After ‘accidently’ purchasing a property while visiting Lorne in the mid-1990’s, Astrid Liberts became an off-gridder at a time when the technology for residential users was in it’s infancy. After sitting in the dark a number of times, she decided a system upgrade and additional panels was in order, bringing her architecturally designed home into up to date.
The real estate windows in any coastal town along the Great Ocean Road are probably the most breathed upon of any shopfront as people peer at property prices, wondering if they can afford to quit life in the city and attempt a sea-change.
It was while visiting friends who’d done exactly that, that Astrid Liberts found her perfect property overhanging the internationally famous Great Ocean Road, just outside the popular tourist town of Lorne, almost 20 years ago.
Originally from England, but living in Melbourne at the time she bought the property, Astrid had one good reason for her purchasing whim.
“It’s bloody spectacular up here,” she laughs. “I thought the aspect of the land was perfect, lots of sunshine.”
Which was just as well, as the only drawback of the property was that the electricity grid didn’t extend to it, or those of her neighbours, so going off-grid was a necessity rather than a choice.
“Back then you wouldn’t really go off-grid by choice because the system equipment was expensive and
not very efficient,” says Astrid. “Unless you knew how to do it yourself, it was hard to get good people to help.”
“There was a generator, but I’d never seen one before, so fortunately I knew someone who knew how to start it,” she says. “But I spent a lot of time sitting around in the dark.”
The original house had around 2kW of power with solar panels and a 1350 amp/hr flooded lead acid battery bank, an SEA inverter charger and 2 x e-trace DC coupled solar regulators all backed up by the generator, which cost her around $13,000.
“I lived for 3 years in the existing house, before pulling it down and building another one.” says Astrid. “I had a silly idea I wanted to build, but it was rather traumatic – I wish Grand Designs had been around then because I would have known how stressful it could be!”
The new house, an architecturally designed home that uses SmartGlass to keep heat in during winter and blackout blinds to keep it out during summer, is one-third underground to anchor it into it’s surroundings.
While the new house recently had an upgrade with a new Honda EG5500 CSX auto-start generator to top up her battery bank on cloudy days, Astrid says she’s not always been enamoured with her off-grid lifestyle.
“If I’d had the chance to go on-grid I would have, just to have a bit more comfort in my life; this has become an issue in the last couple of years as I’ve gotten older – I’m not the girl I used to be!”
“The upgraded system is perfect for what I need now and I don’t have to worry about battery charge when I’ve got the fridge or television on.”
“Heating is still a bit of an issue and I’m a bit over chopping firewood, so that’ll be the consideration behind the next upgrade of the system.”
As she watches the prices of batteries and solar panels drop and the technology start to be taken up by businesses and homes throughout Australia, Astrid says she won’t necessarily change the way she lives.
“It’s great that solar systems are becoming cheaper, but you have to get used to using the power as it’s available and not wasting it,” she explains. “I’d live the same way even if I had unlimited power available.”
“You can’t use the earth’s resources with no consequences as it’ll eventually come to a grinding halt – we have to find other ways of doing things that are less damaging.”
The specs: The specs: Astrid has a 2.5kW system with 18 x 80 watt PV panels and 6 x 130 watt PV panels, a 1350 amp/hr flooded lead acid battery bank at 24V, and an SEA inverter charger, 2 x e-trace DC coupled solar regulators and a Honda auto-start back up generator. The upgrade was carried out by James Patterson from 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.