Ten Victorian property owners are trialling life with no mains electricity to reduce the risk of bushfires sparked by power-line failure. They have signed up to the ‘Remote Area Power Supply’ trial and over the past six months have been provided with solar panels and a diesel generator.
One couple has withdrawn from the trial, but nine families are still participating.
Energy Safe Victoria’s Powerline Taskforce is reviewing all options for reducing the risk of fires being started by the electricity system.
The thinking is that if residents of sparsely populated bushfire-prone areas could be moved from mains electricity to their own individual systems, the local power lines could be turned off, removing the risk of ageing country power lines starting fires.
Taskforce chairman Tim Orton says:
”If we get this right, we can make a very substantial change to bushfire risk in a more proactive way than we’ve been able to do in the past.”
Trial participant Ivan Hazelden gives the system installed on his property a qualified tick. He says:
”The trial, I feel, is about 90 per cent successful..
There have been a few hiccups but they’re slowly being sorted out, which is what the trial is all about. I think the system they’ve used is pretty good.”
Ivan identifies the number of solar panels on the roof as a weakness.
”A lot of the people in the trial have got 20 solar panels, we’ve got only 16. We feel that that extra four would have helped a hell of a lot..
I’m quite happy the way this is; now that it’s all set up..
It’s cheaper than [mains] electricity. You have to make a few adjustments, you’ve got to watch that you don’t leave every light in the house on. You don’t have electric heaters and those little odds and sods..
I think we’re about the fourth last on the electrical line, [which] comes from Benalla … there’s a long way to come..which means that over such a great distance there are opportunities for many things to go wrong.”
Ivan says the remote system has guaranteed a smoother power supply, without the regular blackouts that were a fact of life on mains power.
Like many of the trial group, the Hazeldens are more careful with their use of lights and other equipment, but they still run three computers, two microwaves and a large fridge, and their television viewing continues uninterrupted.
HOWEVER, with the cloudy, wet and sometimes foggy winter that the area is experiencing, only about 10 per cent of the Hazeldens’ power has come from the sun this June says technology company RedFlow, which installed the equipment.
THOUGH, over the same period in a much sunnier district also involved in the trial, near Violet Town in north-east Victoria, one household has been getting about 80 to 90 per cent of its power from the sun.
Ivan is happy to stay off the grid.
About 150 kilometres to the west of the Hazeldens, in the hills near Daylesford, Colin and Tricia Dunlop also signed up to the trial. The Dunlops were very happy to test the ‘environmentally friendly’ off-grid power supply, but they ‘just didn’t get it right’ and it became ‘a thorn in the side’.
They opted out of the trial, concerned about:
Colin says the power supply they received was ‘basically inadequate’ during their six months trial and during this period their electricity went off about three times.
Given the experience of the Dunlops, and other hiccups that have emerged during the trial, the adoption of stand-alone power supplies on isolated properties is far from certain.
Cost is also barrier. Each of the 10 installations cost more than $100,000 to buy and install – giving the whole trial a price tag of about $1 million.
Chairman Tim Orton says the Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce has made ”a very substantial commitment” to testing what role the stand-alone power supply systems can play in reducing fire risk.
The trial will run at least until the end of September, when the taskforce must provide a final report to the government recommending a 10-year plan to cut bushfire risk, including costings.
From my experience you make some changes but you do adjust.