In a world first, a forward-thinking businessman has applied the concept of standalone power to his owner-operated crematorium in Collombatti, near Kempsey on the NSW North Coast. With the energy requirements for a cremator, small cool room, air conditioners, mortuary and processing equipment all being run from a battery bank, the environmentally conscious can now protect the planet even after death.
When Clive Allison was planning the Chain O’Ponds Memorial Park and Crematorium, he knew the 3 kilometre upgrade needed to supply the necessary three phase power on the existing single phase branch line would be an expensive proposition.
Not only would it be costly, but grid power would need to be backed by a diesel generator in order to properly run the facility, so after looking around for an alternative, Mr Allison approached off-grid specialist Brian England for help.
“There had been a need for a crematorium in the Kempsey area when I approached the local council with the plans they asked if we could also provide burial space as they’d run out of plots,” explains Clive. “So we planned the project in separate parts; the cremator and chapel as well as areas for scattering ashes and burial plots.”
“The costs involved with providing energy for all the equipment and buildings, including the lights, air-conditioning and audio visual equipment were substantial,” he said. “We’re also in the middle of a forest, so we would have had to remove trees to make space for power lines.”
“Brian had installed an off-grid system for our private home, so I turned to him to see if this was commercially viable.”
It was, however it posed some challenges for everyone involved in the project.
With only a hazy idea of how much power the equipment would consume, extensive discussions between Clive, Brian, the designer and builder of the buildings were held in order to better understand how the system would work.
An additional complication was the requirement that the solar array should not be seen from the gathering area where mourners congregate prior to and following the service.
The first stage of the solar system installation was to build the cremator shed to include a power room, which would allow ‘business as usual’ and also provide power to the builders while they constructed the chapel.
However, the roof space of the cremator shed was insufficient to mount the complete number of solar panels that were required, so once the chapel was completed, power and data cables were run to the chapel building site and the balance of the solar array was installed along with additional inverters.
But, just to complicate matters further, the chapel roof pitch of 5 degrees to the East meant the panels needed to be on tilted frames across the pitch; however, the corrugated iron roof allowed an unsupported span of 6 metres, leaving no mounting point for the panel frames.
To solve this issue, Clive and Brian worked with the architect to find a compromise consisting of Z-section purlins, upon which a tilt frame – that was custom manufactured by Brian – could be installed.
“Power use is primarily during daytime and there are occasional days when services and cremations aren’t happening, so there is ample battery capacity recovery time,” explains installer Brian England. “To minimise the use of the generator, battery capacity was oversized and so the array is well suited to the crematorium’s power needs.”
“The battery bank is 1280Ah capacity at 120V and each phase is supplied with power from a Selectronic SP Pro inverter/charger,” he said. “This provides a total capacity of 22.5kW continuous power.”
To guarantee continuous power, the entire system is backed by a Kubota 20KVA auto-start generator, however Clive is pleased it hasn’t been needed.
“We’ve been up and running for 10 months now and haven’t used the generator once,” he said. “The cremator uses a lot of power, as does the air-conditioning and we have sufficient reserve that we’ll probably never need to use the generator.”
And while Clive is justifiably proud of his carbon neutral business, he is still a little cautious about using it’s ‘green’ credentials as a marketing tool just yet.
“It’s not just that we’re off-grid; we are in a beautiful natural area and harvest all our own rainwater, so have created a dam that wood ducks now live in and open spaces amongst the trees on which kangaroos graze.” he said. “Your family can scatter your ashes amongst the trees or people can be buried with a mature native tree as a grave marker, rather than in an open field with a tombstone.”
And to other business owners considering a similar project?
“The cost is affordable compared to connecting to the grid and the technology works,” he said. “Our fall back has always been the back up generator, but the equipment that Brian sought was outstanding, so I’m well and truly an advocate for going off grid.”
Emma Sutcliffe is a journalist, climate activist & proud owner of an off-grid property in Little River, near Melbourne. As Contributing Editor to One Step Off The Grid she meets other off-gridders, a job that makes use of her considerable skills for nattering & drinking tea. If you’d like to share your story, she’d love to hear from you.