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. His formal qualifications include a BSc in Architecture (UNSW) and an MSc in Sustainable Building Design (Oxford Brookes). He also spent 14 years designing, building, and then operating an off-grid resort on a Great Barrier Reef island, 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. The house requires no gas or wood fire for cooking, heating, or hot water, and can maintain a comfortable internal temperature between 20 and 25°C throughout the year. 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 modern house (let alone a major power grid) on their own, no matter how energy-efficient the house, 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 not having 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 with just solar panels and batteries alone isn't possible on all sites, even with a backup generator and gas, oil, or wood for heating, cooking, and hot water.
If you're concerned about climate change, it might be worth reading David Macfarlane's well-researched book Climate Sense: A Layman's Guide to Climate Change, to understand what is a widely misunderstood topic. It's available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format.