About TOGSH

EmmaFirst things first…please don’t be put off the name of this blog.  I realise we’re not THE off-grid solar house, rather one of a growing number.  I chose the name purely to make the blog easy to find.

My name is Emma Sutcliffe, I’m a freelance journalist, marketing and communications consultant.  The most recent string to my bow is as a Climate Leader with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.  Please connect with me on LinkedIn.

I live with my family (husband and two teenagers) in an off-grid house in Little River, near Melbourne, Australia.  Considered by those in northern Australia as a wet, windy and generally wintery kind of place, Melbourne is a buzzing city with well known sports, arts, cultural and foodie events.  Markets are big part of life in Melbourne, as are green open spaces, AFL football, middle lane drivers and The Age newspaper.  And despite what a Queenslander tells you, it gets pretty hot down here too.  Thankfully.

We’re lucky enough to live on a few acres.  Head left on the freeway from Little River and you get to Melbourne’s CBD in 40 minutes; head right and you’ll end up in Geelong, home of the pink mohawked mayor and awesome beaches, in 30.  Perfect place, really.

Our off-grid goodness came about when we started planning the build of our house in 2011.  A call to the energy infrastructure provider uncovered the information that to install a power pole, put cables across the road, dig a 400m trench with cabling and conduit would be in the region of $40k.  Plus years of power bills.  Gulp.

So, we merrily set off to find an alternative.  Back then, even only a couple of years ago (which shows you how fast the renewables revolution is moving!), it was nigh on impossible to find someone who could sort us out with an off-grid system.  One company had it’s headquarters in a fly-by-night looking office and didn’t really have the answers.  The other had a ‘can’t be bothered attitude’.

It was a random conversation my parents had with their plumber that led us to a couple of renewable energy enthusiasts, John & Phil.  Their showroom was John’s mudbrick home on 10 acres, where we joined his family for lunch before crawling under the house to inspect the battery bank that was their energy storage.  Decisions were made, forms were completed and roughly 18 months later we were the proud owners of an off-grid solar system that works a treat.

A little while ago I watched with fascination as Dick Smith, Australian entrepreneur and seller of all things electronic geek, tried to imagine a future where fuel was Ten Bucks A Litre.  He explored solar vehicles, bio-fuels and all sorts of other interesting things.  He also talked about off-grid solar living and described it as ‘not viable’ due to the number of PV panels needed and the cost and size of the battery storage bank.

Well, we’re living proof it can be done…and this blog is designed to answer the questions we had when we were looking into going off grid…and for anyone interested in the renewables revolution.

Feel free to ask questions, look around and otherwise stickybeak…

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4 thoughts on “About TOGSH

  1. do you ever think you will need to upgrade your solar system? do you find that as you go through life, you end up buying extra items that require extra power, and that you need to add more power? or do you live your life around the size of solar system you have, and plan on keeping it that way?

    • Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment and apologies for the delay responding.
      We designed our system to specifically match our needs – every use of the washing machine, ceiling fans, microwave etc on a daily basis was taken into consideration. The only electrical item we don’t have is a tumble dryer, but that’s not a necessity in Melbourne as it’s pretty easy to get the washing dry most days. So currently, I guess we live around the size of system we have and that more than meets our needs.
      However, we have also allowed for a system expansion in future. This would mean adding more solar panels, which continue to drop in price. Of course, in around 13-18 years we’ll need to replace our battery bank, which will be a significant cost, however again, this technology is also dropping in price as demand increases.
      To answer your question though – I certainly don’t lose any sleep over whether or not we have enough power!

  2. hi, great site. so could I ask do you have the normal fridges etc or are they 12 volt? also what would you use in kw a day? WE are building and wanting to do the same as you but just checking costs etc. when you replace the battery bank every 10 to 15 years and considering the original outlay what would you estimate the cost of being off grid would average per year? thanks

    • Hi Leisa and Craig,
      Normal fridge, but we got the most energy efficient we could in 2012 – an Electrolux that used 356 kw/pa – I’m sure there are more efficient ones on the market nowadays. As for kw per day…not really sure. In terms of the state of charge on the battery bank, we currently usually get down to about 94 or 95% overnight at this time of year. Last week when there were a few days of cloud we went down to 88%, but have been as low as 82%. Are you planning to have a back up generator? We have the capacity to add one, just haven’t done so yet because the batteries haven’t got below 80% (which is the lowest we should go in order to have them last a long time).
      Original outlay of the entire system was $60,090, down to $52,000 after a rebate. To connect to grid was approx $40k plus bills. It’s actually very difficult to calculate the pros and cons of the system as there are so many variables, but at it’s most basic we’re paying about $4000 a year for it. As most of this cost is in the battery bank ($35k right there) we expect this cost to drop significantly over time as batteries become cheaper and more efficient.
      With regard to cost, please bear in mind that we have quite a large house and two teenagers – your costs might be very different depending on how much power you think you’re going to need versus cost to connect to grid.
      Hope that helps a bit? If you’d like to come over for a chat and a look at the system, you’re most welcome to – just buzz me on 0409 040 499.
      Cheers, Emma

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