Energy Storage at Home and Beyond

Renewable energy has more than enough potential to meet the world’s daily energy needs every few minutes. With PV alone, we get enough sun every 13 minutes and 20 seconds to meet the world’s energy needs all day, every day.

So why don’t we use more renewable energies and leave the fossils in the ground?

The problem is that renewable energy is feast or famine. Either we have way more than we need, or we don’t have enough.

Storage is the key to effectively using renewable energies. When we think of energy storage, we usually first think of batteries. For electronics, we think of AA penlight batteries or smaller. For solar, we might think of golf cart batteries. But there is so much more to energy storage to day, and the possibilities for tomorrow are astounding.

This presentation was made to the Alabama Solar Association on August 15, 2017. We hope it will help ypu understand energy storage technologies and possibilities.

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North Alabama ASHRAE Chapter Meeting: May 12, 2017, Managing Legionella Growth & Spread in Buildings and Dedicated Outside Air Systems

Legionnaires’ disease is serious but manageable:

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious type of pneumonia caused by bacteria, called Legionella, that live in water. Legionella can make people sick when they inhale contaminated water from building water systems that are not adequately maintained. ASHRAE Standard 188, 10 years in the making is now available to help designers and building owners to manage risk factors. It can be purchased from ASHRAE at: You can read it for fee on the ASHRAE website:

Read ASHRAE Vice President Patricia T. Graef, P.E.’s notes on this important topic at: 2017-05-12-Legionellosis-Risk Management for Building Water Systems

Free Toolkit: 

The ASHRAE toolkit Developing a Water Management Program to Reduce Legionella Growth & Spread in Buildings is available for free download on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website

So What?

Multiple common preventable maintenance deficiencies have been identified in association with disease outbreaks, highlighting the importance of comprehensive water management programs for water systems in buildings. Read how they affected our health at: 2016-06-07-MMWR-Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Save energy with Dedicated Outside Air Systems (DOAS):

Dedicated Outside Air Systems (DOAS) bring fresh air into the building. They save energy by condition only the ventilation air for buildings, but additional measures can save even more energy. Read ASHRAE Vice President Patricia T. Graef, P.E.’s notes on this energy-saving opportunity at: The Logic of Dedicated Outside Air Systems and the Core Technologies that Make Them Effective.

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There is a lot you can do to reduce your electric bill:

  • We are upgrading the fluorescent lighting in a local clinic to LEDs. We expect to save more than $3,000 per year in electricity while providing far superior lighting.
  • One July, I added $925 of insulation to our home. The August electric bill was $40 less than the previous hotter August.
  • This week contractors will finish installing geothermal a heat pump system in our home. This lets us cut off our natural gas pipeline.  It will also cut our heating and cooling bill by 75 percent while cutting the overall utility bill in half.
  • Solar panels are continuing to drop. You can install a photovoltaic (PV) system on your house for about the cost of a new Chevy Malibu. The difference is that the PV system will work for you providing free electricity for the next 25 years. You’ll work for the new car for the next five to ten years, until it’s time to buy a new one. See for a year-by-year comparison.
  • Energy storage is not yet cost effective when there is an available utility grid. However prices are now falling as sharply as solar panel prices fell a few years ago. Look for grid-tied battery backup to be cost effective very soon.
  • Wind power is feasible in some rural areas.
  • Micro-hydro systems are showing a lot of promise in hilly terrain.
  • There are so many little things you can do that can add up to big savings.

Why Conservation First?

As past president of the Alabama Solar Association, current president of the North Alabama ASHRAE Chapter, and as a Certified Energy Manager (CEM), I have always recommended conservation as the first step of employing renewable energy such as solar and wind. Studies show that every dollar you spend on energy conservation will save you three to five dollars on a new PV system. Conservation is a major factor in making energy storage more economical:

  • LED lighting advances
  • Energy efficient refrigeration
  • Energy Star appliances
  • Smart meters
  • Other energy efficient advances

Does conservation make sense to you? Want to start right now? Go to your thermostat. If it is still in heating mode, turn the thermostat two degrees cooler. Now wear more comfortable clothing. You will cut your heating bill by 5 percent.

If you are already in cooling mode, like here in Alabama, set the thermostat two degrees warmer and save 5 percent on cooling. It’s a great excuse to wear less and more comfortable clothing.

Along the way, see any lights burning that are not needed. How about warts. Those pesky “wall warts” we use to charge cell phones and other devices can use a lot of power even when they are not being used. See what you can adjust, turn off, or unplug. It begins working for you immediately.

Check out tips at these websites:

Need help?

Contact Morton at +1.256.658.5189 or


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Why is solar PV still so expensive?

Let’s compare the cost of a new photovoltaic (PV) system compared to another major household purchase.

Photovoltaic System Costs vs. Cost of a New Car:

A new photovoltaic (PV) system costs about the same as a nice new car, but there is a difference. Your PV system will work for you for 25 years or longer, while you are working for the car for the life of the vehicle—five to ten years. While the PV system is producing you clean energy, you are working to buy gas, oil, tires, other repair parts, labor to install them, etc.—all of which seem to get more expensive each year. Your PV system will run practically maintenance free for 25 years or longer.

In five to ten years, you’ll have to buy another car, and it will likely be more expensive than the last one. In the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) service area, most of North Alabama, you can expect to break even in less than ten years. This means 15 to 20 years of completely free electricity.

Let’s assume you want to buy a Chevy Malibu, a nice family car. Assume you will drive it 20,000 miles per year like most folks. Assume energy costs will continue to increase two percent per year as they have in the past. Also assume a three percent inflation rate. How do the costs compare?

Let’s also assume that you use about 14,200 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. You will need a 10-kilowatt (kW) system. Let’s also assume you can connect to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power grid.

Notice How Quickly a PV System Pays You Back:

By early in the seventh year, you have broken even. For the next 17 plus years, your PV system will be working for you. If you are willing to look ahead, PV is cost effective now, off-grid is cost effective in some cases, and off-grid will soon be effective everywhere.

What if the sun doesn’t shine?

In Alabama, we all know there are rainy and cloudy days, and even on clear winter days, the sunshine ius brief. What do we do if the sun doesn’t shine?

The secret is in storage, but storage is still expensive. But solar was still very expensive fifteen years ago. PV prices keep coming down and show no signs of bottoming out. Storage prices are also dropping fast, as new technologies come on line. Storage comes in instantaneous to long-term systems, tiny batteries for electronics to freight-car sized systems, and a variety of different storage media. Look for great things from Tesla and other manufacturers in the near future.

Cleaner Air, So What:

You’ll also make our air cleaner. What difference can one person or even one family make among Alabama’s vast population? See the story of “Thx Old Computxr” below.

Want to know more about how to save money on utility bills?

Wonder how I calculated these dramatic figures? Want to know what if your use is different? Call Morton at +1.256.658.5189 or e-mail:

Thank you for your interest in clean, renewable energies and making our planet a little cleaner.

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Energy Storage Class Slides

Joint ASHRAE – IEEE Meeting, November 14, 2016, Download Slides: energystorageslides

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Energy Storage-2016

Joint AHSRAE-IEEE Meeting, November 14, 2016, Download White Paper:energystoragewhite-paper

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Water is a blessing and a curse

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

We can live weeks without food but only days without water. About 71 percent is covered by water and 29 percent by land. The deepest point in the ocean is more than 7,000 feet deeper than Mount Everest is high. There are 332.5 million cubic miles of water on earth. We live on “The Blue Planet.”

But despite our vast water resources, drinking water is scarce. Most of the water that is not fatal to drink is so polluted you risk serious health issues by consuming it.

And climate change is causing ocean levels to rise. Ten million people in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam alone are threatened with rising oceans. Miami Beach could be mostly underwater in 25 years. So we have more than enough water but not nearly enough to drink.

In the 195’s and 60’s, I loved to water ski in Lake Alatoona north of Atlanta. Now I drive across the lake on Interstate 75 and see muddy slopes where I used to ski. The problem is so severe, that Georgia has been suing Alabama and Tennessee for the rights to syphon water from the Tennessee River to meet needs in Atlanta. Even if they could get this approved, the engineering challenge of moving that much water over or through the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains would be daunting.

Back in the 1980’s, I worked on EPA projects in Louisiana to treat wastewater with ancient techniques of overland glow. The method had been recently used to grow hay and lush golf course greens.

At last Atlanta had come up with a workable solution. They have a facility to reclaim city sewage and use it for many safe purposes. Read how they did it:

Will water instead of energy limit future life on earth?


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Energy Storage, the Key to Renewable Energy Use

Energy storage is the key to effectively using renewable energy. The sun doesn’t always shine; the wind doesn’t always blow, even streams feeding micro-hydro systems don’t always flow. Storage shaves the peak power production and lets us use it later.

Read “Do we get enough sunshine in Alabama?” at We definitely get enough solar power in Alabama to more than meet our average needs, but do we get it when we need it?

Monday through Friday each week, we have three periods of peak usage:

  • Morning peak, 6 am to 8 am as people get ready to go to work or school.
  • Commercial peak, 11 am to 2pm as the sun is the hottest and people are hard at work. This peak is more pronounced in summer, but it occurs in winter as well.
  • Evening peak, 5pm to 9pm as families gather for the evening meal and get ready for bed.

Solar power is doing its best during the midday commercial peak. The morning and evening peaks, however, need either some grid power or solar power stored earlier. To see how solar power peaks in shady Five Points of Huntsville, Alabama, check out the solar dashboard at You can see how this modest 4.2 kW system is performing right now, or you can scroll back with the left arrow in the right side of the graph to see performance from previous days. Compare these peaks and valleys with the three periods of peak usage described above.

Tesla Powerwall batteries (’s-energy/7130392) have changed the landscape of energy storage. Lithium-ion batteries are the best of the best, and other battery technologies are scrambling to stay competitive. Lithium-ion battery performance is so spectacular, why would you even consider using anything else?

Actually, the lowly flooded lead-acid battery like the ones in your car, can still work quite well. Of course car batteries are designed to deliver a lot of power very quickly and then rest and recharge for long periods of time. They don’t do well as storage for solar power, but their deep-cycle cousins do. Marine and RV batteries are designed for deep discharge and faster recovery. Flooded lead-acid batteries can cost one-third as much and last twice as long as their high-bred cousins. They are 100-percent recyclable; lithium-ion batters are not recyclable at this time. Flooded lead-acid batteries do require a lot of maintenance, and they discharge hydrogen gas when they are charging.

In the middle we have the sealed lead-acid batteries. These give off no gas when charging, and they cost a lot less than the lithium-ion systems. They require almost no maintenance, but they do not last as long as flooded lead-acid batters.

Learn more about battery options and other energy storage solutions at “Slides from a class on Energy Storage presented to a joint ASHRAE-Alabama Solar Association meeting in Huntsville, Alabama, on Thursday, January 14, 2016” at

We have an abundance of solar power here in Alabama. We just need to use it wisely.

Think Green!


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Alabama’s Untapped Solar Potential

On the Horizon: Alabama’s Untapped Solar Potential

We just recently discovered a great video about the potential for renewable energy in Alabama. On the Horizon, produced by Southern Exposure, “exposes” some of the challenges we face in Alabama. Mother Nature has done her part. The challenges are not environmental. They are man made, and they are fixable! The challenges include politics, “big oil” business practices, and a general lack of understanding of the tremendous positive impacts of employing renewable energy. To learn more about Alabama’s untapped solar potential, please go here and watch the video.

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Solar Potential in Alabama

Solar Potential: One Square Meter-1 kWDo we get enough sunshine in Alabama?

Try this. Hold your arms out at about a 45° angle. Ask someone else to face you, hold out their arms, and touch your fingertips to theirs. You have just defined a square meter of space.

The average solar radiation striking the earth is 1,000 watts per square meter (fact check). Alabama has slightly better than average solar radiation. This means that the space between your arms will collect a kilowatt-hour, on average, of solar energy every daylight hour of every day of each year.

Now look around you. How many more square meters of solar potential do you see outside your arms?

Solar Potential Box

Consider the big box to the left is the quantity of sunshine reaching our planet is a day. Assuming photovoltaic modules which are only 16 percent efficient—and many today have a higher efficiency—we could harvest 19,200 terawatts of electricity. This alone is more 1,200 times the total daily energy needs of the world.

It is interesting to note that the least-potent renewable energy, geothermal, is still double the total energy needs.

There is more than 20,000 terawatts of renewable energy available on earth each day, and we only need 16 terawatts of all energy sources. This means we get enough clean, renewable energy from the sun in 1 minute 9 seconds to meet our global energy needs all day.

Yes, we get plenty of sun and renewable energy in Alabama. So why don’t we use it more?

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