“How do you think the unique fauna of the Daintree rainforest will fare against anthropogenic global warming?”
The inquiry was put to me last night at the conclusion of a nocturnal wildlife spotting tour and such questions are becoming more frequent.
I answered that I understood that the greatest losses suffered by the inhabitants of the ancient forests of Gondwana were brought about by global cooling and drying via circumpolar currents derived from the break-up of the super-continents; particularly the separation of Australia from Antarctica. A warmer, wetter climate should favour an expansion of tropical rainforest habitat.
Earlier in the day I was dealing with another concern that had previously compelled government intervention to purportedly protect the important ecological values of the Daintree from the adverse impacts of non-renewable electricity generation. On the 7th May 2000, the Queensland Government adopted an amended electricity policy for the area north of the Daintree River:
The extension of mains electricity supply was opposed and, as an alternative, the use of stand-alone power systems was to be supported. (Right of appeal: Not applicable).
The Daintree Futures Study 2000, states (p 99): Underlying this policy … is the belief that renewable energy generation is desirable in the Daintree as a demonstration of commitment to sustainable energy development and sensitivity to the special values of the area.
It had become apparent that our household reliance upon engine generators had increased significantly over the previous six months and solar contribution had declined through the impact of a lightning strike. I had dreaded this inevitability; large, prominent metallic structures strategically positioned to optimize unobstructed access to sunlight (and lightning). Tell-tale burns were revealed on the newer, more powerful 738 watt string of the four-string array.
The Daintree Futures Study 2000, states (p 99): Businesses in the Daintree Cape Tribulation area are currently not eligible for any subsidy programs for RAPS systems. This is despite a statement by the Minister for Mines and Energy in October, 1999 that, “A commercial rebate scheme is also to be introduced”. The lack of a subsidy has likely hampered economic development, as businesses have had to fund substantial capital to establish their generation plant, and higher operating and maintenance costs. The variable cost to generate power privately via diesel generators will be in the order of 25-35 cents/kWh compared to grid subsidised power costs of 10 cents/kWh. Businesses such as hotels and accommodation facilities will have annual power demand of between 50 000kWh and 1GWh per annum (any reasonable size business would have a power demand of 50 000kWh per annum or greater). The additional annual cost, adjusted for company tax, of self-generation versus grid will be in the range of $5 000 to $167 000.
The Queensland Remote Area Power Supplies (RAPS) Trials 1999 (Walden & Behrendorff), summarized data in the fastidiously maintained Daintree Cape Tribulation sites at 82-3% reliant upon engine generation.
Indeed, over the past seven years, not only have fuel prices skyrocketed, but residents and business-owners within the Daintree Cape Tribulation community have carried the cost of supply, maintenance and replacement of components, at as much as twenty-times the total cost per kilowatt-hour of other Queensland consumers.
It is incongruous, to say the least, that the excision from the distribution area was for the stated purpose of conforming with the government’s environmental policies, when its consequences include hundreds of concurrently running engine generators with their noise, fuel and oil spills. For a community with a regulated conservation management responsibility, generators simply do not make the grade.
Agree the number of smelly noisy oil-leaking generators are an issue.
Neil, How did the lightening strike impact? And are you completely dependent on solar?
Neil Hewett says
Misrepresenting the number of smelly noisy oil-leaking generators as environmental protection is the issue at hand.
Three out of six panels within the string have burn marks through the panel-backing. The metallic thread in these panels give the impression of being burnt, also; input wattage is far less than it should be.
Less serious, but not entirely insignificant, the twenty-five-year warranty is void over the entire array. Even though the three strings that show no evidence of damage retain healthy input wattage, if any suffer performance decline over the next fourteen years, replacement will have to come at our own expense.
We are not solely dependent on solar power. We generate as much from hydro-power and at the moment about 60% through engine generator.
I dont know what capacity generators you need but the latest honda sine wave gen sets run forever on a single tank and are quiet and clean running.
And insurance, it doesnt cover storm damage?
Neil Hewett says
I alternately run two Honda EU30is gensets and you’re right, they’re quiet and efficient. They are expensive to buy (~$4K) and have relatively short lifespans when used as often as is required in the Daintree (3-4 years). 12.5-litres of fuel @ $1.45/ltr (~$5,000/year) runs for about the same number of hours and charges the battery bank by about 10% of its 1600 amp-hours. Each unit produces up to 2.8 kVa and in other countries, you can (legally) connect them in parallel to double the output.
We have made a claim under our household insurance. It seemed unfamiliar to the assessor and his technological comprehension was lacking, making the claim less robust than I believe it should have been.
We have fairly intense electrical storms at the build-up to the wet season and I can imagine insurers becoming unsupportive fairly quickly.
Lamna nasus says
‘Tell-tale burns were revealed on the newer, more powerful 738 watt string of the four-string array.’ – Neil
The piccy doesn’t show a tall lightning conductor pole setup in the vicinity of the solar array to act as the focus for lightning strikes instead of the panels and your article doesn’t appear to mention it.. is there one or is there a reason for not having one?
Neil Hewett says
There isn’t one Lamna, although its addition would be a prudent investment. I had one costed out after the lightening strike was detected and the set-up would require another $3K or thereabouts. The overall costs of our stand-alone system is astonomical; its performance is mediocre.
Lamna nasus says
‘the set-up would require another $3K or thereabouts.’ – Neil
$3K is not an astronomical sum.. a Friends of the Cooper Creek Wilderness fund raising project?
Jen’s blog could provide publicity for helping to raise the funds.. it would help reduce your annual fuel bill for the generators.
Neil: There is no simple answer to lightening. I spent a lot of time chasing crazy faults in damaged gear. In the end, you just chuck it.
Beware; lightening tends to follow you!
For expert opinion on protection, go first to technical staff working for telcos, on comms towers etc where lightening arrestors are most commonly used.
There is another side to this discussion on power supply in remote areas; grids bring both installation costs and power surges. So does your telephone line. My neighbour at the hobby farm spent a lot of time chasing faults in buried cables before he retired. Telecom completely replaced our branch after a multiple hit. That strike blew the phone off the wall in the tin shed and burnt my whiskers.
These days we probably find a private contractor if we want quick service. Sure; utilities still provide lines, poles and transformers as they did but at a price depending on their returns for each system.
30 years ago I obtained certified poles and stood them up with a tractor after digging a certified trench and hole by hand. We are still fighting with that lot because of the drag from the 60 gall hot water cylinder, one of two I purchased on the cheap from a farm dairy. The idea was to entertain visitors with continuous showers in bad weather. Hydro power for industrial quantities was also cheap then.
These days we are thinking more and more about distributed wind farms on the grid as our energy needs grow. Luckily we kept most of our woods and another fire box is installed.
Independent thinkers should have grabbed the cheap gens offered by Aldi stores a few weeks back. ABC TV in the bush is the bottom line.
Neil Hewett says
…Only insofar as lightning-risk mitigation is concerned. Our reliance upon engine generators is determined by household-use of electricity minus that which can be generated from renewable sources. Hydro-power is set by head height and flow rate (pipe diametre). It runs out only when the source drops below 1.2 ltrs/sec. Solar input varies a great deal with weather and the earth’s rotation (day/night).
When you already pay twenty-times more per kilowatt-hour than other consumers within the state, another $3K on top adds to the astronomical costs of supply. To put that into perspective, if the average annual electricity cost for a Queensland family is (say) $1,000, Daintree Cape Tribulation families would pay $20,000 for the same amount of electricity.
In a sense, a ‘Friends of Cooper Creek Wilderness Fund’ already exists, with the half-percent of travellers that break from the mainstream current and pay for the privilege of private-sector provision of World Heritage goods and services without government subsidy. You might be interested to know that Jen’s Blog does indeed provide publicity through an advertisement and also the link through my name, as it does your’s to your own blog site, but in this context, computer-use and internet transmission adds to our annual bill for the generators. Thanks for your thoughts, though.
Looking back at Neil’s exposed array I could have written about plumbing at the interface, skin effects, ground loops, etc then gone on to battery banks, surge suppression in single line supplies, three phased grids and so on, however we need to look at boarder issues of self sufficiency and that’s more about budgets than engineering. We need a minimum of 20% in reserve to cover contingencies in any setup we depend on.
Which vital piece of hardware do we keep on the shelf for that rainy day? Group dynamics can come to play. Neil’s forest seems to be a great place to set up an independent electrical biz specializing in quick changeovers.
Help! This doesn’t look particularly good for solar power does it! Particularly for us anyway. The expense is slowly sending us broke.
We’ve only just recently got involved with solar power and it’s my belief we’ve experienced the effects of lightning strikes on the array at least twice already over the four years it has been in operation. There doesn’t seem to be any other explanation. Three panels out of a total of twenty.
Let me get this right.
Are we to assume that lightning damage to the panels can be detected by the observation of burn marks through the panels in a number of areas?
These marks consisting of blistering through to the underside and are black or brown in colour.
Our regulator and associated components also seem affected.
We won’t know exactly what the extent of the damage is until it’s checked by an expert.
Are we also to assume, that we are likely to be hampered by insurance companies, who are likely to be extremely reluctant to cover solar panels damaged in this fashion.
Nobody seems to make you aware of the lightning problems prior to installing solar panels do they? No mention what-so-ever in our case.
What’s the damn point of even considering installing solar panels if they have a tendency to fail so easily in this regard?
So what now? Is the long term solution to dump solar panels and go on to a generator full time? Any suggestions anyone?
Neil…..It occurred to me that someone else besides myself, might have taken photos of their solar panels after being struck by lightning.
I think it would be a good idea to compare notes and photos with anyone who has had a similar experience, particularly if Insurance companies are in the process of giving people a hard time when they begin claiming for the damage. There appears to be a lot of information about lightning protection for solar arrays but I don’t seem to be able to find any other photographic evidence of damage created when lightning does strike, and with which I can compare.
I’m about to go through the process of trying to claim for lightning damage and I must confess, it’s a bit of a concern to me.