The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Hangar boasts off-grid operation

 

Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

The Seward Aircraft Storage wind turbine is used for additional power at the hangar.

There were plenty of smiles, and impressed exclamations as a steady stream of interested people explored Lucky Wilson’s Seward Aircraft Storage hangar during an open house April 11. Alaska Efficient Energy Solutions has been operating from the hangar at the end of Airport Road for the past year. The company opened its doors to the public to showcase all of the latest conservation methods Wilson is employing to keep his energy efficiency high and costs down.

The hangar has been running solely on energy provided by a series of solar panels mounted on the south facing side of the building since March. For everything but heat, it’s totally off the grid.

“It’s a ridiculously energy-efficient building with indoor radiant heat, efficient (Toyo) boilers, and it’s energy-independent,” said Mike Insalaco, the owner of AEES who rents from Wilson and monitors all of the systems to assure that everything is running properly. The company owner also manages the property, rents it out to users, and uses it as home-base as they consult with businesses and homeowners across Alaska who are interested in improving their own efficiency and installing solar panels, battery-packs, LED lighting systems, backup diesel generators, inverters and more.

The hanger is currently providing storage and work space to small private planes. But actually, it’s big enough to house an entire Apache helicopter, to host conference exhibitions or large presentations, or even weddings. Its second floor has two offices, a restroom with shower, a large suite with a kitchen, table, couches and chairs, and windows that offer scenic views of Resurrection Bay and snow-covered mountains. And that’s why it needs the energy it does.

The Seward hangar’s solar panel’s battery pack can store up to 2,200 watts, and can power all of the hangar’s lights, electronics and their on-demand water pump, which runs to a large storage cistern, said Ryan Parsons, an AEES salesperson. They’re hoping to be able to run the small diesel generator as infrequently as possible to charge up the battery bank if it gets low during the winter months. If no other energy source is charging them, it only takes about two and a half hours of diesel generation to fully power the battery pack, and then they can run the building on them for three days.

That’s all possible because of the three hybrid inverter/chargers that hook up the batteries and generator, each of which provides 6,000 watts, said Insalaco. That many inverters aren’t really needed for anything except to open the massive hangar door, which requires some 15,000 watts, he said.

A small wind turbine, mounted on the side of the building is also helping power the building. It’s not as large as it could be, or harnessing as much energy as it could because businesses on airport property are not allowed to mount anything higher than the roof, Parsons said. Employing a moving solar array to capture the sun from all directions is also impractical in its current location.

The hangar uses fuel oil for heat, with three small super-efficient boilers. Two are for heat, and the third is used for domestic hot water. Water is collected from the top of the building and heated with small Toyo boilers for domestic hot water, but AEES hopes to capture excess power they generate for heating the building in the future.

Twelve solar light tubes embedded in the hangar ceiling shine like brilliant lights. They concentrate natural light and sunlight from the outside, and disperse it indoors far more powerfully than skylights or even windows do. At night, the hangar is lit up from within as these tubes capture and intensify the light from a nearby streetlight.

Their own office has LED tube lights, which last far longer, are more efficient than fluorescents and do not hum or flicker. Insalaco showed a group of children from TYC the LED bulb that will last 20 years, while a standard fluorescent bulb will only last 2 to 3 years. LED bulbs can be run on only 18 watts of electricity, while fluorescents take 40 watts, he said.

Insalaco and Parsons have seen increased interest in conservation, and renewable energy by Seward residents lately, spurred by high utility and fuel prices, but also sparked by folks seeing the AVTEC demonstration wind turbine’s blades constantly turning. Those blades sometimes turn around their axel without providing any power, so people’s enthusiasm about the strength of wind energy in Seward might be misplaced, said Parsons. But Seward has better wind in certain areas, plus wave action and ocean heating potential, as well as underground thermal energy.

Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

AEES owner Mike Insalaco shows Lucky Wilson’s solar panels to a group of children on a field trip from the Teen Youth Center.

The most important first step everyone can do is lower their own energy use, said Insalaco. His business can help people determine and monitor their own power usage, and then offer ways to lower it further. His company employs the eMonitor system that hooks up to household circuits, and shows in real time how much energy a home or business is consuming as it tracks the use of each household item separately, and can be remotely viewed from one’s cell phone. It can even discover phantom sources of power use that people aren’t even aware of.

Those thinking of installing wind turbines, solar panels, or switching to LED lighting will have to pay the cost up-front, and it can be pretty expensive, but doing so will help cut down on your fuel and electricity bills, and it’s the right thing to do, said Insalaco.

 

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