Solar Powered Off-Grid Living With All The Creature Comforts

A South Australian family is living the dream in Strathalbyn in their off-grid solar powered home without skimping on the mod cons. And it worked out cheaper than connecting to the mains grid.

This segment is from SolarQuotes TV Episode 9 – Living Off-Grid With Solar – which showcases off-grid living in Australia done right.

Transcript begins —

Finn: Okay, onto our installer profile for this month. We check out a great, no expense spared solar and battery setup in Strathalbyn, South Australia, and we chat to one of SA’s top off-grid installers.

Colin Lord: G’day, I’m Colin Lord from Apex Energy. I’ve been installing and designing off-grid solar systems for over 20 years. I’m with Allen and Sally Smith, and I helped them to design their solar system.

So, the system is a standard off-grid system. It’s about 10 kilowatts of solar – it’s a Selectronic inverter, and it’s PPE batteries1. The batteries are made in Melbourne, the Selectronic inverter is also made in Melbourne.

Living off grid is very easy these days. We can do a load profile before you move in. We understand what appliances’ loads are and we can design a system around that, so we can build a solar system for anyone really.

Fortunately, when I met Sally, Sally had a really good idea on energy efficiency and on how to build a good house. And so she picked energy efficient appliances and built an energy efficient home. So, it’s a standard house with normal appliances, a dishwasher, washing machine, under-floor heating. So, you can pretty well have any house off grid.

Off-Grid Solar/Battery Cheaper Than Mains Connection

Sally: Well, it’s definitely been a lifelong dream to build a house here, to see it come to fruition is just amazing. We’re so happy here.

We did look into actually being connected to the grid, but the closest power is about a kilometre away. I think it was going to cost us between 50 to $70,000 to connect us to the power. And then of course we’d be paying bills on top of that.

We started looking into off-grid systems; that worked out under $50,000. It was definitely a cost thing and it wasn’t because we were hippies or we wanted to save the Earth. We love that we’re generating all our own power and we are sustainable, but we’re certainly not low users. And we don’t scrimp on creature comfort.

We do have to keep an eye on it in winter. So, in the morning sometimes we’re like, oh, we’re a little bit low – we won’t put the underfloor heating on (Sally laughs: “that sounds so terrible!”). Underfloor heating is definitely an excessive thing that we didn’t need. It was one of those tick-box things that probably didn’t align with my energy efficient build, but it aligned with what we wanted and how we wanted to live. And we wouldn’t change that for sure.

We pretty much haven’t ever needed the generator. The only reason it’s clicked in is because we’ve overloaded the system and all it does is we get a warning. I’ll go turn the dryer off and the dishwasher and we’ll be fine. I have had everything on before in the middle of the day; under floor heating, washer, dryer, dishwasher. And I’m like, oh my gosh, 14 kilowatts!

A lot of people think if you’re living off grid, you can’t have this, you can’t have that. You can, you just need to design the system properly and work with someone who knows what they’re doing to make sure you’ve got a system that can work with how you live.

Solar Power Cheap, Batteries More Affordable

Colin: When I first started installing off grid systems, it was when solar panels were so expensive. The batteries were small, the solar panels were small. But now solar has become very cheap. Batteries are becoming cheaper and cheaper. And the systems that we can provide now really will power any house.

Sally: Angus has just woken up from his nap and Matilda’s just got home from sports day. So, she’s in reception and Angus is three. Matilda is five. We definitely love the fact that our system does have room to move because they are definitely going to be the energy users of the future at this house.

It’s just amazing to be in it and enjoying it and seeing your dream. I mean, really, it was always a goal and we’ve worked towards it very hard. But we couldn’t have got here without the help of Colin and years of assistance.

Colin: And that’s common. I often meet customers years before they actually build, and then I’m there with them through the design process, through the installation process. And luckily, I get to see the finished product as well.

— Transcript ends

Catch the full episode of Living Off-Grid With Solar here and for other interesting videos on solar power and battery storage, check out SolarQuotes’ Youtube channel!

Footnotes

  1. PPE – PowerPlus Energy
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. Richard Hoenich says

    Very similar story here in Canada, 80kms southwest of Ottawa (i.e. teeth chattering winters). Our property was 30 metres too far from the nearest utility pole, but funnily enough, it was the tech person from the Hydro company who advised us to go solar, since hookup could run $75k, and then only after a non-refundable $3k for the design. We use a bank of lithium batteries from a 2014 Chevy Volt, which turned out to undercut the price of ANY other chemistry. Plus, you can actually lift each module! The system is amazing with our electric Bosch condenser dryer (only on sunny days, or powered by a propane generator if it’s raining and dry clothes are needed pronto). We built the house to the Passive House standard so the walls are 24 inches thick, but our only heating cost about $800 installed. The walls, roof and windows are our real heaters!

    • George Kaplan says

      24 inch thick walls? (~61cm?) That’s ultra thick!!! I’m guessing walls here are half that at best, and that includes insulation. If you go high end (or even just mid level?) insulation then you can’t do a standard build as the wood used for the framework is too thin – higher costs and greater complexity. Look at affordable housing however and, well try not to laugh, or cry – shortcuts and energy INefficiency all the way.

      Despite being a pro-nuclear, pro-coal, windmills and sunshine skeptic, I do like the notion of energy efficiency. Sadly most building companies offer fixed designs with no thought to energy efficiency, and those who do offer custom builds still don’t know anything about energy efficient elements e.g. insulation, window tinting, or even solar design, so what you’d like and what you can actually get will differ.

      Until and unless government imposes extreme energy efficiency requirements for new builds – and drops the affordable housing rort, I don’t see this changing. : (

      • Richard Hoenich says

        Yes, the walls are thick indeed. Australia doesn’t experience the cold like we in central/eastern Canada do, so no need for anything that thickly insulated to achieve a low-energy house. We used insulated concrete forms with added foam thickness so it was pretty straight forward. The build came to around $200/ft2, which is similar to tract housing around our area. We plunked money into insulation and air sealing with ventilation instead of a full-blown heating system.

  2. How big was the battery capacity installed?
    What was the brand of heat pump used for under floor heating?

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