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alternative energy...

Skip to solar, wind, geothermal and biomass

Alternative energy is the solution of the future...if we are to have a future. Today, about 50% of all electricity is generated by burning coal, 20% from natural gas, 20% from nuclear, 9% from hydroelectricity and less than 1% from renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal and biomass burning). Coal produces the most CO2 emissions of all types of energy sources so it is important to replace this source of energy as fast as we can.

We MUST do what we can to use and foster the development of CLEAN renewable energy sources for ourselves, our kids and our grandkids. For now, the possibilities are solar, wind, geothermal and biomass burning.

And the winner is ....Wind, water and sun beat other energy alternatives, study finds.


Let's face it. We live in solar heaven. Albuquerque has 6.5 sun hours per day on average, one of the highest rates in the nation. We can use both passive and active solar to heat our homes, water and provide excess energy. Go to SolarEstimate.Org for a terrific custom analysis of size, cost, payback and more. Impressive site.

Passive Solar

At the most basic level, you can be aware of which way your home faces and where yourpassive solar home windows and doors are located. In the winter, open blinds and drapes during the day on southern windows for solar gain. Close at night so the heat does not escape. Some have estimated that you could save about 4 hours of "paid for" heat by managing the sun with insulating blinds. Landscaping can also be used to block summer solar gain with the strategic location of trees and even grass.

Passive solar architects and builders have sophisticated energy calculators that will optimize the layout of a new home to take maximum advantage of "free and clean" solar energy. Windows on the north side of the home will be smaller or fewer in number; windows on the south side will be larger and allow the lower winter sun which saves on heat, but have an overhang that blocks the higher summer sun and saves on cooling.

Active Solar ... PV and Thermal

Photovoltaic panels collect solar energy (free, renewable energy) and convert it to electricity that can power our homes. PNM has had a net metering policy since 1998 that allows for our electrical meters to "run backwards" for energy produced from an acceptable PV (photovoltaic) system which saves you $.10/kwh on your electric bill. In addition, PNM is also required to have a percentage of "green energy sources" and will purchase energy you produce from your PV panels (REC credit) for 12 years.

Yes, you get a check in the mail for the amount you produce. No, you can not deduct it from your gas bill. Electric and gas are separate entities. Note: You are getting two credits from PNM for the energy produced by your PV system. They will deduct the amount produced by "net metering" from your electrical bill AND pay you for the same production with a check. The system we have from Positive Energy is estimated to pay us $1081/Yr on a $13,052 investment (after tax credits) until 2021, a 12 year payback. Tax credits are now 40% of the system. Bonus: rates WILL increase and the $.10/KWhr paid for net-metering will also likely increase, so you are getting energy inflation protection. Yeah!!!

This system covers all of our electrical usage (after adopting conservation measures). It will mean mysolarzero electrical bills and checks in the mail. When you get ready to sell your home, there is also a chance (especially if energy costs continue to go up) that you will get at least part of your original investment back at the time of the sale. EnviroKarma.org also has a good discussion of the costs with photos of his installation in Santa Fe.

How to get started?

First, you need to make an effort to reduce your energy usage by life style changes and home energy conservation. Then, talk to a solar company and get an idea of the size of system you need. Always talk to previous customers before deciding. You MUST start with an application to PNM. Your solar company should be able to help you with this process.

While tax incentives and PNM REC credits change over time, the price of solar keeps dropping.

Thermal Solar

Solar Hot Water and Heating systems, now called Thermal Solar have been a mainstay in our area since the 70's. The older panels that you see on roofs around the city are thermal solar collectors. These are not PV systems (above), rather they heat a fluid in the panel that circulates back to your home's heating system or hot water tank. They produce heat, not electrical power.

wind ....

PNM is proud of its role in the creation of the New Mexico Wind Energy Center, which can produce enough power to supply 94,000 average-sized New Mexico homes — without emissions or water use. gold starYou can choose the Blue Sky option on the PNM site to buy wind power at a slightly higher rate and know that the electricity you are using is emission free!

The American Wind Association provides the basics on wind energy and indicates that turbines can cost from $6K to $20K. They are best suited for more rural locations due to their size (towers arewind turbine needed to maximize the wind stream). The wind system will usually recoup its investment through utility savings within 6 to 15 years and after that the electricity it produces will be virtually free.

However, Paul Vosburgh, local wind power expert of previously with Vawtpower and author of "Commercial Applications of Wind Power" cautions that residential uses of wind turbines are extremely limited. First, it is important to have wind in the 14-15 MPH range (Albuquerque only has 9-10 MPH) and we are over 5000 feet high (where our air is thinner which erodes wind power). Second, safety is an issue. Turbine blades spin at a rate of 100 MPH and can come off and hit nearby buildings. They MUST be located in areas that are well away from people, structures, animals, etc. and should be fenced for safety. Roof mounted turbines can also damage the roof structure. Bergey Windpower is the world’s leading supplier of small wind turbines.

geothermal ...

Geothermal heating/cooling, also known as ground source heat pumps, has been named "the most energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive of all space conditioning systems", by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sandia Labs is looking at ways to use this energy source for large scale projects. The system's basic concept takes advantage of the earth's constant temperature, approximately 55 degrees, to heat and cool a geothermalbuilding. By tapping this steady flow of heat from the earth in the winter, and displacing heat in the earth in the summer, a geothermal heat pump can save homeowners 40 to 70 percent in heating costs and 30 to 50 percent in cooling costs compared to conventional systems. A closed loop system, the most popular, can be laid out either vertically in 50 -250 foot deep holes drilled like a well, or horizontally in 3-6 foot deep trenches. This system can often be retrofitted to your existing ductwork.

The main drawback is cost. Geothermal systems cost about 30% more than conventional heating systems and are usually put in during construction. Access and space is needed for drilling or digging as well which would eliminate many city lots. A second drawback is finding good qualified contractors. Total Service Company specializes in geothermal systems in the state of NM. The Vision House 2006 built Sun Mountain Construction in Corrales includes ground-sourced geothermal system tied into the radiant heating system and refrigerated air. 

Dandelion Home Energy system, a google spin-off is reducing cost to below $20K. This link from Clean Technica also expains how Geothermal systems work. It is excellent.

biomass ....

The most common form of biomass is wood. For thousands of years people have burned wood for heating and cooking. Wood was the main source of energy in the fireplaceU.S. and the rest of the world until the mid-1800s. In the United States wood and waste (bark, sawdust, wood chips, and wood scrap) provide only about 2 percent of the energy we use today. Biomass continues to be a major source of energy in much of the developing world. Burning biomass fuels does not produce pollutants like sulfur, that can cause acid rain, however, biomass does release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. You get some offset when biomass crops are grown, as a nearly equivalent amount of carbon dioxide is captured through photosynthesis, however it is not quite that simple. Buy a dense wood, buy it split or split it yourself, and give it six months to a year to dry.

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See this short Eprida video that presents the possibility of carbon sequestering from biomass. Very interesting. Eprida offers a revolutionary new sustainable energy technology that will allow us to remove CO2 from the air by putting carbon into the topsoil where it is needed.

If heating by wood in a typical fireplace, it is important to make sure that your auxillary "paid for" heat is not going up the chimney with the smoke. Invest in tight fitting glass doors and good damper insulation for times when the fireplace is not being used.

Homeowners that have purchased pellet stoves in the last few years have been extremely pleased with their heating bills. Pellets, briquettes and manufactured logs are made pellet stovefrom wood wastes, waste paper and cardboard, and agricultural residues. A conventional fireplace is less than 10-percent efficient at delivering heat to a home. In contrast,the average pellet stove efficiency is better than 55-percent. Try Hearth 'n Home on Osuna (344-8639). The use of pellet stoves in place of conventional wood stoves also reduces the amount of particulate matter in the air...as much as 90-percent lower than emissions from conventional wood stoves. The city web site lists EPA certified stoves (low emissions) and indicates that pellet stoves can be used on "red alert" no burn nights.

PLEASE be a part of the solution. mysuggestions@sustainableabq