Living off-grid within Alice Springs

Feb 17, 2020

Services: Intyalheme

If the pow­er goes out on the Alice Springs grid, there’s one man who will rarely notice. 

Trevor Hyman has been off the grid for more than 20 years, despite ameni­ties being ful­ly acces­si­ble from his rur­al block. He does it with two solar arrays, three bat­tery banks and two wind tur­bines; not to men­tion five 6,000 gal­lon water tanks.

Trevor Hyman out­side his Alice Springs home, which fea­tures two solar PV arrays and two wind turbines

A cab­i­net mak­er by trade, Mr Hyman was intro­duced to elec­tron­ics by his diesel mechan­ic father, and recalls how he devel­oped his skills. 

When we used to go away on hol­i­days I used to take a 240 Volt invert­er with me,” he said. 

I’d run my tele­vi­sion set and microwave. We took all this stuff when we went camp­ing. So that’s how I start­ed tin­ker­ing with electrics.”

After mov­ing to Alice Springs in 1989 and buy­ing his block with­in the first year, Mr Hyman start­ed pro­duc­ing his own pow­er, despite also hav­ing to devel­op the property. 

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There were no trees, no toi­let, noth­ing – I had to fin­ish the place off,” he said. The trees are now well-estab­lished, thanks to his grey water retic­u­la­tion system. 

Mr Hyman said he was on and off” the grid for the first decade, which caused some con­fu­sion with the Pow­er and Water Author­i­ty of the time. 

I was using some of their pow­er and some of my own pow­er, using a changeover relay which I made myself,” he said. 

The Author­i­ty came to change mul­ti­ple elec­tric­i­ty meters, con­vinced they weren’t working. 

I said, well they won’t work because I don’t use them. I’d like you to take them away.”

He esti­mates his invest­ment into tech­nol­o­gy over the years to be in the region of $40,000, but he’s enjoyed the learn­ing process and the chal­lenge of liv­ing off-grid, and doesn’t have to find the mon­ey” to pay reg­u­lar pow­er and water bills. 

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Home built wind tur­bines, and two solar arrays keep Mr Hyman very well fur­nished for clean energy

Recent­ly replac­ing his main solar array, Mr Hyman not­ed the drop in price. He paid $1200 per 75w pan­el in 2007, com­pared with approx­i­mate­ly $200 for each 300w pan­el in recent times. He said the new mod­ules even work on cloudy days. 

Mr Hyman built the wind tur­bines him­self: one 6ft in diam­e­ter and the oth­er, 8ft. They trick­le charge the bat­ter­ies overnight. 

There’s fair bit of wind around up here if you want to use it,” he said. 

Of the three bat­tery banks, he only real­ly uses one. The oth­er two pro­vide back­up for cloudy days. If things real­ly don’t go to plan, Mr Hyman does have the abil­i­ty to use his diesel gen­er­a­tor (usu­al­ly used to pow­er a vehi­cle hoist) to pro­duce house­hold elec­tric­i­ty, but in his two decades off the grid he has nev­er had to flick the switch. 

Mr Hyman said he didn’t real­ly keep up with what was going on with the grid, and how oth­er peo­ple ran their lives; but his sense of increduli­ty at wast­ed resources has always been a theme. 

When I first came up here to Alice Springs there wasn’t one house with gut­ters on it. All that water going to waste,” he said. Why don’t they use it?”

As a coun­try he thought Aus­tralia could do bet­ter” in its use of the abun­dant solar resource, but noth­ing real­ly wor­ries Mr Hyman.

I’ll go into town and they’ll say the power’s been out’ and I’ll say has it?”

I don’t have to wor­ry about the grid,” Mr Hyman said. 

The street­lights are out. Next door’s lights are out. I’ve still got lights.”

Mr Hyman made head­lines back in 2002, and still has a paper copy of the June 12 edi­tion of the Alice Springs News, in which he features.

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