How solar and batteries helped save a house, and its folks, from a fireplace storm

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How solar and batteries helped save a home, and its people, from a fire storm

Before the fire. Picture supplied

The story of how a solar and battery storage system was taken offline and drawn into the battle to save a house from the devastating bush fires that devastated the Kangaroo Valley in New South Wales in January is the subject of a new television documentary series released on this On the weekend.

The stunning Kangaroo Valley estate and its disaster over Australia’s dire Black Summer was first featured in Network 10’s Australia By Design: Architecture in the fourth series of the program, which began this July.

But the house, designed and inhabited by Sydney-based architect Nick Turner, will once again be featured in a new spin-off in the Australia By Design: Heroes series, which explores how the house is in New South Wales – and in particular the solar house – is designed and battery storage system – helped save it from a disaster.

“What we survived was a cyclonic firestorm,” Turner says in a promo for the new series, which shows some really terrifying footage of the scene this summer. “And they came the next morning and said they were here to find nine dead.”

As the show explains, in the early days of 2020 when a change of wind pushed a burning fire south of the southern highlands towards the Kangaroo Valley, Turner and eight of his neighbors decided to stay and defend the property.

“We saved the house and the house saved us, and that was a context that if it had broken at any time would have meant we would have died,” Turner said in an ABC interview not long after the event.

And a big part of what saved the home, which is on-grid despite its remote location, was its extensive and carefully designed solar and storage system.

The system was installed by Roland Lawrence Electrical from New South Wales and has a nearly 28 kW floor-mounted solar system consisting of LG panels and Fronius inverters, as well as a 50 kWh energy storage system with BYD batteries and Selectronic inverters.

As Roland Lawrence explains in the upcoming show, the system was designed to provide the property with 22.5 kW of emergency power and 50 kWh of storage capacity. All of this became crucial when the Kangaroo Valley lost power when the fire threatened.

“When the fire front approached, the property lost power around 6 p.m. The full front hit around midnight, ”Lawrence told One Step.

The solar and storage system, however, meant there was enough electricity to run a carefully designed “halo” irrigation system that saturated everything around the house and protected it from the storm of embers that swirled around it.

Lawrence says he was awake and communicating with Turner in the early hours of the morning, remotely monitoring the solar and battery systems, and doing everything in his power from distant Sydney to make sure it was doing its job.

Somehow – and when you look at the footage (stills from the vision pictured above) it seems a miracle – that the house and all of its occupants survived. As does the power grid.

The consequences

The solar power and batteries were vital even after the fire, adds Lawrence, and provides enough power to conveniently unplug the house, destroying the surrounding network.

To hear the story from its main characters, check out Australia By Design: Heroes on Network 10 on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

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