Energy Alabama Pulls The Switch on Solar

Tim McElyea is the CEO of Media Fusion, a Huntsville-based full-service technology and media production company. Since 1995, Tim has grown his small business, which now employs 100 people conducting government contract support and commercial work across the country. Media Fusion has been on the Inc. Fastest Growing Companies list three times in the past six years and was named the 2016 and 2006 Small Business of the Year in government contracting by the Chamber of Commerce—Huntsville/Madison County.

unnamed-1Six days ago, we literally “pulled the switch” and changed from the old way of consuming energy to using solar energy. Less than a minute after we pulled the lever, the meter showed one kilowatt of solar energy sold back to the grid. Though this happened in an instant, the process of getting there—and the decision to go there—took a bit more time.

Side note: By selling back to the grid, we get credited a certain portion back from the utility company based on the energy we produce through our solar panels. That portion is subtracted from our utility bill each month.

Media Fusion met with Energy Alabama early last year to discuss our options for energy savings. It turned out that our roof was basically made for solar panels—it is a flat, large, south-facing space that is ideal for catching rays. Energy Alabama walked us through the process, calculated our potential savings and solicited bids for the installation. And this was a free service provided to us as part of the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge.

From there we contracted with Birmingham’s Vulcan Solar Power. As you can see in the time lapse video, they got to work.

I started Media Fusion more than 20 years ago and have always taken pride in our ability to stay competitive while still exceeding expectations for our government and corporate clients. We’ve taken chances through the years and have won some and lost some. But this move to solar is one of those winning moves. Plus, it just seems to be a natural fit for a company so focused on using the latest technology every day.

unnamed-2.jpgAt the heart of it, we always try and make smart business choices that allow us to do some pretty amazing work. We’re best known for our animations for space exploration programs, like the Space Launch System, as well as countless other Lunar, Mars and satellite mission animations (you can watch our history with NASA animation here). We get to design virtual environments, capture high-speed video and photography of aircraft, analyze some of the most powerful social media content that exists, recruit and inform law enforcement rangers for the National Park Service and design educational materials for exhibits, classrooms and online. Those are just a few of the things we get to do through our contracts with NASA Headquarters, NASA Marshall, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base and the National Park Service.

And while these contracts may seem unrelated to our decision to be more energy conscious, they aren’t. This jump to solar energy is our latest effort to be more efficient. That means we’ve become more competitive, which ultimately means more business.

unnamedIn five years, the solar panels will have paid for themselves. After that point, we expect the system to make money and generate 10- and 20-year returns on investment of 14 and 18 percent, respectively. Those are savings we can pass on to our customers.

That first kilowatt we sold back to the grid represented 10 to 11 cents (calculations vary). Between May 31 and June 5 at 1 PM CT, our 50-kilowatt solar system has produced 1,195 kilowatts—or conservatively calculated, $119.50 worth of energy. And over time, that’s enough money to feel.

I encourage anyone who has thought about learning more about solar to look into the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge. Energy Alabama is looking for more businesses to sign up and learn how they, too, can save money through energy efficiency. You can be a responsible environmental citizen and still impact your business’ bottom line while doing it.

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