Three days of clouds and solar and battery fails leaving remote community cut off without phones

NT Northern Territory, Map, Australia.If solar power and batteries were a winner anywhere, we’d hope it would be in remote Australian communities. But a cyclone clouded over Central-Australia for a few days and the batteries ran out. People had no money, no phone and no landline either. To boot, the rain flooded the roads, so people were cut off in every sense.

Welcome to Renewable World:

Telstra says the stations that provide landline and mobile phone coverage to some remote communities in Central Australia are not robust enough to withstand several days of cloud cover.

The communities of Santa Teresa and Titjikala, south-east of Alice Springs, were without mobile and landline coverage for over thirty hours in a recent outage.

In the most recent outage, Santa Teresa was also cut off by road because of flooding.

Santa Teresa parish assistant Sister Liz Wiemers said being that isolated was alarming.

“We couldn’t use ATMs, couldn’t buy fuel, community members couldn’t buy power cards,” Sister Wiemers said, referring to the pre-paid electricity system used in remote communities.

Obviously they need diesel-gens as a back up. But because the roads were blocked Telstra couldn’t send any technicians out with one. They said they need to replace those batteries, but may not be able to for a while (busy repairing things in the fire-zones presumably).

This is what 100% renewable looks like. Hope no one needs a doctor.

h/t David B, George

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18 comments to Three days of clouds and solar and battery fails leaving remote community cut off without phones

  • #

    My solar power beer fridge suffered the same fate recently


  • #
    robert rosicka

    We topped up with fuel last year at Santa Teresa and yes these remote communities rely on electronic funds transfer .
    If fuel wasn’t available we would have had to abandon the trip to Old Andado and head back to Alice Springs which is a hike given the state of the roads .


  • #

    If this community had a connection to the grid, you would never have heard about this.

    When power plants like this are connected to the grid, they provide the tiniest fraction of power to what is a huge (by comparison) grid. If it ‘fails’ as in this manner, then because the grid is always there, it gives the ‘impression’ that it is still actually operating as normal.

    It’s exactly the same as grid connected rooftop solar power. The grid always provides the backup, so people will always believe that these forms of power will always deliver power no matter what, and as is the case here, it doesn’t.

    Unlike umm, ‘good’ articles about renewables, this article appeared on the front page of the ABC site for just a couple of hours tops, and is now buried in with just the Northern Territory articles now, but just as you might expect, the big bad mutinational Telstra gets the blame, not the failed technology failing because of the bleeding obvious.



    • #

      Telstra is at fault. I’ve been to some remote comms towers near Brisbane, they have 5 – 10 days storage – and a auto start petrol generator to top up the batteries after 10 days. Even with 10 days storage the generator still occasionally starts up.

      If the power system isn’t designed like that then Telstra is at fault for not designing it properly. The fact that it could only hold out 3 days speaks volumes


      • #
        Sceptical Sam

        Well, They didn’t hold out on the South Coast of NSW during the bushfires either.

        Cash was king. Comms were nil. Courtesy of Telstra.


  • #
    James Poulos

    I’ve written previously that common sense will only prevail once people lose access to social media.


  • #

    There was \an article in the UK Daily Mail yesterday full of praise of the effectiveness of the giant Tesla Battery in South Australia and how it has smoothed out the power and saved residents lots of money


    • #
      Graeme No.3

      Then why is Electranet spending $180 million on synchronous backup? ** The job that the big battery is supposedly doing?

      **Think very heavy metal masses rotating at 3000 rpm. Like a coal fired station without the fire, boiler or steam.
      Two synchronous condensers to be installed at Davenport are each 8 metres long, 5.6m high and weigh 172 tonnes. Two more later in 2020 near Robertstown. They are spun up to speed when there is enough surplus generation, and are equipped with flywheels.


  • #
    Peter C

    The remote aboriginal community of Yakanara in WA (60km from Fitroy Crossing) had a solar powered refrigerated container in about 1990.

    The solar panels were replaced by a diesel generator within 2 years and the panels were taken away by a passing greenie.

    Everything provided by Government grants I imagine, since Yakanara has no local economy.

    The Walmadjari people were unimpressed by solar technology. Nothing has improved since then except the price of the solar cells (they are cheaper now but they still don’t work when needed).


  • #
    Mark Amey

    A mate of mine designs/installs power supplies for remote communities all over Australia. He always includes solar panels, inverter, big battery, diesel generator and a massive diesel tank.

    The solar panels and battery are there to provide photos/video of ‘our green community’.

    Meanwhile the diesel engine runs most of the time.


  • #
    Serge Wright

    This story really isn’t about the failings of RE, much as I’m not a fan of grid scale RE.

    The main issue here is about providing mobile phone coverage to really remote communities that were previously outside the coverage zone. In these situations, Telstra has been using solar battery systems as the primary source of power, simply because there are no other options available. Whilst it is possible to have diesel backup, there are many reasons why this isn’t feasible, such as high theft rates of the diesel and/or the generators along with difficult and/or costly access to be able to top up the tanks regularly. In fairness to Telstra the main problem here is with the customers, who have been advised of the shortcomings of this service when there is extended periods of no sun. The expectation was that they would make sure each community had connections to the new NBN satellite service, which could be used to provide emergency communications. Obviously this small investment didn’t happen, so they blame Telstra.

    Of course one should ask why anyone would wish to live far away from services in a remote community in the first place. And considering this is obviously their choice to live away from services, I certainly don’t think that Telstra or the taxapyer should be funding and maintaining a 5 star service for a small handful of people. If these people want a better service then they should use their own money and be grateful for the services that have been provided at great expense to the company.


  • #
    Gerald the Mole

    James P:

    Well said, rgds Gerald the Mole


  • #
    Russ Wood

    In South Africa, it only takes two successive days with 4-hour ‘load shedding’ to flatten the battery in most cellphone towers. So – out of power and out of communication. The cell telcos are complaining that theft of batteries from cell towers (usually during blackouts) is costing them millions each year. NT – join the club!