Designed and installed by Apex Energy, South Australia’s Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary Microgrid provides critical energy security to power decades of global science and environmental research at the multi-award-winning site, slated for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Listing.
Backed by a $1.3 million grant from the Australian government and located 600 kilometres north of Adelaide, the entire microgrid project will power the eco-tourism hot spot, a landmark of global significance within the global science community. Arkaroola showcases unique wilderness, almost two billion years of geological history and world-class dark skies for astronomical observations, with a joint US operated observatory at the site.
The Arkaroola microgrid will be powered in part by a 61.6 kilowatt (peak) rooftop solar system on the sanctuary’s Mawson Lodge, with its installation video on show here. In planning and designing the solar system, Apex Energy carefully considered the need for a strong yet lightweight mounting system, which would both protect the ageing sub-structure of the building and be reliable enough to stand the test of time, as future replacement or maintenance at the remote site would carry a high cost.
APEX Energy project manager Sean LePoidevin said the system chosen, the S-5! PVKIT, offered the perfect solution for the Arkaroola Microgrid.
“The ability to install this rooftop system without rails meant lower freight costs, (a systems savings of 750 kilograms), maximising the available rooftop space for solar, an easier installation, and ultimately a reliable and better-looking, low-profile rooftop system that blends with the stunning natural landscape.”
With 20 accommodation rooms, ensuite bathrooms, kitchenettes, TVs and reverse cycle air-conditioning units, the Mawson Lodge’s total power consumption can be considerable during the winter peak season when temperatures drop to near freezing, and reach up to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. This made it important to make full use of available roof space by including as many panels as possible.
Providing a faster and easier installation than a traditional rail system, the system allows panels to be installed anywhere on the roofing sheet, not just on roof purlins. The ability to design a landscape-oriented system enabled Apex Energy to maximise the roof space and meant the array could be expanded by 7.3 per cent to an impressive 61.6kWp of generation capacity.
“Rails are unnecessary on a metal roof,” said LePoidevin. “Once you understand how to approach cable management, it really is a more common-sense solution with a multitude of benefits, from protecting the roof to cost savings and simplified logistics and installation. It makes sense from all angles.”
The advanced microgrid has a total of four solar arrays with 120kWh of battery storage and monitoring and control capabilities, which manage loads such as EV charging, air conditioning and hot water heating. The sanctuary had operated since the mid-1960s on diesel power, making it vulnerable to fluctuating fuel prices and road access issues, as well as presenting an ethical conflict for this conservation site.
“Being so remote, we have to generate our own electricity, and we’ve been doing that based on diesel fuel,” said Doug Sprigg, sanctuary owner. “Arkaroola’s about conservation; we really should be trying harder to move away from diesel, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The Arkaroola Microgrid will add another element to the sanctuary’s education experiences, teaching visitors about remote energy technology and engineering through a display kiosk planned for the site.