The Victorian Town Running (Mostly) On Off-Grid Solar Power

Licola - Off Grid Solar Power

The tiny town of Licola has switched from a reliance on dirty diesel power to clean solar energy for the majority of its electricity needs.

Licola, situated in the Shire of Wellington, is around 254 kilometres east of Melbourne. While Licola only had a population of 11 at the last Census, the area can be a busy little place. The entire town is owned by Lions Clubs Australia and is home to Licola Wilderness Village, where camps have been run for disadvantaged children and special needs groups for more than four decades.

Licola is the only town in the state not on mains grid power. It generates its own electricity, pumps and treats its own water and handles its own waste management.

Electricity was becoming increasingly expensive for the tiny town as Licola relied entirely on diesel-based generation. Between fuel and generator maintenance costs, $135,000 a year was being spent on power.

A decision was made to slash electricity costs and emissions using solar energy. 600 solar panels have been installed across Licola and two large shipping containers hold batteries (total capacity unknown) and associated systems.

“That stores enough energy to get us through the night, so that the following day, when the sun rises we can start capturing solar energy again and continue on,” said solar engineer Peter McKernan.

The Selectronic inverter chargers used for the project were designed and made in Australia.

Saving Cash, Slashing Emissions

Even with the added expense of the batteries, it’s expected system payback will occur within 6 to 7 years. With that achieved, ongoing savings will be invested back into improving the property.

The solar + storage system is providing power for:

  • 16 cabins (270 beds in total) in Licola Wilderness Village
  • Staff accommodation
  • Three houses off-site
  • Licola General Store
  • CFA station
  • Licola Caravan Park
  • Water pumping and treatment
  • Sewage system

While saving money once the system pays for itself, an immediate saving will be in emissions. The diesel generators will continue to be used at times during winter and in periods of extended low light conditions, but more than 90% of the camp’s electricity requirements will be met by solar power.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be able to take us from the noisy CO2 emitting generators and go to what is essentially a silent and renewable resource,” said Licola Wilderness Village CEO and Operations Manager Tony Davis.

You can learn more about the Licola microgrid project in this video.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. The only drawback is they have gone for lead acid batteries

  2. Why is that a drawback? I’ve been using SLA batteries for 4 years now. They’re cheaper than lithium, more reliable and being sealed, need very little maintenance. They can last over 15 years if used properly (eg don’t discharge them too deeply too often*) and are eminently recyclable. They can be plugged straight into solar panels without needing a battery management system, just a regulator to prevent overcharging (which many panels already have built in). Certainly they’re heavier, but that’s only a problem in an application that needs to move them, which doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    *Since there is a diesel back-up available, there would be no need to do this.

  3. As mentioned in my one previous post; the take-away from my experience with autonomous power systems during 15 years on my live-aboard barge in Europe is that there is no need to wait for (Tesla) battery prices to come down. The installation of a lead-acid (LA) battery system is cheap enough now to be economically viable and will last until the Powerwall type systems come down in price. This would be true even if the LA batteries only have a 5 year life cycle. And that life cycle can be easily extended, and perhaps doubled as I did, by careful choice of quality units and proper management and care for the batteries.
    While this LA system is installed it will also provide protection from power outages that may ensue from faults, accidents or deterioration of the supply and distribution systems. This has in fact happened 4 times in the last month here at my new residence in Tasmania.
    In fact the Victron Quattro inverter/charger I had on my barge was installed for exactly that purpose. It is programmed to accept 2 x 230v inputs; grid power and/or generator and also PV DC input. It will automatically charge the battery bank when any of these is available and supply is over and above that required for the residence. If input power falls below a programmed level or demand exceeds input during a brown-out the unit will automatically take power from the battery bank to supplement the failing input. Should grid power cease completely the Quattro will take up complete power provision in a UPS manner with effectively a “no-break” functionality of 20milliseconds duration. Thus modern electronic equipment will not be disrupted during a power outage. In addition, should grid power return, the unit will first resynchronize with the grid AC cycles before switching over. I mention all this as I am not aware of the capabilities of a “Powerwall” system only its humongous price.
    On an entirely different note I also don’t believe that the current “chemical” design of Powerwall style systems will ever be anywhere near as environmentally friendly as the “old” LA battery system.
    This is supported by this study (https://greet.es.anl.gov/files/batteries_lca ) which shows:

    “Either on a per kilogram or per watt-hour capacity basis, lead-acid batteries have the lowest production energy, carbon dioxide emissions, and criteria pollutant emissions”

    Further, the report shows that this benefit is not inconsiderable with LA batteries shown to be at worst 1/3 and at best 1/5 of an environmental load in production in comparison to current alternatives. I addition, due to their simple construction, currently approximately 98% of LA batteries are recycled with around 80% of each battery being recovered. I am also sure that these numbers could be significantly improved with better design and construction together with economic stimulation.

  4. Peter McKernan says

    My decision to choose recombinant tubular plate sealed lead acid cells for Licola was based on dollars / kWh, black start performance, reserve capacity to cover emergencies and past experience, (32 years). I currently monitor 64 different storage chemistries. For each type I calculate “all of life” kWh and divide this by the total cost. I take the manufacturer’s cell life expectancy, efficiency, temperature compensation and C rate into account. I know some of you will pick flaws in this system but it does give me a fairly reliable cost/kWh which is what the customer is paying for.

    If any other chemistry performs better I will let you know.

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