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Imagine a stand-alone solar power system that costs nothing created completely from salvaged hardware. It’s amazing how much waste there is in the solar industry.

Hardware that still has a reasonable life discarded when someone’s system is upgraded, brand new items a few generations old that are taken from the shop shelf because they’re regarded as obsolete, solar lighting in public spaces that are routinely updated with new batteries every so many years even though the old ones may still have years of life left in them, solar PV panels with a minor fault but still working at 95% capacity. Then there’s all the bits of wires, connectors and other miscellaneous pieces left over from installation jobs that often get trashed.

Guy Stewart, one of our PCA teachers, is passionate about renewable energy and appropriate technology and works part time in the renewable energy industry. I asked Guy if he could source some materials and help us install a stand-alone solar energy system in our Artisan workshop on LandsEnd at Djanbung Gardens. The workshop is off-grid and needed lighting plus the capacity to charge devices and power tools. Guy offered to install a system as part of the Nimbin Repair Cafe program and conduct it as a workshop to teach people how to set up a simple solar energy system.

All components including solar panel and battery were salvaged

All components including solar panel and battery were salvaged

He had warned us that there might be some components we’d need to purchase but promised that most of what would be required could be sourced from salvaged pieces. We were overjoyed when he informed us that he managed to source absolutely everything for free, even the regulator. The regulator had been replaced on someone’s rooftop solar system because the special features built into it were faulty, but the actual regular component worked perfectly. We didn’t need the special features, just the basic regulator.

On the day, Guy turned up with a carload of pieces he’s been collecting, mostly salvaged from work. Everyone was keen to learn what everything was and how to put it together. Guy drew a schematic up on a flip chart then it was matter of assembling and connecting everything. The entire process took around 4 hours.

Now the artisan’s workshop has lights and can recharge devices at night from the battery, and on sunny days can directly power power-tools and recharge batteries for cordless hand tools. This has greatly enhanced the capacity of the workshop and its amenity as a community resource. We can always build further on the system to increase its capacity in the future.

Nimbin Repair Cafe is one of the initiatives of Permaculture College Australia Inc and Djanbung Gardens. The Repair Cafe is hosted every 2 months to support the community with reducing waste by repairing, maintaining and repurposing items that would otherwise be discarded. Our society is drowning in waste, which is a major contributor to greenhouse emissions, environmental degradation and pollution, and much of our waste is fueled by consumption and built-in obsolescence. The art of maintenance and repair is a key activity we can all participate in to build a better world.

The LandsEnd Artisans Workshop is a space created for reviving the forgotten arts, survival crafts and for handcrafting, making and mending. A small forge is being set up, there is a bamboo treatment and storage facility and the large workshop space is available for use. The workshop still needs further building works to come to completion and any donations of finance, materials and skills to help this happen will be greatly appreciated. If you have something to offer please contact Robyn Francis 0429 147 138 or email info@permaculture.com.au