Solar energy viable alternative on peninsula

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2003

Richard Seifert, also known as the "Solar Guy," illuminated a full house when he presented "An Introduction To Solar Energy for Alaskans" on Monday evening at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association Building.

"It's a misconception that solar energy can't be done in Alaska," said Seifert about why he teaches the course. "We tell people what's feasible at what times of the year."

Seifert has a master's in engineering physics and has been the energy and housing specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service since 1982. He's also been the professor of engineering extension at the University of Fairbanks since 1995.

He said he decided to teach this class after how well he was received when he taught a cold climate home building course in Kenai a few months ago.

"We had a good turn out, and people made it clear they were really interested in learning about this," he said.

More than 30 people attended the course earlier this month. Seifert instructed them on several topics, including what solar energy is, the different methods of using it and why it's important.

The course fees also included the cost of a manual on solar design that covered numerous subjects, such as solar technologies, active solar and passive solar.

Solar technologies often include photovoltaic solar cells, which directly convert sunlight into electricity. Active solar technologies employ an auxiliary energy source to move heat from where it is collected to where it is used or stored. These are practical for providing domestic hot water and may ultimately prove useful for space heating.

Passive solar applications capture heat without the need for auxiliary energy to move heat. Chiefly used for space heating, passive solar technologies move heat by conduction, convection or radiation.

The manual also had several charts showing solar radiation at various locations and latitudes throughout Alaska.

"On the sun angle chart, Kenai and Soldotna are sitting pretty good. Most people don't know it, but the highest angle the sun ever reaches in Kenai is 54 1/2 degrees. It's never higher," he said.

Seifert said he hoped the one thing people took away from the course was to make their houses as energy independent as possible.

"In Alaska, you should always have a means of heating your home without electricity," he said. "Nature can mess things up and leave you in a bad way if you're not prepared."

He said he believes it is best to try and be as self-sufficient and independent from electricity as possible, and renewable energy is, by far, a better alternative.

"Renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro will always be better than fossil fuels and other common forms of energy," Seifert said.

"They're not just better, but cleaner, which could also make the world a better place by reducing pollution."

Anyone interested in more information can call Seifert at (907) 457-3454 or e-mail him at

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