Tag Archives: Solar Energy

Our Alaska: Living off the grid

From Alaska Dispatch, Sunday, January 2, 2011:

When general contractor David Doolen and his wife Dale bought land far up Rabbit Creek Valley more than 25 years ago, they weren’t planning on disconnecting from the municipal power grid. But back then the muni would have charged the Doolens $60,000 to run up a line to connect the house to city power, so they decided to keep the lights on using solar power and a generator. Today they’ve got two solar panels in addition to the diesel generator, which is connected to a 300-gallon tank that needs filling about twice a year. One side benefit of this unique setup: When the rest of Anchorage suffers through a blackout, the Doolens’ lights stay on. “We always feel pretty smug when that happens,” David said.

Watch the video: Our Alaska: Living off the grid

Make Your Own Solar-Collector Night Lights

From greenlivingideas.com:

Whether you have a kid, or you’re tired of encountering your darkened hallway walls at midnight, or you simply like the ambience of soft lighting and you don’t want to leave a beacon burning all through the night… an energy-saving night light is a must have.

It’s true that you can get a perky nocturnal hamster and make a hamster-powered night light, but a somewhat simpler project with equally impressive results is a self-crafted Sun Jar…

Invented by Tobias Wong, the Sun Jar is essentially a Mason jar containing a solar cell, a rechargeable battery, and an energy-saving LED lamp.  Placed in a sunlit area by day, the solar cell inside the Sun Jar charges the battery with solar energy and uses that energy at night to power the LED lamp.

Continue reading: Make Your Own Solar-Collector Night Lights

Fairbanks school district experiments with solar power

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sunday, June 27, 2010:

Eighty narrow strips of solar cells in the pattern of a giant xylophone blinked in the bright Fairbanks sunshine this week. The first solar laminate wall in Alaska covers the south side of the school district’s facility building downtown.

Larry Morris pointed to a dip in a graph showing the solar array’s electricity generation over time.

“Here we had a little cloud come through at about 3 o’clock,” said Morris, projects manager for the school district.

Rather than typical solar panels that are mounted on rooftops, these thin films of silicon were applied directly to the wall panels.

“It’s literally like a sticker, a decal, with a backing on it,” said Fred Reardon, solar operations manager for Whirlwind Steel, which manufactures metal roof panels with solar laminates. “You have a thick bonding material like a black tar goop.”

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is experimenting with this system, called building-integrated photovoltaics, to test its energy efficiency and its potential for other buildings.

Windows offer more than a view, but you have to know what you’re installing


By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: What windows are preferred for a passive solar home, double- or triple-pane? With or without coatings? Which coatings? What type of glass? Assuming standard building insulation, what is the sweet spot for percentage of glass area?

A: The idea for a passive solar home is a good one, but offers some significant challenges in our climate.

Based on a 1970’s study by University of Alaska researchers, in Fairbanks, for every month of the year besides December, a net energy gain with south-facing windows is possible, but only when the sun is out.

Given that our winters are very cold and have much longer periods of darkness, the heat losses through windows during the dark periods are much greater than the gains we make when the sun is shining. The solution here is a system of insulated exterior shutters. Then, even here in Fairbanks, you could have a house which benefits from a net solar gain for 11 months.

Unfortunately, a perfect heavily insulated shutter system has yet to be invented, but people have built their own shutter systems in typical Alaska style — anything from putting on a piece of 2-inch blue foam to a raise-able shutter that can be engaged with a hand crank from the inside. Keep in mind that, as with all sources of energy, you will make maximum use of solar gain by having an extremely well-insulated building shell. If you have an underinsulated, leaky house, you won’t get the same results.

In a cold climate, we want a window with a low U-value. The U-value represents the rate of heat transfer through the glass. The U-value is usually listed on a sticker on the window or is available from the dealer.

Currently, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation requires a “5-Star Plus” home in Fairbanks to have a window with a U-value of 0.25 or lower, which typically means a triple-pane window.

When it comes to glass and coatings, because we are primarily interested in optimum thermal performance, nearly all windows geared toward our climate will have some variation of low emissivity (low-E) coating designed to reflect radiant heat. Low-E glass usually has some type of metallic film bonded to one of the faces.

For a window with good insulating value, we want a coating that allows some of the short wave infrared energy from the sun to enter the house while minimizing how much of the long wave infrared radiation escapes from the heated space through the glass. This is a balancing act that is dependent on the types of coatings used, and which side of the panes of glass they have been placed on. Coating technology is improving steadily and it is worth the time to research the performance for any type of window line you are considering for purchase.

When it comes to finding the sweet spot of how much surface area should be glass, this varies too, depending on what you are trying to achieve.

In order to comply with the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation “5-star Plus” home requirements, the total window surface area should not exceed 15 percent of the above-grade wall area. The Fairbanks City Building Department uses the same standard. If you go over 15 percent, you will have to make up for those energy losses somewhere else. Often this means adding more insulation to another part of the building. The location of the glass also factors in: south facing works best while north facing should be minimized.

There is much more information on the subject than covered here, but an excellent resource is “A Solar Design Manual for Alaska” written by Rich Seifert from the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

The book is readily available and accessible online.

Also, Seifert usually teaches a class on solar design in the spring, which is highly recommended to anyone interested in the concept.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org. You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.

Solar-powered Christmas lights – a festive way to go green

From The Christian Science Monitor, Tuesday, December 1, 2009:

There are those who love huge outdoor displays of Christmas lights — life-size reindeer up on the roof and all the trees in the yard covered with glowing bulbs — and those who groan at the sight of a weather-proof extension cord.

If you’re in the latter group, this post isn’t for you. But if you decorate with outdoor lights, you might be interested to find that you can now buy solar-powered decorative outdoor lights.

Click here to read the full story.

Home solar power systems are best left to professionals


The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: I have a log home.

Is there anything special or different I need to know about insulating around doors and windows?

A: When they are new, log homes typically leave 4 to 6 inches of space around doors and windows to account for settling. Generally builders will stuff in fiberglass and seal it with Visqueen or some other 6mil. polyethelene product.

If you don’t know for sure, take a look inside after the home has taken a few years to settle. That space can be sealed with some compressible foam backer rod or spray foam. To do that, take off some of the casings around the window. If you see just fiberglass, you’ll want to make other provisions to stop air leakage. Seals in this area are a common problem in older log homes that have air penetration problems.

Q: I am interested in


putting up some solar technology, is this something I can do myself?

A: A lot of people can take a solar panel, a DC motor and some wiring and make a little fan. However, when you get into home systems, solar power is much more complex. This being Alaska, home of the do-it-yourselfer, people tend to read an article and think they can do it themselves with a quick visit to the parts counter. After purchasing some panels, batteries, a controller and an inverter, they might have a decent system. However, after some time they might notice their batteries are not charging as well and might be unusable or something might have gotten fried.

Remember, a solar power project is a system and must be designed as such. The bottom line is if you are serious about installing a solar power system and you want to avoid trouble down the road, contact a professional.

Q: Carpets give off a lot of chemical gasses.

Are there safer types of carpet out there?

A: In winter in Alaska, some people will spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors. This means indoor air quality is especially important, particularly for people with chemical sensitivities, respiratory sensitivities and children. Fortunately, there are a variety of different manufacturers out there that make products with relatively little off gassing.

One good place to start is an organization called the Carpet and Rug Institute.

They can be found online (www.carpet-rug.org) and have a program called “Green Label Plus.” This program screens and independently tests carpets for the presence and concentrations of 13 different hazardous chemicals. Only if the carpet passes those tests does it get the certification, so the Institute is a good first place to look. They also have information on products, testing procedures and practical advice on what to look for in a carpet.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org. You can also call the CCHRC at 457-3454.

The Pursuit of New Ways to Boost Solar Development

From YALE environment 360, Monday, November 9, 2009:

The solar power boom in Germany, Spain, and parts of the United States has been fueled by government subsidies. But now some U.S. states — led by New Jersey, of all places — are pioneering a different approach: issuing tradable credits that can be sold on the open market. So far, the results have been promising.

Click here to read the story.

Solar incentives may light up US homeowners' pocketbooks

From the New York Times on Wednesday, March 18, 2009:

Solar cells adorn the roofs of many homes and warehouses across Germany, while the bright white blades of wind turbines are a frequent sight against the sky in Spain.

If one day these machines become as common on the plains and rooftops of the United States as they are abroad, it may be because the financing technique that gave Europe an early lead in renewable energy is starting to cross the Atlantic.

Put simply, the idea is to pay homeowners and businesses top dollar for producing green energy.

Click here to read the whole article.

Wind and solar manufacturers feeling the economic pinch

From the New York Times on Tuesday, February 3, 2009:

Wind and solar power have been growing at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate under the green-minded Obama administration. But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: installation of wind and solar power is plummeting.

Towers for wind turbines on the ground at the DMI Industries plant in West Fargo, N.D. Falling sales and tight credit have forced the company to lay off nearly 20 percent of its employees.

Factories building parts for these industries have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 to 50 percent declines this year in installation of new equipment, barring more help from the government.

Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.

Click here to read the whole article.

University of Alaska Fairbanks to build energy research building

From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Wednesday, January 28, 2009:

Education leaders look to be sharpening their focus on energy research, a move spearheaded by tentative plans to build a 31,000-square-foot building dedicated to energy research — everything from wind and hydrogen to coal — at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The plan is on the fast-track. If it happens, it would meet a demand for more space for energy research and testing — a need previously limited in discussion to the context of a separate project, a proposed expansion of the university’s growing engineering programs.

University leaders are talking of building the $30 million center, which would house the 1-year-old Alaska Center for Energy and Power, during the next two summers.

Click here to read the whole article.

Click here for a link to the Alaska Center for Energy and Power website.