[Audio] Alternative Energy Options for Kentucky Today and in the Future

Oct 19, 2015

Dr. Don Colliver
Credit bae.uky.edu

The Sierra Club and MESS sponsored an event at Murray State on alternative energy with guest Dr. Don Colliver, a Professor and Director of Graduate Studies of the UK Biosystems and Ag Engineer Department. He's been involved in building design and energy-related teaching, research and outreach activities for over 35 years. On Sounds Good, Tracy sat down with Dr. Colliver to discuss ways to increase energy efficiency in homes, where Kentucky ranks in energy usage and how water conservation is connected to energy issues. 

There are several ways to conserve energy in homes when doing renovations and one should start by identifying where the major energy use is, Dr. Colliver says. Typically in Kentucky this is in heating and cooling, then appliances, then lighting, then plug loads. He says an easy way to do this is to reduce the amount of air coming in through windows, doors, cracks and seals.

When shopping for appliances, look for those with the Energy Star label, which tend to have high efficiencies. When you plug that old refrigerator in the garage, it's still using energy, he says, so replace all of the appliances. When it comes to lighting, there have been large improvements in the efficiency and cost of LEDs over the past few years and recommends replacing lights with those.

Most the the electricity in Kentucky is produced by coal, Dr. Colliver says, about 93%. By far the largest user of this is industry, namely the aluminum industry. On the residential side, roughly one fourth of the energy used in the Commonwealth comes from homes. Kentucky ranks the 3rd largest per capita user of energy overall and the 10th highest nationwide when it comes to residential usage. He says this is has a lot to do with lower income homes, mobile homes in eastern Kentucky an in Appalachia that tend to be a sieve to energy.

The price of pv panels and photovoltaics are dropping, he says. Recently, in solar panel construction for lower income homes, prices for install were between $250 to $275 per watt. So he suggests someone on the lower income tax bracket asking if they can afford $15,000 for a solar system to roll it into the cost of the home itself in the mortgage. This increases the value of the home and the cost is spread over 30 years, where one would actually be paying less over time, he says.

Dr. Colliver admits that he's bias towards solar panels in comparison to other alternative energy sources, but points to news headlines where the people in Germany are using vast amounts of solar power. There's more solar radiation in Kentucky than in Germany, he says. It's really a question of how many panels do you need in order to provide the right amount for the home. While more panels would be needed in Kentucky versus the southwest, it can be done, he says, adding that the first net zero energy school in America is in Bowling Green.

Water is another major factor when it comes to electrical generation, Dr. Colliver says, predicting that in 10 or 15 years from now conserving water will be a the 'big thing' everyone will be looking at. While energy issues can be solved, sourcing new water will not be solved, he says. The amount of water used to generate electricity in Kentucky is 135% being evaporated by homes. Therefore, as you conserve energy you conserve water, he says, and as water becomes more valuable it's another area coming into play.

For more information, Dr. Colliver points to the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence document called the "Kentucky Energy Profile."