Google’s Aussie Engineering Boss Has Gone Off The Grid

Google’s Aussie Engineering Boss Has Gone Off The Grid

You’d expect that Alan Noble, Google’s engineering director for Australia and New Zealand, would be a bit of a tech-head. And yes, he is: he’s just had an off-the-grid solar and battery energy storage system set up at his rural South Australian property, using cells designed by Aussie company Redflow for a much lower cost than actually connecting the entire property to the national energy grid.

Paired with 24 solar panels from another Aussie renewables supplier, Tindo, Noble’s Willunga shed needs some kind of self-contained power system, because mains power is only accessible from one corner of the property and extending that underground or using overhead lines would be prohibitively expensive. The Redflow setup can store 20kWh of energy, and proved itself during SA’s recent statewide blackout when it ran throughout the entire outage.

This kind of standalone, off-grid setup makes perfect sense for rural properties, according to Noble. It’s able to be automated using Redflow’s internet-connected battery management system, and can be controlled remotely. “We have power when we need it. If there is a bushfire here, we can power our pumps properly whereas electricity distributor SA Power Networks has a policy of actually shedding power during high bushfire risk days, so precisely when you need the power, they shut it down. Without the ZCells, we’d be running around trying to fire up generators during hot days, which is not practical.

“The other benefit is that you can have them just sitting there. Conventional batteries don’t like being fully discharged. Longer term, that’s less of an issue, but over the next couple of years while we’re not living here full-time, it’s nice to know that I’m not going to destroy the batteries if they’re fully discharged.

“Also, we want to make this property as automated as possible. I want it so we can move water automatically, based on the power to turn on pumps, to turn on sprinklers and turn on any fire defences. We can only do that if we have our own on-site power.” The choice of Redflow’s ZCell system over a competitor like the Tesla Powerwall or commercial-grade Powerpack was made easier by its more appropriate battery chemistry — using a zinc-bromine cell, Redflow’s batteries can operate and store charge in much higher heat than a lithium-ion setup, making them more appropriate for rural Australia’s harsh conditions.

This is the first residential installation of Redflow’s ZCell, the first residential product from the company chaired and invested in by Simon Hackett, founder of early-days Aussie ISP Internode. [Redflow]