Living off-grid within Alice Springs
Feb 17, 2020
If the power goes out on the Alice Springs grid, there’s one man who will rarely notice.
Trevor Hyman has been off the grid for more than 20 years, despite amenities being fully accessible from his rural block. He does it with two solar arrays, three battery banks and two wind turbines; not to mention five 6,000 gallon water tanks.
Trevor Hyman outside his Alice Springs home, which features two solar PV arrays and two wind turbines
A cabinet maker by trade, Mr Hyman was introduced to electronics by his diesel mechanic father, and recalls how he developed his skills.
“When we used to go away on holidays I used to take a 240 Volt inverter with me,” he said.
“I’d run my television set and microwave. We took all this stuff when we went camping. So that’s how I started tinkering with electrics.”
After moving to Alice Springs in 1989 and buying his block within the first year, Mr Hyman started producing his own power, despite also having to develop the property.
“There were no trees, no toilet, nothing – I had to finish the place off,” he said. The trees are now well-established, thanks to his grey water reticulation system.
Mr Hyman said he was “on and off” the grid for the first decade, which caused some confusion with the Power and Water Authority of the time.
“I was using some of their power and some of my own power, using a changeover relay which I made myself,” he said.
The Authority came to change multiple electricity meters, convinced they weren’t working.
‘I said, ‘well they won’t work because I don’t use them. I’d like you to take them away.”
He estimates his investment into technology over the years to be in the region of $40,000, but he’s enjoyed the learning process and the challenge of living off-grid, and “doesn’t have to find the money” to pay regular power and water bills.
Home built wind turbines, and two solar arrays keep Mr Hyman very well furnished for clean energy
Recently replacing his main solar array, Mr Hyman noted the drop in price. He paid $1200 per 75w panel in 2007, compared with approximately $200 for each 300w panel in recent times. He said the new modules even work on cloudy days.
Mr Hyman built the wind turbines himself: one 6ft in diameter and the other, 8ft. They trickle charge the batteries overnight.
“There’s fair bit of wind around up here if you want to use it,” he said.
Of the three battery banks, he only really uses one. The other two provide backup for cloudy days. If things really don’t go to plan, Mr Hyman does have the ability to use his diesel generator (usually used to power a vehicle hoist) to produce household electricity, but in his two decades off the grid he has never had to flick the switch.
Mr Hyman said he didn’t really keep up with what was going on with the grid, and how other people ran their lives; but his sense of incredulity at wasted resources has always been a theme.
“When I first came up here to Alice Springs there wasn’t one house with gutters on it. All that water going to waste,” he said. “Why don’t they use it?”
As a country he thought Australia “could do better” in its use of the abundant solar resource, but nothing really worries Mr Hyman.
‘I’ll go into town and they’ll say ‘the power’s been out’ and I’ll say ‘has it?”
“I don’t have to worry about the grid,” Mr Hyman said.
“The streetlights are out. Next door’s lights are out. I’ve still got lights.”