FOUNDATION OFFICES DEMONSTRATE ENERGY INDEPENDENCE
The Foundation for Sustainable Living is a non-profit organization focused on developing and
implementing projects to promote the sustainability of all life on earth. The principal focus
is creating a consciousness that the world is home for all to enjoy equally. Growing food locally,
wise use and development of renewable resources, as well as, defining our individual needs from
the heart aid in realizing this goal.
The Foundation office, a 3500 square foot building, located 333 Lomas Blvd NE, Albuquerque,
New Mexico provides administrative support for our Costa Rica project. To demonstrate our commitment
to use of renewable resources we have taken action to minimize our impact on the environment
by lowering our consumption of resources: first, by adjusting our energy use and second, by producing
our own power.
Existing Office Building
The original building was designed and built in 1985 as a passive solar office. The south facing
walls are glass with a massive concrete Trombe wall located inside the windows. A clerestory
window allows sunlight to strike the massive concrete north wall and store radiant solar energy.
The design originally specified a passive system that relied on heat radiation and the convective
loop to move warm air through the building. Three small blowers controlled by thermostat attached
to ductwork were later added to move warm air to cooler areas of the building. Heat produced
is stored in the thick walls and concrete slab floor.
On rare cloudy days, electric or gas heat warms the building. Evaporative coolers provide springtime
ventilation and summer cooling. These energy efficient units move fresh, humid air in through
the ductwork and exhaust stale air through ceiling vents. To avoid high-energy consumption, refrigerated
air is used reluctantly in the hot humid months.
Selecting an Alternative Source - Photovoltaic Electric
In 2007 we elected to become more self-sufficient and installed a photovoltaic (PV) system that
uses solar energy to produce electricity. We found a reputable local dealer experienced and qualified
to install a complete working system. We selected a system, which connects to the utility network,
known as the grid. According to New Mexico Public Utility regulations, the Public Service Company
of New Mexico (PNM) allows the excess power produced by our system, to run the meter backwards.
In addition, PNM pays a conservation credit of $0.13 (2007 rate) per kilowatt- hour (kWh) for
all electricity generated.
Incorporate Energy Conservation First
Generally systems are sized for the amount of electricity needed. To minimize overall cost,
we determined the building’s energy consumption. We found the fluorescent ballast lighting
installed in 1985 was consuming more energy and generating more heat around the workspaces than
modern lighting systems. An efficient system was installed, providing better quality light, half
the number of fluorescent tubes and less heat produced resulting in reduced energy consumption.
The electric hot water heater was placed on a timer to heat water only at lunchtime, and an
on-demand hot water heater is proposed as a future energy saving replacement.
We determined that the unvented attic space was a source of unwanted heat, and installed two
economical wind-powered exhaust turbines, which lowers cooling costs.
The cost of a (PV) system increases as the capacity of energy production increases. Our choices
for sizing were dictated by available roof area to place panels, size of invertors and controllers
readily available, peak energy demand, and initial capital the Foundation was willing to invest.
We selected a system sized at 10 kilowatts (10kw), which means for each hour of optimum sunlight
the panels can produce 10,000 watts. This is enough energy to illuminate 100 light bulbs of 100
watts each or in the case of our office, provide all of our electric needs. With an option of
installing a smaller, less costly system, or purchasing a system that costs more but is capable
of producing much more power, we chose the larger system. .
Does it pay for itself?
We are often asked about the economic benefits of the system. Without any incentives the system
will pay for itself in about 20 years. This time is reduced to 10 years when Federal and State
tax credits are factored in. Also, thanks to progressive thinking in New Mexico, there is no
state sales tax on this equipment.
During the fall and spring when there is lower energy use, the net meter (the one PNM reads
to calculate your monthly bill) turns backwards. When the refrigerated air or central heating
system is operating the meter moves forward at a slow pace or just stops in a balanced position
because energy produced equals energy consumed.
When asked about the economics I wonder why an alternative energy system is asked to pay for
itself in dollars. When we built the original building we never asked “when will this pay
for itself?” We knew we would pay for energy we consume and energy prices would always
rise. Return on money spent can be measured by the feeling present every day when we arrive to
a comfortable work environment that is producing its own electricity. The feeling of opening
mail and receiving a check from our utility company can be compared to receiving a dividend from
your investment in a “green” company, except in this case we see our investment.
We are being paid directly to produce our own energy.
Getting Started Now
For the price of a new economy car, a property owner can install a system that will create some
energy independence. For most people this action will provide a strong sense of contributing to
the overall well being of the planet. Some will feel an urgency to act now to control their energy
consumption or produce what they use. There are businesses ready to help you become an energy producer.
For the Foundation the move to energy independence has been a rewarding experience.
Franklin E. Wilson is the founder and Director of the Foundation For Sustainable Living. He divides his time between Costa Rica in Central America and Albuquerque, New Mexico in the USA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 505-998-0301.