Outback community powered by the sun

By Georg Dreher, marketing and project manager, Solarmatrix.

In early September 2012, after three years of bureaucratic delays and funding interference, Solarmatrix personnel went on a 6400km round trip journey through Western Australia to install a 38kW stand-alone solar power system in the Kandiwal indigenous Community deep in the heart of the Kimberley.

The Kandiwal Community is home to about 40 people, half of which are children. The Kandiwal elders working with the Mitchell Plateau Association charity commissioned the project for the future development of the community. The solar power system will power the whole community, as well as a newly planned school. The school is an important pillar of the development strategy, and will provide education for the children, as well as vocational training so the young people and adults can be employed in local tourism services.

Before the installation of the new leading edge solar power system, the community was dependent on a diesel generator to supplement the existing solar array. Diesel generators funded by the government are expensive to run, have a high-fuel use, require frequent maintenance, and pollute the environment.

Further, the community had a solar power system installed in 2006 by the government, which still worked well but was too small for their growing demand.

The community is situated in such a remote area that all supplies for the installation team had to be brought in – including kitchen utensils, fridges, camping gear and camp showers.

The installation

The Solarmatrix installation team, comprising seven men, began work in September, laying heavy three-phase cable from the solar power system to the community. Despite setbacks caused by an enormous whirlwind raging through the installation site, dislodging the array frames during fixing and covering everything in a thick layer of dust, the installation was completed in just two weeks.

Works included installing all 152 solar panels and the cyclone rated mounting frame, building a dedicated shed for the 144 batteries, wiring and mounting of all inverters in a retired 20 foot sea container, connecting the system to the existing diesel generator and the community, as well as doing part of the trenching for the cable runs in the community.

Solarmatrix managing director Durmus Yildiz said the geographical situation posed several unique challenges.

“The trenching through rocky ground in the 41 degree heat and the long cable runs were the most physically challenging parts of the whole project” Mr Yildiz said.

The system design and equipment

The new three-phase AC coupled solar power system with battery and diesel backup will offer the community the freedom to power the planned school, as well as a new cool room, in addition to their current load. The diesel generator serves solely as a backup and will only be needed in the unlikely event of component failure. Renewable energy generation will meet 100 per cent of the communities load, day and night, over the whole year.

According to Mr Yildiz, the state-of-the art equipment allows simple system expansion in the future should the community grow further than anticipated.

“This is a crucial advantage since ordinary off-grid systems often don’t easily allow for modifications and expansions,” he said.

The solar panels are 250Watt monocrystalline panels made by SolarWorld – Germany’s largest solar module manufacturer. Nine of the remote power proven SMA Sunny Island inverters are connected in three main clusters to deliver a reliable three phase output.

On the DC to AC conversion side, the system comprises four highly efficient Sunny Tripower inverters. The batteries from the manufacturer Sonnenschein will have a design life of 10 years and a storage capacity of 450kWh at
80 per cent depth of discharge. Sonnenschein batteries are sealed, thus do not require any costly maintenance bar the regular visual check and voltage measurements to ensure their charging rhythm is correct.

Off-grid solar power systems in remote locations are a fantastic alternative for diesel-powered generation. In addition to the environmental benefit and noise reduction, they deliver a tremendous cost saving and require little maintenance. Solarmatrix is among the leading providers of solar powered off-grid systems in Australia and offers a wide range of quality products and services, from engineering and design, to predesigned off-grid kits for installers and end customers.