Off-Grid Workshop at a Co-operative Community in Australia
Charles and I both attended a four-day off-grid workshop held by The Australian Solar Council. We travelled to a site about an hour’s drive east of Melbourne to a small co-operative community. The workshop focused on off-grid systems, PV system design, battery sizing and load profiling. Here is our story.
Moora Moora Co-operative was quite a unique experience for us. It has around 51 members spread all around a hilltop and we were expecting the place to be very rural, with very basic needs and limited access to water. The residents in the 650 acres of land decided to live with minimal power and most houses had a small PV/battery/inverter with a shared genset system! The grid was just down the road but they choose not to connect, that’s something unique.
Charles and I have a great interest in off-grid systems. The workshop also provided me with a few more points to add for SMA product trainings. SMA partially sponsored the workshop by supplying an SMA Sunny Island 8.0H and an SMA Sunny Boy 3000TL-21 inverter.
In one of the battery systems that supplied power to the three houses, the class dismounted the previous inverter and upgraded it with the Sunny Island 8.0H and Sunny Boy 3000TL-21. The electricians were surprised how easy it is to install the DC and AC cables into the Sunny Island and effortlessly initiated the Sunny Island to supply power back to the houses. We modified the panels to connect to the Sunny Boy and I really enjoyed working on the roof, it reminded me of my first solar installation job. We also visited other houses that use the spring water (found 800 meters on top of the mountain) to power a small hydro unit to provide 24/7 unlimited power supply.
One of the students of the workshop was a resident in the co-operative area. Her house was a Toyota Coaster 21 seater. She modified this to fit in most electrical appliances and it even had two solar panels on the van roof. She bought a larger 60-seater bus and was looking to install more panels on the rooftop of her new ‘home’ to charge the battery bank. Quite amazing!
Most people who live in the co-operative have a full time job in Melbourne or in a nearby local town. Some residents stay there over the weekend and each month they have a community workday to fix things around the area.
The workshop completely changed our perspective of off-grid systems. I saw how little energy that a family can use each day. I challenge you as I only use 3.5kWh per day and live in a two-person house, with no solar. I was impressed to see the amount of dedication of the community showed towards nature and the preserving of the mountain, whilst harvesting all renewable energy.
The trainer Glen Morris, who dedicates so much of his time educating the residents and slowly upgrading their systems, has earned so much more of our respect after the workshop. This community would be a good case study for a PhD thesis project. It was a great workshop and I hope to see more similar SMA AC coupled Sunny Island systems installed in the future.
The article was written by Adrian Ho, Solar Academy Trainer, and Charles Wang, Application Engineer.
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