Alaska Energy Stories
Without energy our lives would be totally different. Across the state the rising cost of energy is having dramatic impacts on many Alaskans, making it increasingly difficult to heat our homes and run our vehicles.
REAP is interested in hearing your story so we can share it with other Alaskans and educate the public about the benefits of clean, local energy sources. What role does energy play in your life? How is the cost of energy affecting you? Tell us your energy story and be a part of this growing conversation in Alaska.
August 7, 2015
Earlier this summer REAP talked with Anchorage resident and residential renewable energy trail blazer, Seth Downs. Here’s what he had to say.
REAP: When did you first become interested in renewable or clean energy?
SD: In the mid 90s I began to read more on renewable energy, but it was not until 2008 that I finally got my hands dirty. I signed up for a 3-day hands-on solar hot water class. [REAP member] Andy Baker of Your Clean Energy LLC had already designed a solar hot water (SHW) system for my tri-plex in East Anchorage and with my new knowledge and some help from local solar enthusiasts we installed a SHW system that provides just over 50% of the tenant’s hot water needs.
REAP: We remember that you got some media coverage here in Anchorage when you installed those solar panels. What are some of the ways you are using renewable energy and energy efficiency?
SD: My wife got a job in New Mexico and we bought a 1950’s house “as is” to give me a project to work on in my free time. Originally, I just worked on remodeling the place to make it livable, but as I read more about renewable energy and energy efficiency, I began on the path of making our home zero energy (that is, it produces annually as much energy as it consumes). Marc Rosenbaum’s article, “The Right Target – Thriving on Low Carbon” was very influential for me. We reduced our energy consumption by 70 percent and offset the rest with PV panels. We also have a plug-in hybrid car and with the surplus energy from our solar electric panels we drive around on sunshine.
REAP: What prompted you to get serious about using more renewable energy sources at home?
SD: I sensed that we needed to stop polluting the Earth and that I had the means and personal responsibility to help. I’ve taken hands-on classes, a 10-week online Zero Energy Home class, read extensively on the subject, and also given presentations about our New Mexico Zero Energy Home.
REAP: How easy would you say it was to make the changes you did?
SD: There was a steep learning curve and I made some mistakes along the way. Prices on items like PV (photovoltaic) panels and LED’s were much higher a decade ago, but prices have dropped precipitously since then, so there is a strong finanical reason to make changes in many places in the U.S. today.
REAP: What are the benefits of the actions you’ve taken, and have there been any drawbacks?
SD: It’s nice getting lower utilities bills and in one case I actually get a check from the utilities each month! I’m so much more optimistic about the future and feel we have turned the corner where the future is clear and clean with renewable energy. The only drawback is that everything was so much more expensive when I first started. But that’s okay because I have a lot more planned for our home in Anchorage and will get to enjoy the cheaper prices now.
REAP: What advice would you offer to others?
SD: In Alaska I would say the low hanging fruit is energy efficiency and if you have not taken advantage of the AHFC energy rebates you certainly should look into it. Simple things like replacing your incandescent bulbs with LEDs and using low flow shower heads will have very fast paybacks. After that, sealing and insulation will lower your bills and make your home more comfortable.
REAP: It sounds like you could easily stand in for REAP’s Energy Efficiency Director! You mentioned you have plans to do more. What’s your next project?
SD: I’d like to get our house in Anchorage as close as possible to a Zero Energy Home (ZEH). It’s fairly straight forward if you’re building from scratch, but getting there from our existing structure will be a real challenge. I’ve been replacing the double pane sliders with triple pane casement. I’ve insulated our east wall with spray foam making it an air tight R50 wall. I hope to do that to all the walls, as well as more air sealing and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. And, when my hot water heater dies, I’ll replace it with an electrical heat pump version. Solar panels, electric car, and ductless mini splits may also come into play at some point.
REAP: Thanks so much for sharing your story!
Do you have a story to share about energy? Have you made a tough decision where energy was a factor? How has the cost of energy affected you, your family, or your community? Have you changed the way you use energy and have a story to share? We’d love to hear from you! Email us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who we are
Renewable Energy Alaska Project is a coalition of energy stakeholders working to facilitate the development of renewable energy in Alaska through collaboration, education, training, and advocacy.