Australian news, and some related international items

A cautionary tale about going off grid with solar energy

The “off-grid” guy is not happy with his off-grid system By  on 5 April 2017  One Step Off The Grid

Michael Mobbs has been involved in sustainability for more than two decades, leading public discourse with his “sustainable house” blog, cutting his connections to mains water and sewer more than two decades ago, and finally cutting the electricity wires to his inner-Sydney terrace home in March, 2015.

His exploits and determination to lead a self-suficent lifestyle earned him the sobriquet of the “off-grid-guy”. But two years after cutting the link to the electricity grid, Mobbs is deeply frustrated – his off-grid system is not working anywhere near as well as he expected.

For the last few weeks, in cloudy, rainy Sydney, Mobbs has had to turn off the fridge during the day to ensure that the house, which he shares with two others, has enough power for a “civilised life”  at night-time. Worse than that, his system has a bug in it that causes it to trip every two days. Flashing digital lights have become part of his life.

“I’m running short of power,” Mobbs complains. He reckons that the system that he has in place is delivering 1kWh a day less than he expected. “I thought this would be a walk in the park, but I appear to have tripped over.”

Mobbs in now looking to replace the system, and has even launched a public ‘invitation” for people to suggest solutions. (Submissions are due on April 13).

But he wants this to be a public discourse, because from his experience he sees a cautionary tale for anyone looking to install battery storage, and particularly those who are looking to go off grid.

“I don’t live off-grid just for myself,” he writes on his blog. “I live off-grid to trial and to show options, create and publish real-life data for others, to give hope through action and accountability. ”

But he admits that his particular journey for going off-grid for electricity is incomplete. “When complete, and the new replacement system is installed soon, the project will show what is feasible.”

Although battery storage has been used for decades, mostly in remote areas that don’t easily connect to the grid, the mass-market is new, and so are many of the products now available to those in the inner city, suburbs, and regional towns.

And battery storage is a complex business – it relies so much on the consumer’s usage pattern, available solar power, local weather, orientation and how it is configured and paired with other hardware and software such as inverters and solar panels. Going off grid requires a bespoke solution.

Some people have the money and can throw surplus dollars and capacity at the solution. Hobbs clearly wants to find a smarter way – and in the inner city, he is restricted by space.

Mobbs says that from his experience it is pretty clear that there is a consumer blind spot. He now emphasises the need to be clear about what is wanted from the system, and for good monitoring and analytics to indicate what is going wrong and when.

So what did go wrong with his system?

April 7, 2017 - Posted by | New South Wales, solar

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