The Solarhome Project was established with the aim of creating a stylish house that is fire-proof, cyclone-proof, and so energy-efficient that it can be powered entirely by an off-grid solar-charged battery without the need of a fossil-fuel-powered generator or grid backup. Tamar Solarhome is the prototype of this design, which was built in Tasmania (during 2016) to test its performance in a challenging climate. This was an idea developed by entrepreneur/building designer David Macfarlane, who spent two years researching and developing the design, then a further six months building the prototype at Greens Beach before living in the house for almost a year to test its comfort and performance. David had an ideal background for this sort of project, with formal qualifications including a BSc in Architecture (UNSW) and an MSc in Sustainable Building Design (Oxford Brookes), plus 14 years designing, building, and then operating an off-grid resort , which he sold in 2007.
What's so special about the Solarhome?
The Solarhome is all-electric and has all the comfort, conveniences, and appliances expected of a modern home, yet is powered 100% by fully-recyclable solar-charged batteries 100% of the time, even during a cold Tasmanian winter. Unlike other off-grid houses and cabins, the Solarhome requires no gas, oil, or wood fire for cooking, heating, or hot water, and can maintain a comfortable internal temperature between 20 and 25°C throughout the year. This makes the Solarhome totally emission free, totally self-sufficient, and very unique. The power system was designed and installed by award-winning Tasmanian company MODE Electrical at a cost of AU$50,000.
Will we have to continually worry about turning off lights and appliances, especially if the sun isn't shining?
No you won't have to worry, in fact you won't even notice any difference to a normal grid-connected house.
Can a modern all-electric house really operate with just solar panels and batteries alone, with no backup?
Well, that's what we were trying to find out. And while the house did operate successfully for almost four years without the need of any backup, we recently had to install a small petrol-powered generator for emergency situations after a fault in the solar panel connections caused the batteries to go flat. This didn't seem like a major problem at first, since it was a one-off situation and the electrician repaired the connections in a few hours. The problem was that we had to wait a week for the sun to shine to fully re-charge the batteries (it was a particularly wet mid-winter week). It won't happen again now that we've got a backup generator, but a lesson learned about solar and wind energy - they can't provide electricity on demand, so would never be able to power a major power grid on their own, no matter how energy-efficient everything was, or how large or advanced batteries and solar panels become in the future.
Why go off-grid?
Going totally off-grid for electricity with an energy-efficient solar-powered house can provide peace-of-mind because you won't have to worry about continually rising electricity bills and an increasingly unreliable electricity grid. And a well-designed energy-efficient house will be far more comfortable than a standard-built house. It's also the best option if your house site is a long way from existing grid power lines. However, going totally off-grid and relying on solar panels (and/or wind turbines) isn't possible on all sites, in which case it can be achieved with batteries charged by a petrol or diesel-powered generator operating a few hours a day instead.
Will going off-grid help stop climate change and save the planet?
If you're concerned about climate change, it's well worth reading David Macfarlane's well-researched book to help you understand what is a widely misunderstood topic. Climate Sense: A Layman's Guide to Climate Change is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. It takes readers on a fascinating journey, digging deep to explore the philosophy, psychology, politics, and science behind the modern 'environmental' movement of climate change. Explained in an easy-to-read entertaining style, the conclusion may surprise many, but it challenges the reader to become better informed and think deeply about this vitally important and increasingly controversial issue. Reviewed by American atmospheric physicist Dr Richard Lindzen (lead author of the IPCC's Third Assessment Report on climate change), who wrote: "I loved your book. You seem to have successfully avoided the technical issues that befuddle non-scientists and have relied on logic and common sense (that also, alas, befuddle part of our elite, but are nonetheless more accessible to those with somewhat open minds)."