Solar power assisting the relief effort in Nepal; increasing usage in Australian rural areas

Posted 15th June 2015 by Cassandra House

Solar power uptake is on the rise throughout regional areas of Australia. New figures released from the ABS show that towns in the Wheatbelt in Western Australia have some of the highest rates of solar uptake in the country. WA has jumped up 20 percent from last year in the amount of homes that now have solar panels and with four postcodes in the national top 20 of solar power use; Mandurah, Wanneroo, Canning Vale & Willetton and Cockburn. Suburbs in this top 20 have solar panels on one in every three homes, as compared to a decade ago where it was 1 in 100. Many farming families and communities have found it to be a less expensive option in the long run than connecting to the main grid; and it may soon become more affordable.

Solar panels have always been great for day-time power, but present a problem with affordable energy storage for use at night or on cloudy days. Tesla announced earlier this year that it had fixed this problem with a new battery system, to be on the market next year. It is a system formed from lithium batteries coupled with an inverter, which is wall mounted, and used to store any extra generated electricity during daylight hours. Currently a 10kW system will cost $US 3,500, but this price is expected to drop as uptake increases and more competitors emerge; with indications from Bosche, LG and Samsung that they will also be entering the market.

Solar power is also helping humanitarian and disaster relief efforts across the world, with solar energy being used to bring electricity back to Nepalese communities after the recent devastating earthquakes. The company ‘Gham Power’, already operating in Nepal prior to the earthquake, started the effort by making donations of solar lights and charging stations to families that had been displaced. They then joined with other local solar companies to create solar power stations in isolated areas, allowing people to reconnect with their family and the broader world.

Another international solar story this week is the continuing flight of the sun-powered plane Solar Impulse 2. The plane is attempting to complete an around the world trip and was on its seventh leg, flying across the Pacific, when it was forced to make an unscheduled landing due to bad weather. This leg involves an ambitious six day and six night flight from Nanjing in China to Hawaii; an 8,500 km trip.

Solar Impulse 2 runs on batteries at night that have been charged during the day by 17,000 solar cells that have been built into the 72m long wings of the plane. It has a maximum speed of 140km/hr and this leg of the trip is set to follow Amelia Earhart’s path across the ocean that resulted in her disappearance in 1937.

This venture was at first ridiculed and predicted to fail by the aviation industry, but is now being viewed as an innovative step towards the future of aviation; and also the use of solar power in many industries.

Source: ABC, 2 June 2015, “Sun-powered Solar Impulse 2 plane lands in Japan due to bad weather, delaying round-the-world voyage”, accessed 9 June 2015.

Diss, K. 3 June 2015, “WA farming family opts for solar power battery system over costly grid connection”, accessed 9 June 2015.

Howard, BC. 1 June 2015, “Solar plane aborts dangerous ‘Earhart Leg’ of epic flight”, accessed 9 June 2015.

Paddenburg, T. 2 June 2015, “Solar power revolution underway in WA as households take advantage of sunny skies”, accessed 9 June 2015.

Willard, L. 1 June 2015, “Rebuilding with sun: a story of hope, innovation and positivity for Nepal”, accessed 9 June 2015.

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