Solar And Rainwater Home (pictures too): How Gregory Got Independence

Gregory and GreenJoyment have been having some great conversations.

Gregory has been nice enough to share his knowledge and experience in getting off the grid and building his own solar home and rainwater catchment system.

He’s shared his experience both text and in pictures. Hope you enjoy Gregory’s story!

Solar Home in Australia - workshopHere’s a picture of me in my workshop today.

(I can not get my wife to go in a photo because she’s too shy.)

I’m an electronics technician and am lucky enough to be able to work from my home.
Gregory working in his LED/solar workshop
I have a small workshop where I design and build custom LED driver modules for a small W.A. company called Lumitech.

We build step lighting strips for theatre and have done most of the venues in W.A. and also the Sydney Opera House.

http://www.lumitech.com.au/

My lovely wife Bev works at a Respite centre, and I am kept very busy here as an owner builder for our house, and my Electronics work.

I’m highly skilled and am more than eager to help other people with any enquiries or technical questions with regards to electronics and general engineering.

I’m also an A grade Electrical Fitter and licensed Electrician.

I spent 8 years as a TV/VCR repairman (back when that mattered).

Also I specialise in RF or radio.

Currently I am finishing off our laundry, building drivers for a new college theatre (rich kid school), and designing a replacement LED module for the grossly inefficient 25watt halogen one supplied with modern caravans.

So, here’s a bit about the home I built and how I got energy independence.

Energy independence in Australia through solar and waterThe home is on 5 acres of natural bushland in a semi rural area of Toodyay in Western Australia

There is no deep sewage or water available in the area, but there is a grid connection available to me.

Dwellings in the area have to comply with particular requirements for water storage and sewage etc.

We have:

water storage tanks Australia energy independenceA water system:
3 X 32000 litre poly water tanks which are filled from rainfall collected from the roof and shed etc.
it has 3 X 90mm pipe feeds to the tanks in an underground loop system.

These are drained regularly at the bottom of the loop. Particles that float stay at the beginning of the loop and particles that are heavier sink to the bottom.

It is very effective and the water stays crystal clear. With only a layer of “dust” collecting in the tanks after 3 years now.

Water pump powered by solar power in AustraliaOn top of the tanks are 2 X 20 Watt PV panels with a 6 amp regulator keeping a 200 AH 12v lead acid (secondhand truck starting batt) charged to drive the 12 volt water pump.

The water pump is a Flojet brand which is NOT of the centrifical type, but has a kind of diaphragm I think.

Designed for mobile home use, it can pump at 11.6 LPM @ 3.6 BAR.@ 5.2 Amps.

This is is just right for domestic supply.

I use a (second hand) bladder type balancing cylinder of about 60 litres capacity (pre-charged with air @ 38 psi) to regulate the flow and also a one-way valve and a stop-valve.

I found 2 things:

1. Better to have a much larger storage capacity battery than what you might calculate. My stepdaughters all visit at the same time and suddenly you need 5 times more than normal. If the battery is big enough, the system can catch up some other time when there is less demand.

Also I might have to use it for firefighting, so being able to run the pump reliably for extended time is a must.

2. A big balancing tank. The bigger the better i think in this situation. We can not tell when the pump kicks in and out. It takes about 4 minutes to cycle the pump. We can have a shower and flush a toilet without affecting the pressure. Also some strain is taken off the pump motor and pressure switch by not bouncing in and out continually, (as on some systems).

Hot water:
We bought a Bosch high flow instant gas heater as recommended by the local hardware for fluctuating pressures and good efficiency. Very happy with it especially since i installed the add on temp control pad in the bathroom. No more dangerous scolding water, no more messing with the tap settings to get the temperature just right. Even has an alarm that beeps at me after 5 minutes of soaking. Very efficient and reasonably cheap.

Solar powers the pump, gas powers the heatingThis water system has now been running for 3 years without a problem and has pumped about 200,000 litres so far. It feeds to the house through a 1″ poly pipe .

Sewage:
Two underground septic tanks that exit to two 12 metre leach drains. I did all the plumbing myself so I was able to install two separate sewer pipes. The main sewer pipe handles BLACK and BROWN water to the septic system, and a separate sewer line for GREY water only, which exits to a convenient garden patch .

Power:
To connect to the grid would have required at least two new power poles and a transformer. Reliable estimates of between 15k and 30k prompted me to build my own system. At first, the system was very small and was expanded later.

So it is actually two PV arrays with separate charging systems.

battery cells for solar chargingBatteries:
12 X 225 ah deep cycle lead acid cells

PV:
1.2 kw array with maximum power point tracking regulator feeding into the 24 volt battery bank 810 w array with float regulator feeding same battery bank

Windmill - cheap Chinese kit type - for powerWind:
400w cheap Chinese wind generator feeding same battery bank

Total of 2.0 kw for the PV and 400 watts intermittent for the wind gen. We also can use our expensive keystart honda inverter generator for any heavy power needs or emergency.

Inverter:
Powertech 3600 watt UPS has performed well except for the internal solar regulator blew up, and all the internal cooling fans (4 of them) died. They had to be replaced after the first year.

Also, the fans are running on the coldest of nights and the unit draws 85 watts just doing nothing. So I switch of the fans manually (get inside) in winter and save about 40 watts (big fan).

Oh well maybe when it dies I will get a better one. (Might reiterate here that I’m an electrical tradesman and electronics technician.)

Solar and energy independent home in AustraliaThe house has been wired by myself and conforms to the ASA (Australian standard). This is important for insurance reasons as an owner builder.

The electrical system has been running without any problems pretty well 3 yrs now and supplies all of our electrical needs, even the washing machine.

Last winter we hardly ever ran the generator except to do washing, and never in summer.

We rely on good design and fans to cool the house in summer, and run fans all night long in summer.

We use wood, in a slow combustion stove, for winter.

Our whole system has cost less than 15k.

And we are not eligible for any government rebates because we are not grid connected, but also not far enough from any power connection.

With the cost of power skyrocketing here, I’m glad I followed my instinct and set all of this up.

I have much more to talk about if anyone would like more details, please comment below and I can post more.

Check out the kangaroos in the backyard

Check out the kangaroo near the water tank

8 Comments

  1. Paul

    HI Gregory, what a great job you’ve done. Do you believe there is a need to desulphate or equalize them periodically?

  2. Gregory

    The batteries are Trojan T105 deep cycle Lead Acid wet type.
    Other than keeping them clean and topped up ,and a check of the SG p/cell sometimes .I don’t do any other maintenance . Trojan batteries provide detailed information on battery care that I follow .They don’t generally discharge any more than 20% (which is the recomended).

  3. Gregory

    I have checked the voltage of the cells maybe three times but never found any real difference . They were all within a few millivolts .So i don’t think they need equalizing . Maybe as they get older I will have to keep a closer eye .I’m hoping to get at least 8 years .Now they are 3 .
    I didn’t use solar hot water system because most of them use a 2.4kw element as a booster .which we can’t handle power wise .A combination gas/solar was available but too expensive for me at the time.

  4. Tony

    Gregory, You are an electrician, what do you think of Nikola Teslas secret electricity and magnetic generators?

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