Inverters Batteries

What the Dandenong Ranges' prolonged blackout teaches us about emergency energy provides – ABC Information

In June, when severe storms crashed power lines and cut tens of thousands of households in Victoria, a select group of residents kept their lights on using backup batteries and solar panels.

Important points:

Individuals with battery units remained on electricity during a mass outage in VictoriaDifferent results were achieved depending on the use and technology.An expert said that most home battery units are not designed to withstand long outages

ABC News went to the hardest hit region of the Dandenong Ranges and visited three households with different types of home battery storage: an off-grid system, one made from rescued cells, and a famous Tesla.

With thousands of households in the region going without power for weeks, some of these battery owners got by without power at all.

But one battery was dead after just a day.

And which one might surprise you.

Meredith and Sean's off-grid system

When tens of thousands woke up without power the first morning after the storms, Sean and Meredith were going about their normal lives.

"We made tea and coffee and made toast and went outside and looked after animals," Meredith said.

“It was like a normal day.

“We had no idea that the power was going out.

"It wasn't until we found our cell phones and NBN were not working that we realized something had happened."

The reason they were still happy with electricity was because of an absorbed glass mat battery (AGM) that was kept in a closet in their horse stable.

Meredith and Sean's AGM battery unit enabled them to be self-sufficient when severe storms cut power to the Dandenong Ranges. (

ABC News: Emilia Terzon

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"We have 33 kWh of battery storage," said Sean.

"We have 24 solar panels on the roof that charge the batteries and then just run everything in the house. And so we've never lost the luxury of life."

Sean and Meredith are humble about their performance, but their luck was no accident. They specifically linked their system to be off-grid in order to get that same experience with the collapse of the wider network.

"We were connected to our batteries and our solar panels and it was like nothing had changed," Meredith said.

As the hours turned to days, the lights in her house stayed on.

An excavator works in a misty forest to clear fallen trees.The damage was so great that it remained without electricity for several thousand weeks.

ABC News: Margaret Paul

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"We had hot showers. We could wash the dishes," Meredith said.

“We were able to run our fridge and the freezer was still running so we didn't lose any meat or anything in the freezer. That was really handy. That was what we were most concerned about. "

The couple offered hot showers to their neighbors and were a haven for friends without electricity.

There were some caveats. You have been tracking your household's electricity consumption. So you should know how not to use too much electricity and how to turn off your battery system when it is not receiving help from the mains.

The roots of a large tree that was completely blown over.The damage caused by the storm in mid-June was great. (

ABC News: Margaret Paul

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In addition, the couple had to top up their electricity with a diesel generator a few times because their solar panels did not generate enough electricity for them at the height of the overcast Victorian winter.

"We felt very happy. We felt blessed," said Meredith.

"It's such a satisfying feeling to know that you can sustainably supply your house with electricity and get on with your life."

The Hermanns' second-hand system

By her own account, Kellie Hermann was a "massive cynic" about battery storage prior to the Dandenong Ranges storms.

"I made it really difficult for my husband to use these here," she said.

"But I'm so glad he insisted."

Your battery system consists of used cells salvaged from an old Telstra project. It's even bigger than Sean and Meredith's system, with a capacity of 40 kWh and 36 solar panels on the roof.

The system may not look as lightning fast as some modern devices. But as it turned out, these cells did the job.

a woman standing in front of a battery in a shedKellie Hermann's used battery unit enabled her family to stay on minimal power during the week-long blackout in the Dandenong Ranges.

ABC News: Emilia Terzon

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On the night of the storms, when the power went out in the rural area, Kelly watched Netflix on her battery backup.

Then a tree came through her house. It was terrifying, and the couple with a young child were just lucky to be still alive.

When they woke up the next morning, their house was beyond life damaged and the whole street was disconnected from the outside world.

Families in the Dandenong Ranges got by without electricity

A mother is holding her baby and has her hand on her son next to her who is smiling.

How do you survive three weeks without electricity on a cold, windy mountain and with the care of a six-month-old and a toddler? Marina is about to find out when she moves back to her home in Dandenongs.

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But the Hermanns' AGM battery still worked. And that kept the family's fiber-to-the-node NBN going.

"So that we can make phone calls and let our family know we are safe," said Kelly.

“That was really important to find out how to get our toddler off the mountain. Without the NBN, there was no cell phone coverage at all.

“Nobody else on the street had access to their cell phones or NBN services.

"So we were the only place where you could talk on the phone and let your family know that they were okay and that they weren't under a tree."

In addition to this communication service, the battery system also kept your freezer running. No meat was spoiled.

Sometimes they also used a generator. And because they didn't live in their damaged home and used a lot of electricity, they didn't use much of their battery. This helps explain why it was taking so long.

"We don't think we can power our whole house (with the battery), but that was enough for our needs," said Kellie.

Their home is still damaged, but they hope to settle down soon.

The fashionable battery that makes the headlines

What brings us to the Tesla.

Freek and Iet Fuijkschot had spent about $ 10,000 on their fancy home battery storage plus installation.

two people stand in front of a Tesla battery unitThe Dandenong Ranges couple Freek and Iet Fuijkschot own a Tesla home battery storage system. (

ABC News: Emilia Terzon

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They installed it because they care about the environment, renewable energy and cutting their electricity bills.

Like most Australian households, you are increasingly consuming battery storage at home. During the day you generate solar power with panels, store part of the surplus on your Tesla in order to use it yourself, but also take a lot of electricity from the grid.

The storage capacity of the Tesla is much smaller than the off-grid battery from Sean and Meredith and the used one from Kellie. It's only 13.5 kWh and they have a couple of dozen solar panels.

Most of the standard batteries that are installed in households are. This helps explain what happened next.

When the storms first came up, the Fuijkschots knew they had a safety blanket.

"The big storm we had a few weeks ago was a very scary night," said Iet.

"But the next day we still had power from the battery."

That was great at first. But on the second day, Freek's cell phone app started reporting that the battery was empty via its Tesla usage.

"We were expecting it would charge for a couple of days, enough to last a couple of days," Freek said.

"It could no longer recharge itself, so it has completely drained and no longer worked."

Since then, they have found that they probably spiked the device with too much power, at a time when they didn't have nearly enough solar power to charge.

“We had too many devices on the underfloor heating and that consumes a lot of electricity. And next time we know we have to turn that off, ”said Iet.

a man in a garage with a generatorThe Fuijkschots bought a generator after their Tesla stopped working. (

ABC News: Emilia Terzon

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The couple survived the remainder of a week's blackout on a $ 2,000 diesel generator. The passionate retired couple does not lose this irony.

“We had to go back to fossil fuels,” laughed Freek.

Your Tesla battery has now been charged and is working again.

So what about the different battery results?

Tesla has been asked to comment.

But one of the battery brand's largest installers in Australia told ABC News that given a given configuration, their systems could withstand long-term failure.

"If the Tesla Powerwall battery also supports the solar inverter, the solar inverter and the solar modules can refill the battery and thus leave the lights on in the event of an extended power outage," said Chris Williams of Natural Solar.

“However, if the Tesla Powerwall does not include the solar inverter in the dedicated backup circuit, the solar inverter will not turn on during a failure and in this scenario the battery will be used until it is empty.

"Once empty, it won't be recharged until mains power is restored."

But Victoria Energy Policy Center's battery expert Steven Percy said the outcome of the system owned by the Fuijkschots is entirely to be expected.

a man is standing in a fieldDr. Steven Percy is a Senior Research Fellow studying batteries at the Victoria Energy Policy Center.

ABC News: Emilia Terzon

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"In the Dandenong Ranges, the event was an outlier event," he said.

“Such a long interruption in the power supply is quite rare, very rare.

“A typical battery system for residential buildings, such as the one sold by Tesla, is designed to run a typical household for several hours to a maximum of two days without electricity.

“These battery systems are designed to essentially reduce household energy bills, also maximize the amount of solar energy households use, and operate essentially for the standard type of blackout.

"It's similar to a car's fuel tank. You wouldn't expect your car to keep going unless you put fuel in that tank."

Home battery storage is becoming more widespread in Australia.

Tech-wise, the technology is still in the early adopter stage, but now one in 60 households has one, which equates to one in five houses with solar panels.

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His advice if someone is experiencing another significant outage is to minimize their power consumption, a bit like being stuck in the woods with a cell phone but no way to charge it.

"If you expected the network to be down for several days, you would probably assess what is important in your home," said Dr. Percy.

"You know, you might have to keep a room heated and turn off unnecessarily heavily used appliances. So it could be that you're doing the dishes by hand and not using your dishwasher."

The Fuijkschots now appreciate that too.

And they still love their Tesla.

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