WA orchard goes off-grid with Redflow batteries in the face of bushfire blackout threat

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If the summer’s bushfires didn’t convince you of the the heightened security of distributed energy and storage, then the Coronavirus outbreak probably will. We’re all realising how vulnerable we are to large-scale catastrophes. 

For Western Australian orchadists Jeff and Kerry Murray the bushfires were all the convincing they needed. When night fell and the horizon glowed still, not with the sun setting in the west but with raging fires, the Murrays lost power and decided, there and then, to take power into their own hands. 

The Murrays installed a Redflow battery on their orchard – called Kalyakool, a Noongah word meaning “forever more,” taking the farm off-grid and making it energy-independent year-round with the aid of their solar panels. 

Kalyakool, 90km north of Perth near the town of Gingin, didn’t get trampled by the fires over summer but Jeff said that the power loss was “the last straw.” “Our water comes from two bores,” continued Jeff, “so without power, we can’t get any water. The summer fire didn’t get to us, but it impinged on us through the loss of power for a whole day, which was followed by multiple outages as they brought it back on. If fire does reach us, we need energy to run the pumps to defend our property, which is why the bushfire was the last straw for us.” 

Kerry and Jeff Murray

Image: Redflow

Jeff knows a thing or two about fires, he was a firey in the WA Fire Service for 22 years and was even the once fire chief on Hamilton Island in Queensland, so he knows what is needed to fight the fires. First and foremost, you need energy. 

“We’ve been here for 26 years and we would not have had a year go by without blackouts, which could be anything from a minute to a day,” Jeff noted. “Those power failures caused us a lot of frustration. If the power went off for a day, we couldn’t water. As well as blackouts, we also had power surges, which was a risk to our electrical equipment.” 

And in the end, all it takes is a single straw. Jeff installed four Redflow ZBM2 batteries, three Victron 8000VA battery inverter-chargers and 45 Longi solar panels, capable of harvesting 14 kWp of solar energy hourly. 

The ZBM2 is a zinc-bromine flow battery, particularly useful in remote locations due to its tolerance for hard work and tough conditions. For instance, Redflow received a large order last year to supply 68 ZBM2 flow batteries to one of Africa’s largest telecommunication companies for use at remote mobile tower sites in South Africa. 

Four Redflow ZBM2 batteries with Victron inverters at Kalyakool Farm

Image: Redflow

The Murrays went with RedFlow mainly because of safety concerns surrounding lithium triggered by Jeff’s firefighting background. Eventually, the Murrays went with Redflow batteries because of its “simplicity and its ability to do the job.” “The fact that the ZBM2 battery is recyclable was a big attraction for us,” Jeff added. 

Kalyakool Farm is now off-grid, and the Murrays are loving it. “Now we are sailing very smoothly with the new Redflow energy storage system,” said Jeff. “The bottom line is that this is a good business decision. We will get back our money in eight to 10 years at the current price of power. As the price of energy goes up, we’ll pay it back even quicker.”