts
If you do not do the tour, you are never going to live off-grid. You are going to heat with propane as well because geothermal is not an off-grid option (and your “engineering background” does not know it). I’ve tried to be gentle, but I’ll make a bold effort to salvage this case.

My Reply
Well, I recommend the tour before you do anything. You would then realize on your own what I’m persuaded to tell you now.

  1. If you are going off-grid, you can’t take your grid addictions with you.
  2. Thus, your previous life as a killowattaholic has no real connection to your future. Toss your kwh consumption records. They are meaningless.
  3. You must learn the difference in off-grid and grid dependent appliances. Geothermal belongs in the latter, as do all other forms of electric heating.
  4. You will be excited about the comfort, security, and simplicity of off-grid living.
  5. You have the cart way too far ahead of the horse. You can leave the grid out of the conversation until the house is completed.  But a successful off-grid experience starts at the conception stage, not after the house is built.

I “recommend” the tour to be diplomatic. In truth, I’d rather not sell you a system unless you do the tour early in the process. There is much more you need to learn, but I’m not going to write a book. The tour will fill the deficiency and is an education you can’t afford to be without.

33 days later
My last email seems to have broken our conversation. Do I need to keep your inquiry in my active folder?

15 minutes later
No! Do not contact me again. I’ve decided to go with a company that will sell me what I want, and not preach to me about what they think I need.


My Thoughts
This was the best outcome. I do not want someone unwilling to make the simple but necessary adjustments required of off-grid living to be my customer. I want success stories, not failures. It is sometimes difficult to see a woman get what she thinks she wants. This is not going to play well and I hate it for her and what it is going to do to the solar industry.

No Reply

My Thoughts
I know what goodbye means.

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Wind Energy in Alabama Mon, 17 Jul 2017 18:39:47 +0000 Alabama is RICH in solar energy, but dirt poor in wind energy.  Still, many people, especially those that live on a shore of one of Alabama’s lakes, think there is plenty of wind where they live to produce power.  I get the question so often that I dedicated a page to Solar vs Wind in Alabama.  From that page, you can link to the renewable energy laboratory’s solar and wind energy resource maps.  Even a cursory view of these maps will fully demonstrate the truth of the opening statement of this blog.

But look closely.  The wind resource map shows the wind energy at 30 meters.  That is almost 100 ft high!  So, to tap this meager resource, you would have to put your turbine on a 100 ft tower.  The cost of the tower and the maintenance of a turbine mounted atop it is prohibitive.

By contrast, look at the solar resource map.  No matter where you live in Alabama, you can produce abundant energy from the sun.  If you look at the video on the link above, you will see that solar will run circles around wind.

The cost of a roof or ground mounted solar array is a fraction of what a 100 ft tower will cost.  And solar requires little to no maintenance.  Beautiful!

Thanks for thinking solar.  Schedule a tour of the Alabama Solar Technology Center and see first-hand what an off-grid solar power system can do for you!

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Solar -vs- Wind Power in Alabama Tue, 05 Apr 2016 12:29:46 +0000

This map shows the solar resource in the United States for photovoltaic systems.

I often get questions about wind power. Because it takes so much wind to produce power, Alabama has few places where wind turbines are economical. However, a wind turbine might be an important component of an alternate energy system. Our renewable energy systems rely heavily on solar. But the wind is often strong when the solar is not. Besides, some people just want one…

The Department of Energy’s Wind Program…

This map shows the wind resource for residential size wind turbines at 30 meters (about 100ft).

The Department of Energy’s Wind Program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) collects and publishes wind energy stats and data. Many Alabamians thing the wind blows enough where they live to generate a lot of power. Believe this map! Look at the video above showing wind energy harvest from the shore of a large Alabama lake. Even if these turbines were mounted at 100ft (imagine the cost), it would make little difference.

Alabama has very few places where harvesting wind energy is feasible. Yes, we have installed a few for people that want one. Wanting a wind turbine is about the best reason for having one. I think most Alabamians that have one have lost their appetite for them.

Advancements in turbine technology have lowered the wind speed necessary to produce power to around 4.5 meters per second. Even at that number, Alabama does not make the mark. So, wind will likely not provide a lot of your power. But it might just be a part of your overall package to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels.


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