We recently visited Hidden Valley Cabins, 25 km inland from Paluma, for a very enjoyable social occasion and I took time out to look at the resort’s solar power installation.
Hidden Valley is isolated enough that the resort was always off the grid, dependent on a diesel generator for all its power. About four years ago, with the help of funding from a programme designed to help isolated users make the change, they installed a custom built 12 kW system comprising ninety 130W panels feeding into an inverter and a roomful of batteries.
The panels are mounted on frames on concrete pads just up the hill behind the resort and produce 19,500 kWh per year. The resort only use two thirds of that amount but the extra system capacity ensures that the batteries are fully charged for cloudy periods. The old diesel generator is still in its shed nearby and hooked up to the system as a backup, but I got the impression that it is rarely called upon.
The owners are very happy with the system. They have set up the shed housing the batteries and inverter as an interpretive centre, and have various brochures about solar power for visitors who may want to follow their lead.
One of the advantages they appreciate most is one I hadn’t thought about: it is silent, and gets rid of the generator noise they had to put up with 24/7. But of course, the savings in diesel fuel are enormous (I did see a figure but don’t appear to have jotted it down – sorry) and they don’t have to worry that they will lose power for lack of fuel if the gravel road is washed out in the Wet … which reminds me to mention that the system has survived cyclone Yasi, much more intense where they are than it was in Townsville.
Problems? Battery maintenance was ‘a bit of a learning curve,’ but that is about all.