Humans of Solar: Philip & Lucy Headlam

05 Oct, 2021

We speak with everyday Tasmanians who are living off sunshine.

by Philip & Lucy Headlam

When we bought our Pipers Brook farm about 10 years ago it was just a bare bush block with no infrastructure. There was no house, no sheds, nothing. We cleared it all and left a lot of natural shelterbelts. Five years ago we bought a neighbouring plantation, which we cleared leaving shelterbelts there as well. We have fully fenced these farms, put in water holes and built sheds. It’s 700 acres and a very big project! We graze sheep and also grow a couple of hectares of asparagus to supply the fresh market in spring.

Early on in the piece, about 2015, we needed a permanent power source. The price to get power from the main highway to the shearing shed was about $40,000. We thought that was ridiculous for about three or four poles. We decided to get a quote for an off-grid solar battery system with a backup generator and, price-wise, it was an obvious choice. We haven’t looked back.

The system powers the shearing shed; three shearing machines plus a hydraulic wool press. We have a cool room for our asparagus which draws a lot of power. It also runs a couple of fridges, a chest freezer, lights and domestic appliances for our farm smoko room/office.

We have a 7kva solar system, a lithium battery bank and a 9kva generator. The generator is a backup to the solar system, which is seldom required. It’s only in spring, during the night, when the cool room is going 24-hours a day, and sometimes if we’re shearing and haven’t had sun for a couple of days. It’s not a drama. When the batteries get down to 30 per cent, the generator charges them up to 60 per cent, no worries!

We live in Bridport and we travel to the farm at Pipers Brook. Before living in Bridport we lived at Gravelly Beach on the West Tamar and built an energy efficient house. We’ve always been interested in energy efficiency. It is a wonderful environment to live in when you have double glazed windows, everything sealed up and no draughts. It’s magnificent!

Our new house will be the same, built on a very specky site on the farm that looks across pretty much the whole north-east of Tasmania. It has ocean views as well as big landscape views, and is sheltered from the prevailing winds as it’s tucked in behind a hill. We can’t wait! We’re a couple of years away from building. In the meantime we’re going to council to build a small cottage so we can move to the farm earlier.

The advantage of the cottage is that it will run off the existing off-grid power supply. We won’t have to add any more batteries or solar panels, whereas the house on the hill will be a separate off-grid system.

We’ve had the benefit of a blank canvas with this property — everything we’ve done on the farm has been from scratch. We have been able to weigh up the options. Off-grid was primarily an economic decision but we are pleased that our business power is environmentally sustainable, and we are in full control of our energy supply and use.