The $8million headquarters of Fluid Solar, located in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia, recently achieved a landmark moment by severing ties to the city’s electrical grid, instead powering the premises via their own renewable energy installations.

Img: Fluid Solar
In what the owners claim to be a world first, the entire four-storey office building has been cut off from the grid and is powered instead by a combination of wind and solar energy. Overall the building contains more than two megawatt hours (MWh) of energy storage capacity, with 10% being stored using conventional battery technology and 90% held using thermal storage techniques.

A combination of solar PV cells and solar thermal elements were used to generate power as, according to Fluid Solar managing director Roger Davies, solar PV cells alone are not capable of producing enough energy to power an air-conditioning system.

“Even if [they] could, the cost of the battery pack becomes so large that it’s difficult to pay the battery pack off before it wears out,” said Mr Davies.

“Storage of heat is dramatically cheaper than battery storage and because we’ve got the other end, which is the devices that use thermal energy directly for their heating and cooling it means that 60-70 percent of the building’s energy requirements are met using solar thermal as opposed to solar PV technology.

“That allows us to use the rest of the roof – about 60 percent – to do a conventional PV. So we have a hybrid model between a smaller battery pack running the lights, the lift, the fan systems and so on and the heavy lifting is done by the solar thermal.”

Surplus electricity generated at the site will be used as part of Tesla’s car-charging network, with the provision of 11 electric vehicle bays that will be charged completely by wind and solar power harvested from a 98kWp array of 378 PV solar panels on the building’s roof, as reported by the Australian publication Architecture & Design. The wind turbines were put in place to provide power during the winter, when cloudy skies reduce the effectiveness of solar installations.

The solar thermal collectors used by Fluid Solar, for which the company were recently granted an Australian patent, work by heating rainwater collected at the site to between 60°C and 90°C and storing it in a 10,000-litre insulated box. From there, this hot water can be used to directly heat the building during winter, or to dry the air and run evaporative cooling during summer.

The company is now working on a system which would allow for these technologies to be retrofitted to existing office buildings.

Fluid Solar have in fact been making use of these renewable energy installations for some time, with the headquarters operating without the use of the electrical grid since April in order to properly test its functionality and effectiveness. An official ‘cord-cutting’ ceremony took place at the end of August, severing the building’s ties to the grid altogether.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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