Alternative and Renewable Energy
in Asheville and Western North Carolina
Energy Concerns for Future Growth and Sustainability of WNC
Recently, Asheville North Carolina has been garnering some serious recognition. People from all over the country are awakening to and desiring Asheville’s high quality of life and therefore are considering relocating here. Many locals grouse about the influx of new people, but transplants mean new growth and opportunity. This area is growing regardless, and therefore the issue of being able to provide for the power needs of the future, as well as healthy, sustainable growth is ever present.
Because Asheville is such a forward thinking area, and poised for rapid development, it lends itself to be the leader of WNC in sustainable initiatives and green development. Many grass root efforts are being made by cutting-edge individuals and organizations in the community. These efforts must be redoubled to minimize our impact on the environment. Asheville’s natural beauty is the number one reason why people love this area and live here in the first place. The Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI), based at NC State University, is working “to improve North Carolina’s economy by adopting reliable and diverse energy supplies at reasonable prices with minimal impact to the environment,” said Todd Cherry, a fellow at IEI and a professor of economics in Appalachian’s Walker College of Business. Organizations like this one are working to come up with plans for the future, but Energy issues are extremely complicated. Our state’s economy, energy use, and the natural environment are all so closely linked that policies made in one sector most certainly affect the others.
Our quality of life and our well-being are also closely linked to energy production and the environment. Therefore, diversification and diverging from our traditional energy sources not only lends itself to a more sustainable approach, but will also insulate us if problems or shortages arise in either our sources or providers of energy. Therefore, adopting alternative sources of energy will help to achieve stability and allow us to withstand fluctuations in the traditional energy markets. Several alternative solutions are currently available, with new energy technologies being developed around the world. Because of the unique natural environment of Western NC some of these solutions work well, while others are less useful.
Pros, Cons and Feasibility of the Fllowing Alternative Energy Methods
- Infinitely renewable as long as the sun exists (if the sun goes away we have bigger problems on the horizon!)
- Zero fuel cost.
- Extremely clean.
- Can be used almost anywhere.
- The maintenance costs associated are low.
- Solar systems have very long life spans.
- Can be operated unmonitored for extended periods of time.
- Most locations offer predictable power output.
- The installation is fairly simple.
- Solar power is silent, and barring its visibility, it is totally unobtrusive.
- High initial cost for solar panels (although this is rapidly changing).
- Power output can be variable in some areas, which necessitates the use of a large battery bank and/or additional power sources.
- Requires good solar exposure (not practical in shaded areas, north facing slopes, in deep valleys, etc.)
- Little or no power output during inclement weather and during the hours when the sun is not shining.
WNC is a very lush, mountainous environment. Therefore home sites are typically less than perfect for solar collection. Furthermore, Asheville doesn’t get an optimal amount of sunshine over the course of a year. The upside is that technology is getting cheaper and better and Southwestern facing home sites can generate an adequate amount of solar power for an energy efficient home. In addition, the state and federal governments are granting financial incentives, including tax breaks to citizens who are willing to make the initial solar investment.
- Good locations provide Low cost per watt hour.
- Systems take up small land area allowing for multiple uses (ex: farming, grazing, etc.)
- The maintenance costs associated with smaller systems are low.
- Some locations offer consistent predictable power output.
- Produces no water or air pollution.
- Not suitable in many WNC locations due to the lack of consistent wind.
- Wind turbines can be expensive for larger units, and usually require heavy equipment to erect.
- Aesthetically, some people consider large wind towers to be an eye sore.
- Birds of prey run into tower and guy wires, but wind towers only make up a small percentage of bird fatalities caused by human development.
- Power output can be intermittent in some areas, which necessitates the use of a large battery bank and/or an additional power source.
- Wind turbines can generate noise pollution when operating at high speeds.
- Maintenance is challenging. Even routine, minor maintenance on a wind turbine can be difficult on the top of a tower. Moreover, systems to reduce or eliminate this problem typically add to the cost and complexity of the overall system.
- Moving parts will eventually wear out due to friction.
Not looking so hot in most WNC areas. Ridgelines provide good locations for these systems but the availability of ridgeline home sites are limited. Additionally, the wind direction is not consistent in this area.
- Of all the alternative energy approaches this is the lowest cost per watt hour.
- No primary waste or pollution is created.
- Year round power output is usually very predictable.
- A good site often produces an adequate amount of energy, such that a large battery bank and/or additional power sources are not required.
- Hydro systems are very quiet and can be made unobtrusive.
- Typically hydro systems are low maintenance.
- Only suitable where sufficient water flow is present.
- There can be significant environmental repercussions associated with impeding water flow (i.e. damming), including habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions from decomposing plant material, and the potential of flooding.
- Initial installation cost can be high if damming or dirt work is required.
- During extreme cold weather, freezing of the infrastructure can cause damage or failure to the system.
- Moving parts will eventually wear out due to friction.
Probability for a hydroelectric system is entirely dependent upon a water source and the sites land use restrictions. This is not an option that is widely available, however where a significant water source is present hydroelectric energy is an excellent option.
Fuel Alternatives: Biofuels, Biomass, Vegetable Oils
- Alternatives, such as biodiesel, burn cleaner with no acid rain causing sulfur.
- They are also carbon neutral, meaning their burning only releases the C02 that was absorbed by the plants that are used to make it, as they grew.
- Emissions from alternatives, such as bio-diesel are significantly better than petroleum diesel.
- Bio-diesel is non-toxic and biodegradable.
- Tax credits and incentives exist for individuals and businesses who implement alternative fuel vehicles. For more information click here.
- They typically have a higher flash point, which means it takes more energy to ignite, therefore making it more stable with a decreased chance of accident.
- New developments in aquaculture have the potential to produce more vegetable oil per acre than current land based methods.
- Requires a supplier or the knowledge and space for the production of Fuel Alternatives.
- Infrastructure is not available to produce enough fuel for our communities current power needs.
- Growth and plant based fuel production is already resulting in deforestation which increases net C02 emissions.
- The land used for fuel production will directly compete with food production.
- Research suggests that the energy used to farm biomass crops is equal or greater than the resulting energy available from the finished product, resulting in a net energy loss.
This is feasible anywhere as long as there is know how and a desire or there exists a supplier of Bio-Fuel. Blue Ridge Bio-Fuels is a local company that provides biodiesel.
Each method of alternative energy has positives and negatives that must be weighed carefully. Furthermore, some of these methods may be less than optimal for a given location. For individual use, hybrid systems (a mix of two or more energy sources) are typically more practical. This could include supplementing grid power with an alternative source or mixing and matching alternative sources to meet your power needs. To begin your research, check out our educational resources found below or visit our directory of Alternative Energy Providers in WNC.