Alice in Solarland
Alice in Solarland
People talk about living off the grid but do you know anyone who actually does?
Alice Fleetwood, one of Ergon Energy’s vacation employment students, knows all about it.
The third year electrical engineering student from Griffith University is one of 15 students who’ve gained real industry experience with Ergon over the past 12 weeks.
She brought a real love and understanding of renewable energy to her vacation placement because Alice’s up-bringing was all about living sustainably.
“That’s how I grew up,” Alice said.
“We lived on a 15 acre property in Northern New South Wales and we were completely off grid.
“All we had was a 2 kilowatt solar PV set up so there was no microwave and very little time for TV and computers.
“My brother, sister and I didn’t know any other way.
“It was just part of daily-life.
“We lived simply and learnt very early, the importance of conserving and just because we lived simply didn’t mean we lived tough.”
And that’s where Alice’s interest in the relationship between renewables and electrical engineering was born.
Having parents with science backgrounds and a love of sustainability helped develop a real understanding of the need to find a balance between traditional power generation and the growing field of renewable energy.
“Initially my interest was in renewable energy but now that I’ve learnt about conventional grid network, I’m now interested in looking at how renewables work in with that.”
During the vacation placement students were given a task.
Come up with an innovation idea, something limited only by their imagination.
Alice’s concept was judged the winner out of a very strong field of contenders.
Her concept was as simple as it is innovative.
With Australia, and in particular Queensland, leading the world in the up-take of solar PV, Alice found her inspiration on hundreds of thousands of roof tops.
The plan - convince solar PV owners to spread the generating capacity of their solar panels across a larger area of roof space and in opposing directions to ensure the midday solar peak wasn’t so pronounced for Ergon Energy and its network.
“My idea called ‘East to West is best’ was really about raising awareness about how best to set-up solar.
“Traditionally the installation of solar PV has meant setting the system up to get the most of the sunlight at its peak.
“I have posed the question, is the conventional idea necessarily the solution?
“If we can spread the power being fed back into the network through the day, then some of the problems caused by voltage rise on the network can be eased.”
Problems occur when an area has too many customers wanting to feed solar energy back into the grid, a grid that was originally constructed to send power in just one direction.
If the feed in to the grid becomes too much, then expensive upgrades to the local network are required, sometimes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Similar proposals have been trialed in parts of North America, the UK and Europe where energy providers have been looking for ways to avoid strain on the grid.
Another benefit of the proposal, it gives solar customers the chance to increase their solar panel capacity without having to upgrade the inverter.
“It’s about educating the solar industry to change the way it thinks and that sort of thing would require a marketing campaign and further promotion.”
Alice’s time at Ergon has been an eye opener which has given her plenty of knowledge to take back to Brisbane for the academic year.
“It’s been absolutely amazing and I’ve been so lucky working with such a wonderful team of experts in Cairns.
“It’s nice to get recognition, but the biggest thing for me has been how much I’ve learnt seeing how Ergon Energy is embracing renewable energy.”