Big Queensland business among first to use Tesla Powerpack to go off-grid

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An increasing number of Australian small and medium businesses are using solar and battery storage to go off-grid. But is it worth it? Here’s what one Queensland company has found.

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One Step Off The Grid

rooftop solar, Tesla Powerpack, off-grid business, Linked Group
Source: Linked Group Services

The combination of high electricity prices, falling technology prices and serial political incompetence is pushing more and more Australian businesses to invest in solar and storage.

The Clean Energy Regulator has forecast that the commercial and industrial solar market will increase four-fold this year, and could deliver a large-scale power plant’s worth of generation capacity to the grid in 2018 alone.

But how many businesses are being pushed off the grid entirely? And does it make sense?

According to some of the talks at the Smart Energy Conference in Sydney earlier this month, there is no shortage of Australian small and medium businesses that are seriously contemplating disconnecting. Households already are. But business?

Linked Group Services in Mackay, in north Queensland, is in that category.

But the trades services company, which has a focus on developing renewable solutions for mining, rail and agriculture, has made the leap and is well into the process of going off-grid.

And according to managing director Jason Sharam, the decision to do so was easy.

“One of the main driving forces for us was electricity independence,” he told One Step Off The Grid – and not just from the prices, or problems of network reliability, but from the seemingly endless policy confusion underlying it all.

“The feeling was, if you’re going to keep shifting deck chairs around on the Titanic then we may as well do something about it.

“The grid is slightly unreliable (in Mackay), and we wanted to build our own manufacturing facility, and power it using proven technology.”

For Linked Group – which has around 80-100 employees – finding the right technical solutions to take their headquarters off grid wasn’t too difficult, either. Particularly considering this sort of stuff is their bread and butter.

Tesla Powerpack, off-grid business
Source: Linked Group Services

Among other things, the company specialises in mobile solar and battery storage solutions, solar shading structures like its custom built Linked car port, and solar powered portable accommodation, for remote or temporary sites.

For its own Linked Powerhouse, the company has chosen a mix of technologies, as much to ensure a reliable power supply as to show its customers what is possible, and the range of solutions that can be used.

The finished product will have around 100kW of solar – 8kW on a solar car port, another 18kW on a solar patio, 20kW on a storage shed and 45-50kW on the main building, including “glass/glass” modules on windows (pictured above).

There will also be 100kWh of battery storage from Tesla, which Sharam claims is the first off-grid Powerpack to be installed in Australia. (Ed: It is not the first. According to Tesla, that title goes to the CSR Bradford Logan Waters Powerpack system, commissioned in August 2017.)

For back-up, there is a Capstone C60 Microturbine, which runs on natural gas (and potentially stn-gas at a later date). And the building site will also use geothermal air-conditioning

The smarts behind the generation and storage capacity are a combination of Fronius and Enphase inverters, and software that will give the team full control of the system, and capture all of its data.

Source: Linked Group Services

But for all of that cutting edge technology, Sharam says the economics of going off grid has stacked up for Linked Group – as you can see in the table below, taken from his presentation at the Smart Energy Conference in Sydney earlier this month.

“We have customers from around here that are paying (a levelised cost of energy of) between $0.86c – $1.20c/kWh,” he told One Step.

“That’s the issue that small to medium customers in this region are facing.

“With the (micro)turbine running, (to go off-grid) is costing us between 40-45c/kWh. So from a financial perspective, why wouldn’t you?”

And that’s the message Sharam and his team are hoping to get through to their customers of, using their own working example.

“One of the major factors (for our decision to go off-grid) is that it’s a major advertising point,” he said.

“So that we could prove to our customers that it was reliable – more reliable and better quality than the grid.

“The way see it is, we’re going to transition to renewables eventually, so let’s look for the opportunity.

“We’ve leveraged our business off that and grown from six employees to 100.

“We want to help companies of our size be able to have their own control, and security. It’s about knowing what your energy expense is going to be. Avoiding that bill shock,” he said.

“We’re trying to prove a point, to a degree, that we don’t need to connect.

“We’ve got a conduit,” he added, “we’re not stupid. But the only reason we would connect was to sell our excess energy to the grid.”

As for other businesses, Sharam is confident there are at least 20 SME’s watching the company’s progress with the Linked Powerhouse, with plans to follow suit.

“This will become the new norm, as the price of storage begins to fall, for SME’s using more than 100MWh a year.

“A lot of it is about getting control back.”

See our story: The Victoria mansion leading the exodus off the grid.

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here.

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7 Comments
  1. Connor 7 months ago

    Awesome to hear a story about Mackay, a place that is very close to the coal mining industry and has lots of local businesses that work with it. Let’s hope they can follow the direction of Linked Group Services and transition towards more sustainable business opportunities.

  2. Ian 7 months ago

    In a typical industrial estate there are a large number of businesses, what would be the process to develop minigrids for the industrial neighbourhood where behind the meter resources like a backup generator could be shared?

  3. Mark Fowler 7 months ago

    Small business does seem a particularly sensible market as so many businesses only operate during daylight hours thus minimising the amount of battery backup required.

  4. Catprog 7 months ago

    I think their table is wrong. I think they are not factoring in the monthly maintenance cost which takes it out to 83 months

    • Barri Mundee 7 months ago

      Have you done the calc? I have not but surely they would take it into account as its so basic.

      • Catprog 7 months ago

        480290.34/6102.81 = 78.699

  5. Shilo 7 months ago

    Look at the cost of power from a small gas turbine!!!!!!. And people want to believe wind and solar are cheaper than coal.
    A good coal plant say like Kogan creek or Millmerian has to have costs lower than half this little gas turbine.
    And Kogan and Mill are old tec coal plants, one built today would be 30 to 40% less.

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