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Off-grid portable classroom trial in operation

07 November, 2018
Annie Sherring

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Australia’s first solar and battery powered portable classroom is operating in a Brisbane high school as a trial of renewable classrooms expands to Queensland.

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) provided approximately $370,000 to Hivve Technologie to build three state-of-the-art pilot portable classrooms, including a prototype at Bracken Ridge State High School in Brisbane.

The Bracken Ridge portable classroom, developed in collaboration with Tesla, includes rooftop solar PV and a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery system that allows the classroom to operate 100 per cent off the electricity grid.

Hivve classrooms generate enough electricity to power themselves and a minimum of two other classrooms in a school, with excess power able to be stored in the connected battery.

As part of the ARENA pilot, Hivve previously installed solar-powered classrooms in two NSW schools, St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School in Sydney’s south western suburb of Holsworthy, and at Dapto High School in the Illawarra region.

Hivve classrooms feature energy efficient lighting, heating and air conditioning, and allow real-time monitoring of temperature, air quality, energy metering as well as solar generation, battery capacity to manage energy demand. An in-classroom dashboard provides real-time data that gives teachers control of the classroom environment.

A Tesla battery was also installed for six weeks at Dapto High School to test the potential for batteries to be incorporated into the classroom.

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said the successful Hiive trials in NSW and now Queensland open the door for more Australian schools to switch to renewable energy.

“This solar-and-battery powered Hivve classroom at Bracken Ridge is both sustainable and self-sufficient as it powers itself while being completely off grid. The school avoids the significant upfront cost of grid connection while also saving on ongoing energy costs.

“Demand for energy at schools occurs during the school day, when the sun is shining. As such, there is a great opportunity to power classrooms via solar, backed up by battery storage,” Mr Miller said.

“Many schools on the Eastern seaboard are currently at capacity on grid connection. This Australian-developed solution could help schools reduce costs and emissions, while also reducing reliance and demand on the grid.”

Hivve CEO, David Wrench, said, “We are greatly encouraged by the robust trial results from the three schools operating with Hivve classrooms which confirms this Australian-developed technology has now made the transition from an idea to a commercial reality.

“The Hivve classroom concept has the potential to be a game changer in how our children are educated, providing a completely sustainable solution by powering all its own infrastructure – including air conditioning – while also feeding energy back into the school to run other classrooms.

“ARENA has been the perfect partner for this initiative demonstrating the innovative thinking around traditional energy challenges this Government has been bringing.”

The ARENA-funded pilot will run for 12 months, with the accumulated performance data used to demonstrate how renewable energy could power schools and reduce schools’ energy costs, as part of ARENA’s focus on delivering secure, reliable and affordable electricity.

Following the success of the trial, Hivve are now expecting to roll out their classrooms in NSW and are in discussion with other states.

Solar installations smash new record in October, all eyes on Victoria

05 November, 2018
Annie Sherring

Image result for solar installation

Australian installations of small-scale rooftop soared to yet another record in the month October, with Victoria emerging as the latest hot spot and Western Australia becoming the fourth state to reach the 1GW benchmark.

Data compiled by industry statistician Sunwiz reveal 158MW of small scale rooftop solar (sub 100kW) were installed in October, which was 15 per cent above the previous record set in August.

“It was a record month, a massive surge across the board,” said Sunwiz director Warwick Johnston.

It takes the total for the year to 1.25GW (1,250MW), already well ahead of the 2017 total, and suggests that the 2018 total could meet 1.5GW. This does not include bigger rooftop solar installation (above 100kW) and utility scale installations.

The remarkable trend in the latest month is the performance of Victoria, where volumes surged 40 per cent to 37.6MW for the month, just trailing NSW (39MW) as the hottest market in the country, and relegating Queensland to third place.

The Victoria market surge could be underpinned in the interest generated by the state-government’s additional rebate announcement, the first stage in a program that will deliver another 2.6GW of rooftop solar in that state over the next 10 years should the Labor government be re-elected in this month’s election.

But the increase was widespread, with more than 150,000 homes and businesses adding solar over the month.

This is possibly due to some panic buying caused by threats to abolish the small-scale solar scheme, which is being gradually wound down in any case over 12 years but which still offers a rebate equivalent to around 30 per cent of the cost of modules.

Despite strong calls by the ACCC and utilities such as Origin Energy and EnergyAustralia, the federal government resisted calls to abolish the rebate scheme and said it had no plans to change it.

It may also be due to the ongoing political debate over energy prices, and the realisation that for all its tough talk and sloganeering about “fair dinkum energy”, the federal government can do little to arrest electricity prices without a sensible energy and climate policy.

The grand total for the Australian market now stands at 7.74GW, on more than 1.97 million homes and small businesses.

Queensland still leads with 2.27GW, followed by NSW (1.75GW), Victoria (1.46GW) and now W.A. with 1.01GW, after adding a record 20MW in the last month.

As the Australian PV Institute reported earlier this week, the latest surge in rooftop solar means that the total capacity of solar – rooftop and utility scale – is now more than 10GW.

A version of this story was first published in RenewEconomy’s sister site One Step Off The Grid. 

Energy Minister backs down, heeds calls from solar consumers to save SRES

24 October, 2018
Annie Sherring

As part of his Energy announcements this week, Minister Angus Taylor has finally heeded calls from solar consumers led by Solar Citizens to rule out axing the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme.


Energy consumers are tired of being taken for a ride by electricity retailers, which is why Australians are installing solar at record rates so that they can take the power back into their own hands,’ says Solar Citizens National Director Joseph Scales.


‘The Small-scale Renewable makes investing in rooftop solar affordable,’ explains Mr Scales.


The ACCC gave a misguided recommendation to cut the SRES 9 years early or even immediately.


‘The cost of rooftop solar would increase by approximately 30% by axing Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme,’ describes Mr Scales.


Today, representatives of Solar Citizens are in Parliament to lock in this announcement with our open letter which collected nearly 10,000 signatures.  Solar Citizens will be meeting with Minister Taylor’s office, and with Labor’s Shadow Minister Mark Butler and Greens’ spokesperson Adam Bandt.


Solar Citizens mobilised thousands of solar consumers to call on the Federal Government to rule this out:  

  • Nearly 10,000 signed our open letter to the Energy Minister (jointly with Smart Energy Council);
  • Hundreds of constituents contacted their MP asking them to join our call to rule out axing the SRES; and,
  • numerous people wrote to their local papers and had letters to the editor published which explained the benefit of the SRES.


‘This is a huge win for solar consumers around the country – saving the SRES will keep the installation of rooftop solar affordable so that more Australians can enjoy the benefits  of solar and lower their energy bills,’ concludes Mr Scales.


The Abbott Government also backed down from cutting the SRES and the RET in 2015 when Solar Citizens delivered petitions with 28,000 signatures to the Government.


New solar cells offer you chance to print out solar panels and stick them on your roof

19 October, 2018
Annie Sherring

Australia’s first commercial installation of printed solar cells, made using specialised semiconducting inks and printed using a conventional reel-to-reel printer, has been installed on a factory roof in Newcastle.

The 200 square metre array was installed in just one day by a team of five people. No other energy solution is as lightweight, as quick to manufacture, or as easy to install on this scale.

Our research team manufactured the solar modules using standard printing techniques; in fact, the machine that we use typically makes wine labels.

Each solar cell consists of several individual layers printed on top of each other, which are then connected in series to form a bank of cells. These cells are then connected in parallel to form a solar module.

Since 1996, we have progressed from making tiny, millimetre-sized solar cells to the first commercial installation. In the latest installation each module is ten metres long and sandwiched between two layers of recyclable plastic.

At the core of the technology are the specialised semiconducting polymer-based inks that we have developed. This group of materials has fundamentally altered our ability to build electronic devices; replacing hard, rigid, glass-like materials such as silicon with flexible inks and paints that can be printed or coated over vast areas at extremely low cost.

As a result, these modules cost less than A$10 per square metre when manufactured at scale. This means it would take only 2-3 years to become cost-competitive with other technologies, even at efficiencies of only 2-3%.

These printed solar modules could conceivably be installed onto any roof or structure using simple adhesive tape and connected to wires using simple press-studs.

The new installation at Newcastle is an important milestone on the path towards commercialisation of the technology – we will spend the next six months testing its performance and durability before removing and recycling the materials.

We think this technology has enormous potential. Obviously our technology is still at the trial stage, but our vision is a world in which every building in every city in every country has printed solar cells generating low-cost sustainable energy for everyone. This latest installation has brought the goal of solar roofs, walls and windows a step closer.

Ultimately, we imagine that these solar cells could even benefit those people who don’t own or have access to roof space. People who live in apartment complexes, for example, could potentially sign up to a plan that lets them pay to access the power generated by cells installed by the building’s owner or body corporate, and need never necessarily “own” the infrastructure outright.

But in a fractured and uncertain energy policy landscape, this new technology is a clear illustration of the value of taking power into one’s own hands.

Australian farmers making the move to renewables

06 September, 2018
Annie Sherring

Egg farmers harnessing the sun to hatch a cleaner future

Egg farmers definitely aren’t chickening out when it comes to solar energy. Instead, they have started hatching plans to power ahead with the new technology. With the country’s largest egg farming group Pace Farm investing $3.2 million in three large solar projects across its NSW properties over a six month period recently, the egg industry is joining the growing number of farmers making the switch to renewable energy. The annual output across the three sites is expected to hit 2.7 million kilowatt-hours. That’s enough electricity to power more than 400 average homes.  

“Every kilowatt-hour of energy produced by the sun is a kilowatt hour you don’t have to buy, and with energy prices rising the way they have it made good business sense to us,” General Manager Paul Pace as quoted in the Australian Financial Review.


Pace Farm

Sink your teeth into an orchard full of sunshine

Burgi’s cool store and fruit orchard facility located in Melbourne’s north-east has made the switch to solar as a way to drive down the cost of power and move their businesses to more sustainable and clean power sources. The business installed a 25 kW system with 100 panels in 2015 which was set to generate up to 38 per cent of the orchard and cool stores power needs. 

“Our philosophy is to leave things better than we found them. And part of that philosophy is to use solar energy,” Owner Terry Burgi as quoted by Origin Energy

No rotten tomatoes for Sundrop farms

Sundrop Farms, situated 300 KM north of Adelaide is turning the traditional greenhouse on its head. The innovative farming business is churning out 15,000 tonnes of tomatoes per year and leaving those that still use fossil fuels to do so, as they put, it in the prehistoric era with the dinosaurs. The 20-hectare greenhouse facility uses solar thermal technology for power and desalinated water for irrigation, heating and cooling. The farm has enough energy and water on site to last for 10 days. 

“We knew considering the world’s increased population that we had to address the food storage, the water storage and the energy storage… creating a benefit for the environment and restoring ecosystems, rather than depleting them,”Chief Executive Philipp Saumweber as quoted in The Weekly Times

Sundrop Farms

Sundrop Farms
Credit: Sundrop Farms Facebook

Match made in manure

With 240,000 pigs on a farm and a power bill that totalled $350,000 annually, pig farmer Tom Smith from KIA-ORA piggery created a system to combat this, by using waste products from the pigs themselves the farm now generates their own electricity. The recycling system collects 120,000 tonnes of pig manure annually and through an effluent treatment and recycling system transforms it into biogas. The piggery has seen an emissions reduction from 16,598 tonnes to just 3,121 with the business producing 15 per cent above the site’s power needs. This allows the piggery to now sell the energy they don’t use back into the grid as a greenhouse gas offset. 

“We should have had it done years ago purely because of the cost of our electricity,” Owner Tom Smith told the ABC

Milking it with solar

Capel Farms, a family dairy and cattle farm in WA, has made the switch to solar energy after feeling the heat from power bills that have risen about two thirds since 2008. The farm installed a 100 kW solar system on an existing shed at the property in July 2014 and since then have seen a reduction in the electricity consumption from the grid by 31 per cent and a decrease in the cost of electricity by 41 per cent. Solar for dairy farmers is becoming increasingly common, with many such as Binowee Dairy farm in NSW taking their own action to combat rising power prices. 

“The solar quote looked too good to be true, so we tried it – and it was pretty good,” Manager Greg Norton as quoted on the ABC

A little bit of extra wind between the ears

In mid-2017 Global Power Generation Australia (GPG) signed an agreement with GE for 28 wind turbines that will form the 91 MW Crookwell Wind Farm. The lucky farmer on the list to house the project was Charlie Prell, a sheep farmer cross wind power activist that runs around 800 ewes and, has waited 17 years to make this a reality. The turbines will be located on parts of his property that are not suitable for farming, like the top of ridgelines or rocky outcrops. The wind farm which is expected to be online in 2018 will generate 300,000 MW hours of energy per year, enough to power 41,600 homes. The grid gets more renewables coming online and Charlie ensures the income is ticking over consistently throughout the year, it’s a wind-win. 

“It’s a game changer… it gives you the financial flexibility to change your stocking rate, to spell pastures, to manage water courses much more sustainably and environmentally because you’ve got the passive income stream,” Owner Charlie Prell as quoted in the Goulburn Post

Charlie Prell

Charlie Prell
Credit: Lynne Strong, Art4agriculture

Fromage and renewables, what a cracker!

Meredith Dairy in Melbourne’s west is turning traditional cheese making on its head with a catalogue of conservation activities. The dairy farm purchases clean energy to power their operations and when available uses Biofuel. In addition, their hot water systems are powered by solar power. Like we needed another excuse to eat more cheese, but this dairy farm is making the choice a little bit more guilt-free. 

“Sustainability to us is about making sure that the lifestyle, the farm, the business, is there for this generation and the generation to come and the one after that,” Owner Julie Cameron as said in this video

Install tip: Know how inverter MPPT functionality affects performance

20 June, 2018
Annie Sherring

When choosing an inverter for a project, always consider whether the inverter can perform global maximum power point tracking. While most inverters on the market today perform maximum power point tracking (MPPT), not all perform global MPPT. If shade is present on the project site, choosing an inverter that performs global MPPT can help increase energy production.

The power-voltage curve shows the point (or points) at which the power output is maximized (the MPPT). As shown at right, an array can have multiple MPPTs when it is partially shaded. Image courtesy of Aurora Solar.

In addition to converting DC power to AC power, another key function of string inverters is determining the voltage and current levels at which the array operates (its operating point). MPPT refers to an inverter’s ability to identify the operating point that maximizes the output power of a PV array (i.e., it finds the maximum power point of the array).

When conditions are the same across all modules (identical irradiance, temperature and components), an array will have a single maximum power point. However, if part of the array is shaded, there will be multiple operating points that maximize power output. This is due to the impacts of bypass diodes within modules that allow the inverter to “skip over” shaded sections instead of operating at their lower current.

As a result of the behavior of bypass diodes, there are two distinct operating points at which power is “maximized” for shaded arrays. Global MPPT refers to the ability of an inverter to sweep across the full range of current and voltage levels (within its operating voltage limits) to find the point at which power output is globally maximized and avoid picking local maximum power points.

Inverters without global MPPT functionality can make sense for sites without shade, because during the times that the inverter is searching for the maximum power point, it is not actually operating at that maximum power point and the array is not producing as much energy as it could. If the maximum power point is unlikely to change because bypass diodes will not be activated due to shade, then using an inverter without global MPPT can be beneficial. However, for sites with shade, global MPPT capability can help increase the system’s energy production. Analysis of a shaded solar installation by Aurora Solar found that global MPPT increased production by over 5% annually.

Whether the selected inverter performs global MPPT should also be factored into estimates of how much energy the system will produce. Modeling energy production based on the assumption that an inverter performs global MPPT when it does not can lead to underperforming systems. Similarly, failing to account for global MPPT when the inverter does perform this behavior can lead to oversizing a system relative to the customer’s needs. When using software to simulate energy production, it is important that the software models inverter behavior in accordance with the manufacturer specifications for each inverter model.

First industrial solar farm launched in Sydney

13 June, 2018
Annie Sherring

First industrial solar farm launched in Sydney

Impact International, a manufacturer of squeeze tubes for food, cosmetics, personal care and pharmaceutical industries, has officially launched a first-of-its-kind industrial solar farm in Sydney at its Smithfield facility.

The 290kw installation will supply 100% of the power for the manufacturing site, eliminating 300 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually and generating 395 MWh’s of electricity per year, enough to supply all the power needs of 90 Australian homes.

The solar installation is part of a sustainability program that has seen Impact International update motors to more energy efficient models, re-design its factory layout to improve production efficiency, install smarter lighting and change how it schedules production to further reduce energy consumption.

“Our decision to boldly invest in green energy comes from our commitment to our customers for whom sustainability deeply matters. Our customers choose Impact because of our quality, product knowledge, service and the superior barrier properties of our tubes. In other words, they care greatly about the quality of the tubes they use. By extension the energy that is used to produce these tubes really matters.  We want to add to our customers’ story of quality and care—our ground-breaking solar farm does exactly that,” said Impact International managing director Aleks Lajovic.

The solar farm occupies more than 800 square metres and is designed so customers and other visitors can tour the installation to see the system at work.  Smart Commercial Solar installed and will monitor the efficiency of the 5B Maverick solar array, a world-first technology developed and manufactured in Alexandria, Sydney.

“Impact has shown that solar is not only commercially viable for industrial operations but also has critical benefits for the entire supply chain.  Increasingly being able to say that your energy was generated on-site from the sun is becoming a sought after business benefit,” said Smart Commercial Solar founder Huon Hoogesteger.

The Maverick system is also readily compatible with energy storage, so businesses can save the extra energy they produce.

“Our technology makes it easier and more affordable than ever for industrial users to include solar in their energy mix,” said 5B CEO Chris McGrath.

“Coupled with increasingly affordable energy storage, it will help remove some pressure from a business’ bottom line.”

Solar Scams – a guide how to avoid them!

17 April, 2018
Annie Sherring

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With the rapid proliferation of solar in Australia has come many solar companies. How do you find a good solar installer? The vast majority of them try to do the right thing but there are some solar scams out there you need to be aware of. Here’s a guide to make sure you don’t get ripped off on your solar power installation!

Solar scams

The first thing to do if you’re interested in installing a solar system is check whether the company is accredited. 

The industry body for the designer, installer, and the actual products is the Clean Energy Council. Make sure your system is designed by a Clean Energy Council accredited designer. Double check that your installer is also CEC accredited. If you’re not sure, the CEC have a list of Approved Solar Retailers you can choose from. 

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Solar Scams – Choose a CEC Accredited Installer (source: CEC)

Double check that your panels and the inverter are accredited and meet Australian standards. If they aren’t CEC accredited, you won’t get your rebates aka Small Scale Technology Certificates (STCs) – this rebate is generally around $2,000 for a 3kW system. Click here to read more about STCs from the Clean Energy Regulator or click here if you want to use their online STC calculator. 

How do I pick the right solar company to avoid solar scams?

Ask if the person designing your system is qualified to do so. According to, this will shrink your retailer list by 90% and weed out all the designers who will do a poor quality job and leave you with an under-performing solar system. 

Avoid anyone with pushy sales tactics and avoid anyone that uses door-to-door sales as a sales technique. If they’re using language like ‘never pay a power bill again’ or trying to hurry you along by saying that the government rebates are about to end, avoid them again. 

For price, make sure you get 4 quotes at minimum. Watch out for dodgy T&Cs that allow suppliers to swap out for ‘equivalent’ models, upselling, surcharges, and so on. Don’t be afraid to stop a salesman from steamrolling over you. This is a big financial decision and you should do your due diligence before committing. 

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have a page about consumer rights for solar powerthat you should also check out (especially if you have a problem).

What information do I need on the quote?

  • A proper, printed out quotation showing the company’s name, address, and ABN.
  • A timetable of operation.
  • Model numbers, brands, and quantity for the panels, inverter, and battery (if applicable). 
  • An estimate of the system’s performance.
  • Product and installation warranty for the inverter.
  • Installation warranty, product warranty and performance warranty for the panels.
  • Any additional funds that may be payable. 
  • STCs should be included in the quote. This is a big one! Be wary because if you’re not careful some dodgy companies can just claim them without mentioning it to you.

If Saving With Solar can give you a hand to help pick the right solar company, please feel free to get in contact with us and we’d be happy to help.