Alt Energy – Past Projects
2500 Sq. Ft. residence in Poway, CA.
Upgrades we performed:
Energy Efficiency, HVAC, And Solar PV
Approximately 30-year-old custom track home.
Two adults, two children.
Initial electric load 4,250 kWh per month
Client saw Mark on TV interview
Performed comprehensive energy analysis
The house is equipped with a electronic air filtration system that runs 24 hours a day, which the customer wanted to retain. A high Seer air conditioning unit and high efficiency furnace was recommended and has been installed. The house and garage attic space was very poorly ventilated – additional gable vents and fan forced ventilators were recommended and installed in both areas.
A central bathroom ½ horsepower fan system had been installed and was running 24/7. We added a separate switch so it only ran when needed. The attic insulation was badly matted down and the windows, especially those facing west, are taking on a lot of thermal loading. I recommended high efficiency windows and the customer installed them.
All the appliances were 10-15 years old. New Energy Star appliances: washer, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, and changing the electric range to a gas range were recommended and performed.
Parasitic loads and wiring problems:
We found numerous parasitic loads. There were four TV’s, a home office, computer peripherals, CATV boxes, surround sound and other parasitic loads that were discovered and mitigated with various techniques.
The electric service panel:
A Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® panel was in very poor condition and the house was partially wired with copper clad aluminum and aluminum wiring. Some of the breakers were arcing. The aluminum wiring was loose and causing arcing which was slowly melting the receptacles. We repaired the aluminum wiring. The service was upgraded from 100 amps to 200 amps and the underground conduit was replaced. The main service and aluminum was easily losing 5-7 kW per day in resistive connections and heat dissipation. These problems were resolved by using copper to aluminum terminators for all switch and receptacle wiring, and adding a new electric service and proper grounding.
The lighting was all incandescent and there were five large 500 Watt pole type touchier floor lamps to enhance poor overhead coverage. New energy efficient touchier lights were recommended and installed. Replacing light bulbs throughout the home reduced thermal loading significantly – interior and exterior lighting fixtures were all changed to compact fluorescent. The monthly average load was dropped from 4250 kWh to 1750 kWh annual average.
The client wanted to heat and cool the garage to facilitate working on various projects. A high Seer split-unit air conditioning unit was installed. Energy efficient fluorescent lighting was installed to provide a fully functional workspace.
Electric Vehicle and PV Solar:
The client had purchased an electric vehicle. We sized the PV system to accommodate the AC loads and the vehicle – a large 11.4 kW Solar PV system was installed. The grid-tied PV solar system included battery back-up. The client took advantage of state and federal incentives, making the break-even point on investment very attractive.
By first focusing on and making energy efficiency changes to the home, the electricity requirement was reduced by over 50%. The home is now “net-zero energy”, effectively ending the need to purchase electricity from the power company. A smaller and lower cost PV solar system was suitable, and safety hazards were found and reduced in the process.
Conheim Brooks Electrical Remodel Project
La Jolla, CA
Upgrades we performed:
Energy efficiency, HVAC, Roof top mounted Solar Photovoltaic
3800 Square Ft., Approx. 25-year-old home remodeled in 1992 on a hill in La Jolla overlooking Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Two Residents and a Home Business.
Saw Mark on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Performed comprehensive energy analysis
The house is a very beautiful Hubble home that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay. The roof orientation was south and part of the house faces west and south. The worst energy impact on the home is thermal insulation.
The windows were designed for esthetics not for minimizing thermal loads. The house has extreme thermal loading due to the orientation of windows that are south and west facing and lack shading.
The overhang is not sufficient to shade the windows. Even during periods when the temperature is 70 to 75 degrees, the upstairs reaches temperatures of 85-90 degrees. It is essential that outdoor electric shades be installed to mitigate the intense thermal loading.
There is 6’ by 40’ skylight east-west that traverses the hallway from the master bedroom to the living room and half of the skylight is south facing. The other north half of the skylight gets sunlight in the spring, summer, fall periods. I measured temperatures of 120 degrees inside the skylight when temperatures were 78-82 degrees outside.
I recommended a shade be placed over the skylight. However, due to code limitations on the height of the roof, the skylight is already at maximum height, so we opted to install 95% UV coating on the skylight instead.
Our recommended remediation for the heat buildup inside the house is to install a Silent Aire™ Horizontal Axis Ventilation System to induce ventilation.
I examined the main attic areas and also the attic area over the garage. When it was 78 degrees outside, the attic areas were over 100 degrees inside the attic (105-110). The living room, dining room, and kitchen are 12’ vaulted ceilings.
The clients commented that at night all the rooms inside the house were hot after sunset. There is infiltration in all the upstairs rooms and in the garage. The client also commented that it is unbearable in the spring, fall, and summer. They have to air condition even during the winter when it gets above 75 degrees outside.
I noticed in the attic that tail vents had been plastered over during the remodel. I asked about roof vents as I noted that they were on the original plan, the roof vents were removed by the roofer when the house was reroofed about 5 years ago. There was essentially no attic ventilation. I recommended installation of attic vents to remedy this situation. High and low attic vents to replace the tail vents and to replace the ridge vents. I also recommended that power vents be installed to reduce infiltration and to induce air into the attic with power vents to help cool the home.
The garage gets very hot due to the west wall exposure and no venting. I noted that there is infiltration due to minimal ceiling insulation. Once it gets hot heat infiltrates through the ceiling making the whole house uncomfortable.
A Silent Aire ™ Horizontal Axis Induced Air System was installed. Additional gable venting was added. A relief vent was installed in the garage ceiling to relieve hot air from the kitchen, living room and dining room vaulted ceilings. We had a roofer add eight roof vents to return passive circulation to the attic.
Simultaneously window shades were installed reducing the thermal loading by up to 100% from the south and west windows. 95% UV coating was installed on the skylight.
We added 6 ceiling fans throughout the house to aid air circulation due to the vaulted ceiling. Due to the lack of insulation and passive ventilation of the vaulted areas there is still considerable thermal loading.
With the Silent Aire ™ System attic venting and controlling the thermal loading from the windows and skylight the temperatures are maintained now upstairs in the mid 70s. Downstairs it is very comfortable. This past summer air-conditioning was limited to 10 days during the intense heat wave when outside temperatures were in the 100s. Air conditioning will be cut by another 25% when the attic is re-insulated, the insulation is old and matted, and it needs to be increased from R-19 to R-30.
The energy analysis revealed that all appliances were circa 1992, an extremely inefficient Sub-Zero refrigerator was the worst offender, the washer and dryer had been changed to Energy Star about a year earlier. An older refrigerator in the garage was very inefficient. Seals were leaking, the refrigerators cycled constantly. The refrigerators were changed to Energy Star, and this cut the refrigerator load by 70%.
Parasitic loads and wiring problems:
The client has a home office with computer, laser printer, routers and other peripherals. I performed an examination of all electronics in the office, I found that the electronics when thought to be shut off in the idle mode were drawing 120-watts, 24-hours a day, almost 90-kWh per month.
Additionally the older laser printer in standby mode went through a very strange re-heat mode for three minutes every hour drawing 750-watts during this period and 30-watts on standby mode. When I left my Kill-A-Watt watt/hour meter overnight it was found that the laser printer was drawing another 3-kWh per day or 90-kWh per month. This was more than the new Energy Star refrigerator. All the office equipment is now shut off at the plug strips.
There were six televisions and three cable boxes. Each television had a parasitic load of 20 to 45-watts. The worst was the smallest television in the guest room at 45-watts.
All the televisions were shut off and the televisions that were used daily are now on timers during the hours they are needed. The cable boxes were drawing over 50-watts each, they were placed on timers as well.
A 20-year old under counter Insta-hot water heater was discovered in the kitchen under the sink it was using 4-kWh per day. This unit was unplugged.
The client complained that there dimming florescent lights in the living room, kitchen and master bedroom valances a total of 28 4-foot T-40 T-12 fixtures made a low humming noise all the time, I checked and found that all the lights were constantly on drawing about 4-watts each 24-hours a day, even when they were off, over 3-kWh per day and 90-kWh per month. These fixtures were changed to energy efficient T-8 dimming fluorescents and the parasitic load was eliminated. The use load was also dropped by 40%.
There were 30 additional T-12 florescent fixtures in the bathrooms, storeroom and the garage. All these fixtures were changed out to the T-8 fixtures cutting the load by 40%.
There were R-30 and r-40 incandescent lamps in recessed lights, wall sconces and other lights indoors and outdoors. These were all changed to compact florescent, the loads were reduced by 75 to 80% throughout the house.
There were 12 low voltage light fixtures found which were changed from 50-watt to 32-watt to reduce the load.
The client has about a ½ acre lot with an art studio. The studio was examined and an inefficient small refrigerator was changed to an Energy Star and all the lighting that could be changed was changed to compact florescent.
Pool and Therapy Pool: The client has a pool and a therapy pool. Both pool motors were 20-years plus old; they were extremely inefficient and were oversized. The pool motor was 2-HP and was changed out to a Flotech 1-HP high E Motor. The spa was a 1-HP it was changed out to a ½-HP Flotech high E Motor. These pump loads were both dropped by 70%.
The pool circulation timer could have been reduced by 30% if the pool had a pool cover; due to its irregular form this was not possible. More regular forms are best for efficiency.
The client has a hillside ½ acre lot and entertains frequently, she has an artificial stream water feature that has a small pond at the bottom that holds about two thousand gallons of water and must be circulated daily to prevent algae build up. It has a 3-Hsp Flotech High E Motor that had been installed when the old pump burned out a year ago. The original installer had installed a timer that the minimum time set was 2 hours the motor load was 12-Amps @ 240 Volts, approx. 2.8 kWh per hour, 5.6-kWh per day.
I had my water feature expert come out and meet with me. He calculated that the minimum safe circulation time to prevent algae was 15 minutes per day timed at 3-5 minute intervals to provide oxygenation and keep the water plants in the stream environment healthy. We removed the timer and installed an electronic four event per day maximum timer. This load was dropped by 88%.
Main Service and Sub Panel: Due to the age of the home and the presence of aluminum wiring, we checked the main service and sub panel and found loose aluminum wire, several of which were showing signs of arcing. Pulling the circuit breakers we found signs of arcing and wear. We cleaned all the bussing and replaced several circuit breakers. We find that these types of conditions are wasting 2 to 3-kWh per day, due to the resistance heating, 90-kWh per month, enough to run a large refrigerator.
The Client has done a great job with water. She has almost all California native plantings and is very conscientious with their water usage.
We had dropped the overall load for the home from 3800 kWh to 1200 kWh annual average. We were ready for Solar PV; we installed a 6-kWh PV system.
The customer still can save by insulating, which she is planning on doing and she can save by changing some of her lighting to LED. She has a hybrid Toyota Highlander that she wants to convert to a plug-in. She will add another 1-kWh of Solar if needed to accommodate the plug-in Hybrid. Presently she is at Net Zero or very close annually.
Upgrades we performed:
We were able to provide clean drinking water solutions from small scale portable units. Solar power provides independence of electrical or water grids, creating an immediate solution to the clean drinking water needs in areas where there is little or no operating infrastructure. These systems are perfect for natural disasters: fires, floods, earthquakes, or war torn areas where infrastructure has been destroyed.
Customer requested a portable water filtration system powered by Solar Energy
Designed and Implemented working water filtration system
This safe, high efficiency, solar powered water filtration systems was designed to remove virtually of all suspended solids and is (99.99%) bacteria free from non-brackish surface water sources. The systems come with a pre-filter stage and a two stage filter process using Ultra Filtration and Ultra Violet light for processing surface water from lakes and rivers and a pre filter and one stage process for well water filtration.
The systems are mounted on reinforced mobile trailers and are capable of being pulled by standard motor vehicles. The mobility of the systems allows them to be easily deployed in rural communities or large urban environments within a matter of hours.
The tracker system allows the solar panels to track the sun throughout the day. This tracking feature increases water production by up to 40% versus typical fixed tilt solar systems and allows the system to operate for up to 20 years.
The Solar Tracking Ultra Filtration System is a unique response to the need for clean, fresh water in regions where healthy water is a precious and rare commodity. This system utilizes state-of-the-art technologies innovatively combined with ancient knowledge about solar movements and passive cooling to provide a mobile, efficient and compact approach to water filtration for small rural communities.
Alpine Elementary School
Mark Snyder Electric was contracted to install 90 kW tracking solar power system at Alpine Elementary School at Alpine, CA. It is one of the the largest passive tracking solar installations in the US and generates 126 kW on average annually due to the greater efficiency of trackers. SDG&E used the project in a brochure illustrating solar projects for the future.
In late 2004, I was referred to a project developer by Zomeworks Corporation, makers of solar trackers and other solar products that I distribute. The project developer was working with the Alpine School District to provide solar power. I visited the property and met the Alpine School District business manager Rob Turner. The proposed solar array location was very rocky, full of tall brush, and had a 10-15 degree slope. Due to the rocky soil I had to devise a plan with three alternative lay outs of the system due to shading issues. I had to assign GPS locations for each tracker and we optimized each location in three planes to optimize their power production. I provided a cost and the school had a fixed cost per watt. The price was very low and was for a fixed array not tracking.
Alpine Elementary School Off Grid Project
I had calculated that the tracking system would zero out the school’s electric bill and the fixed system would fall 40% short. I was committed to do the job with trackers I really wanted to see the School be net zero. I signed a contract. We ran into a lot of rock and had to break them up, use alternative layouts, and dowel footings to the rock. You name it, we had to deal with it.
Vandals tried to break into our storage containers on school property three times. I had to put up cameras and motion lights to foil them.
I had worked with the Department of the Navy from 1998-2000 when I was working for the Clinton Administration under the White House Y2K Czar John Koskinen. I was granted the use of the Navy GPS positioning satellite to optimize our tracking solar PV system very precisely..
Our goal was to have the trackers work from 9AM to 5PM with no shadows on the darkest day of the year. We achieved this goal and we were able to complete the job successfully on budget.
I donated my time and made a small profit on my crews and the material. I knew the tracking system had to be installed. When I initially met with SDG&E reps they said that the system would produce at best a 25% increase over standard pole or ground mount. They laughed at me when I said that we were routinely getting 40-50% more power daily when the tilt was changed seasonally our Alpine Elementary School Tracking Solar PV system was super optimized. Without changing the tilt seasonally maintaining it at latitude it is producing 40% more power overall and 65% more during peak in the summer. See SDG&E graph of production.
The Alpine Elementary School Tracking Solar PV System has exceeded expectations and has consistently produced 100% of the power for the Alpine Elementary School. The Alpine Unified School District has been very aggressive about energy efficiency and reducing their power use. The Zomeworks passive tracking solar PV system at Alpine Elementary School can actually be optimized by an additional 15-20% beyond its current level. The first optimization requires seasonally adjusting the second axis. This requires about 1.5 days of labor for each season. The extra power is well worth the trouble.
Mark Snyder Electric has developed another innovation that produces an additional 7-10% annually. This is a thermal device that requires about 35 watts of power each day at each tracker before sun up to move the tracker to face east before sun up picking up more sun hours daily.
Mark Snyder Electric installed spare conduits at Alpine Elementary School in case extra power was ever needed the wake up could be installed, squeezing all the power possible out of the array.
It makes the equation less attractive when we are not offsetting 15-25 cent or higher kilowatt hour rates. Our strategy is always to super optimize the PV power system and produce a little extra power to provide a comfortable cushion of power credits.
The Zomeworks passive tracker has a number of advantages over dual axis trackers. Simplicity of design, fewer moving parts, low maintenance cost, very long life. My oldest Zomeworks tracking system is close to 35 years old and still working. No actuators to fail. No electronics. Simplicity of design and the ability to super optimize is hard to beat. Alpine is a high lightning risk area we installed a wetted grond system that has kept the system safe from lightning. The fire house has been hit next door and property across the street.
The Alpine Elementary School solar enclosure is fenced in. Goats keep the brush down and a wireless security system keeps the modules safe along with some pretty mean horns on the Billy goats.
As one of the largest solar PV passive trackers, this is a daily reminder of how cooperation with the forces of nature can provide all the power we need for our schools and our homes: a dream becomes a reality.
About the STAR School Energy Project:
The STAR (Service To All Relations) School is the first totally off-grid public charter school in the U.S. It is located 22 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, at an elevation of over 5,600 feet, and adjacent to the Navajo Nation, the largest American Indian reservation in the country. The elevation of the school means that it does snow and gets quite cold in the winter. The school was founded in 2001 by Mark and Kate Sorensen who had more than ten years’ experience of living off-grid on their solar powered ranch in the area. Their experience of living off grid and working in tribal schools convinced the Sorensens that a school like this was needed and possible. In fact, there was no option to being off the grid. If the school were to serve the population of Navajo students that it was intended to serve, it had to be located on land that did not have any utilities within several miles and it was unlikely that power or water lines would be brought to the property for decades. The school currently serves a population of 130 students from pre-K through 8th grade.
All electrical power for the school is currently provided by an integrated system of 245 solar PV panels (which generate a maximum of about 54 kilowatt hours) two wind generators (which generate a maximum of about 7.5 kilowatt hours), and a backup 20 k propane generator (which is used to supplement the system on the rare occasions of successive cloudy days). All power generated by the sun and wind is either used directly in the school during daylight hours or stored in two large banks of batteries at the school, to be inverted to standard AC current when needed. There are no power lines, phone lines, or water lines coming to the school from outside sources, yet the school has power, phones and internet connections 24 hours a day ,7 days a week. The wind and sun provide all the electricity to operate all the lights, heaters, evaporative coolers, computers, printers, copiers and electronic equipment as well as a complete cafeteria with refrigeration for food and pumps for the water distribution system.
All of the classroom buildings on the campus are built into a south-facing hillside with maximum window exposure on the south sides and minimum window exposure on the north sides to take advantage of passive solar heating in the winter.. All active heating, when necessary, is done with propane. All electrical lighting on campus is done with high efficiency fluorescent or LED bulbs supplemented by natural lighting. All teachers are encouraged to use natural lighting to the maximum extent possible. The art and science building walls are built out of strawbales, creating an R-value of 60, and the building incorporates trombe walls to supplement heating as well as a large greenhouse planting area that acts as a heat sink.
The school has 20,000 gallons of water storage tanks on campus and has certified water hauled in to the storage tanks until the well on the campus is certified for public use by the State.. All bathrooms have waterless urinals and low flush toilets. All buildings on the campus have roofs designed to flow rainwater and snowmelt to the trees and native plants and gardens on the campus. Drainage from the parking lot and driveway is also funneled to trees and native plants. Planting areas on the campus are designed by students and staff close to the buildings using permaculture techniques.
The Holistic idea of Service To All Relations
The STAR School is place-based in its philosophy of teaching and orientation. This means that the land, the natural environment, the people ,and the culture of the area in which student’s families live and the school is exists provide much of the context and content of projects that students work on in the school. The facts that the school is located adjacent to the largest American Indian reservation in the country, and is in a very arid area that is blessed with ample sunlight and wind actively influences how we do things at the school as well as what students chose to research and report on. The school’s reliance of solar photovoltaics and wind generators for power, for example, becomes a focus of student learning about impacts of various power systems on the planet . One of the fundamental values taught and practiced among Navajo people for many generations is the importance of relationships. Therefore, staff at the school emphasize the building of meaningful and respectful relationships with the children, the land, and all of the surrounding nature. . Students are taught we are related to all living things and that the elders and all these animal and plant communities deserve our respect and many times need our help . The whole school community focuses on practicing four foundational values of Navajo culture, defined as “The 4 R’s: Respect, Relationship, Responsibility, and Reasoning” toward themselves and everyone around them.
In fact, the name of the school, STAR, is an acronym for Service To All Relations. In addition to learning about renewable energy , our students are actively involved in service projects focused on helping elders in the community as well as our plant and animal communities. Thus students take care of the plants we have planted as well as native plants that were here before us. Students travel to nearby Navajo farms to help harvest corn and make traditional Navajo foods. Students gather traditional berries on native bushes growing on campus and prepare those foods in the cafeteria.
For more information, see the school’s website, www.starschool.org , or contact the co-founders of the STAR School, Mark and Kate Sorensen at 602-412-3533.