Not happy, Jan…….

8 04 2017

If you’ve been following this blog, you will know I’ve been saying for quite some time that out of the ludicrous Lithium battery rush happening right now as a ‘fix it’ for all and sundry energy problems, a lot of disappointed people will surface. Well, one just has, and he’s one of the most high profile person in the sustainability movement.

I met Michael Mobbs almost certainly before 2010, which is the year I went working for the solar industry. He gave a public lecture about sustainability in Pomona at the Rural Futures Network; I wonder how that’s going now..? Mobbs has undertaken converting an old terrace house in Sydney to ‘sustainability’ by disconnecting from the water grid and sewerage. He also went grid tied solar, the whole project is well documented on his website, and you have to give him credit for doing the almost impossible…. in Sydney no less. I for one would never undertake such a project, it’s so much easier to start from scratch in the country! And that’s hard enough, let me tell you….

It now appears, Mobbs decided to also cut himself off from the electricity grid…. and it seems that didn’t go so well….

mobbsbatteriesOn Mobbs’ website, there is an “invitation to install & supply an off-grid solar system” It seems he had one installed in March 2015, but it’s not working as it should, or at least as Mobbs thought it should…..

Firstly, let’s start with what he got……. It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, apart from the fact it is an Alpha ‘box’. From the blog, I also established that this comes with a 3kW inverter, itself a problem, it appears to be too small. Going to Alpha’s website, I cannot find the system Mobbs appears so proud of in the above photo; and let’s face it, two years is a long time in the world of technology. All the products on display say that the output of these cabinets is 5kW, but nowhere does it say it even features an inverter.  Solarchoice’s website shows a 3kW Storion-S3 cabinet, but not even it looks like what Mobbs has in the photo – it only has one door, the ‘new ones’ have two….. The inverter is called an AEV-3048, and perhaps the A stands for Alpha, and 3048 means 3000W/48V, but it’s all guesswork because finding information is a problem.

So why is a 3kW inverter a problem in a house with a claimed baseload of 86W, very close to what we achieved in Cooran actually…..

Another huge flaw with the Alpha system that I’ve recently become aware of also stems from the fact that all the energy first goes through the batteries: the Alpha system’s output is always limited to 3,000W regardless of the solar size; it can’t deliver above this. This is an extremely important point to understand because it affects the way I live and how I’m able to use my appliances. I’ll break it down in a way that’s practical and simple; prepare yourself to be blown away by this outrageous system limitation.

We’ve already established that the base load of my house is 86W. Let’s say I wake up in the morning, turn on a couple of lights in the kitchen because it’s still dark (20W), turn on the toaster because I’m in the mood for toast with butter for breakfast (1,200W), and my daughter (who happens to be staying with me) turns on her hair dryer while getting ready (1,500W) and she decides she needs to put on a load of laundry before she leaves the house (500W). Doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary, right? Well, we would be in trouble: all of the power would cut off, and the Alpha system would shut down because we would have exceeded its 3,000W limit. Regardless of the size of my solar system, I can NEVER exceed 3,000W of power consumption in my house while using the Alpha system. This was very hard to swallow.

Oh Michael…….  welcome to living off the grid!

Mobbs gives a brief description of how he worked out this baseload….

Step one, determining my total base load, wasn’t as easy as I expected, especially given the fact that I have three different monitoring systems that could provide me with the information. The Efergy and Wattwatchers systems confirmed what I already knew: my house’s base load was about 86W (60W for the aerator and roughly 20W for the fridge occasionally turning on).However, where I ran into problems was with the Alpha ESS reporting system: it was saying my base load was 257W, which is three times larger than the base load reported for the house.At first I thought this difference of 171W was the base load of the Alpha system itself, but their numbers just didn’t add up.

I do have a theory here, he may have got the sums wrong because he used to be grid tied, and maybe, just maybe, his figures did not include what was exported. But I’m only guessing. My main reason for thinking this is that he is running a conventional fridge, while we achieved our low baseload using a freedge which consumes 20% of the energy a conventional fridge does…. make no mistake, a conventional fridge’s ‘baseload’ is half or more of his 86W. He’s claiming 20W for his fridge (480Wh/day, 20W x 24 hrs), but I have never seen any fridge perform that well…. Most fridges today still consume a whole kilowatthour a day. So there could be another error there.

But it gets worse……

Now you see why I said that I probably made a huge mistake by purchasing the Alpha system when going off-grid. The simple truth is that the Alpha system is not designed to be used in an off-grid setting, and they have not implemented the necessary retrofits to make it work in that environment. However, during my recent research, I came across a product that is designed specifically to be used off-grid and shows great promise for high efficiency and effective energy management: the SMA Sunny Island system.

Bad news Michael……  the SMA Sunny Island is not designed for off the grid either, it’s made to work with other SMA grid tied units in a hybrid grid/backup batteries system.

Worse still, he also seems to have storage issues….

For the last few weeks, in the particularly cloudy and rainy weather Sydney has had to endure, Mobbs had to turn off his fridge (bloody fridges, they are a curse…) during the day to ensure that the house, which he shares with two others, has enough power for a “civilised life” at night-time. Worse than that, the system has a bug in it that causes it to trip out every couple of days. It seems flashing digital lights have become part of his life….!

“I’m running short of power,” Mobbs said complaining that the system that he has in place is delivering 1kWh/day less than he expected. “I thought this would be a walk in the park, but I appear to have tripped over.”

I’m seriously starting to think a lot of installers have no idea what they are doing. I recently related the story of my friend Bruce whose inlaws replaced a perfectly good system (because of a fridge no less!), and they were sold a Sunny Island, with I was told over the phone just two days ago, gel cells for storage……… completely not what either Bruce or I would have bought. Solar companies (including this well known one who shall remain nameless) have simply turned into salespeople selling whatever it is they have in stock off catalogues…….

Mobbs then writes……

The main difference between the Alpha and Sunny Island system: Sunny Island can send solar energy directly to the house when it is needed and completely bypasses the system’s batteries. SMA’s Sunny Island system not only extends battery life by not cycling all loads through them, but using solar directly into loads means items can be set to run on timers during the day, (washing, dishwasher etc) to maximise the benefit of an abundant afternoon supply of solar. It also has a larger peak design capacity than Alpha. For example, if you have a 4kW solar system, with the SMA units that would allow a potential delivery of 4kW of solar (in optimum conditions) directly into the house’s load + the 4.6kW of power from the batteries delivered by the Sunny Island controller (they can run in parallel to each other).  That’s a big potential 8.6 kW of continuous capacity to loads.  As I’ve already pointed out, in contrast the Alpha output is always limited to the 3,000W delivery of the battery inverter regardless of the solar size.

More bad news Michael…… this only works that way if you are grid tied with a hybrid system!

Michael also doesn’t seem to understand how off the grid works…

Alpha has an inefficient way of managing my solar energy (by diverting all of it through my batteries first), which decreases my battery life by constantly charging and discharging them…

Errr…..  Michael, that’s how battery storage works! Which is of course exactly why Lithium batteries are not good at this. Mobbs also wrote…:

Like any system that transfers and converts energy from one form to another, there are going to be losses. No system is perfect. However, as I started doing more research, I became aware of a key element of the way the Alpha system operates that may mean my decision to purchase it was a huge mistake: the Alpha system transfers all its incoming solar energy through the batteries before it delivers it to the house. When I learned this, I was devastated. One of the most important figures of merit in a system such as mine are the battery losses. If you put 1kWh into a battery it doesn’t all come out! There are losses associated with both charging and discharging. The higher the charge/discharge rate, the greater proportion of energy is lost and the shorter my battery life becomes. So, I repeat, all my energy is getting charged and discharged through the batteries before I ever even see it in the house. For someone living off-grid, this level of energy loss and battery depreciation is unacceptable, and I was never made aware of it by the installer.

This is why I know there will be a lot of disappointed grid disconnectors. They have swallowed the idea that living off grid is just like living on it hook line and sinker, when it cannot possibly be. How long have I been saying solar has shortcomings?

If you’re going to go off the grid, first, you need to know exactly how much energy you’re consuming. Then you need to know what your peak power demand will be so you can size your inverter. Then, you must size your battery bank so that you can go on living through a series of cloudy days without your batteries falling over. Accurate climate data is really important. And if you ask me, any off the grid system should be tailor made for the household, not all fitted in a box…..

The comments on Mobbs’ blog are interesting, including one from Alpha who obviously can do without the bad publicity and are suggesting entering into consultation….. well if you ask me, the time for consultation is before installation, not after it’s established the gear does not perform as needed….

Furthermore, and this is most important, get batteries that can be flattened and recharged for as many times as you like, almost forever if you go the way of Nickel Iron batteries……

At least Mobbs is aware of what his system is doing, but most consumers don’t. They will buy these cabinets, not understand what the monitors tell them, and the Lithium batteries will be cycled to death, failing early without a doubt, driving incompetent solar companies broke and giving solar power a really bad name. Plus, let’s face it, by the time all these systems die, you won’t be able to get replacement bits in a post collapse world….

There is one more issue…… on his blog Mobbs shows..:

In 1996, I installed 18 solar panels, each with 120-watt capacity. It reduced the amount the house took from the grid by more than 60%. Since then, I have installed 12 additional panels, bringing my home’s total system capacity to just over 3.5kW. mobbs panels

In addition to the roof solar cells, the house uses sunlight to heat water through a standard solar hot-water system. The environmental savings achievable by using solar hot-water heaters are summed up by Gavin Gilchrist in his book, The Big Switch:
“If all the electric water heaters in Australia were replaced with solar ones, greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s households would be cut by one-fifth.” One fifth is one mighty big saving!

The Bottom Line… I am saving hundreds of dollars every year not paying electricity bills by powering my household appliances using the Sun. 

I totally concur re the solar water heaters. Amazingly, I have friends in Geeveston who have one, and they hardly ever boost, which is astonishing considering how everyone was telling me how poorly solar would work in Tassie.

BUT…… all those original PVs were replaced when Mobbs cut the cord and increased his array size from 2kW to 5kW…… they were only ten years old, and as Prieto pointed out recently, the early retirement/replacement of PVs and balance of system can drive the ERoEI of solar to negative territory….. I can’t find mention of what happened to the obsolete 120W panels for which it might be hard to find compatible equipment.

One last thing……  his baseload of 86W is clearly wrong if a 3.5kW array can’t drive it. Our electricity habit was run for years on just 1.28kW, and I intend to now do it in Tassie with just 2kW. I rest my case.





Solar death spiral?

4 05 2015

Every day, I’m bombarded with information about some place somewhere going 100% renewables by (insert your favourite date here), and lately Tesla’s new battery wall being a ‘game changer’.  Let me tell you, from where I sit, I predict a renewables death spiral to match the grid’s.

This feeling started in ernest recently when our newest grid tied inverter died for the fourth time in 4½ years.  If you are new here, you may not know I was already complaining about our Kinglong/Sun Teams inverter right from its initial installation.  I took it down, drove it to Solazone’s office from where it was inspected and found to have been ‘storm damaged’.  Except there was no storm.  It just stopped.  The other inverter was fine, nothing else was damaged in the house, this was just plain BS to get out of replacing it.  Kinglong no longer operate in Australia, tough luck…  I didn’t want to replace it anyway, I was over those Chinese pieces of crap, and I didn’t care if it was replaced by a used device, as long as it was a reputable brand I could trust.  And believe me, they are hard to find now…..

Pallet load of dead Kinglong inverters

Pallet load of dead Kinglong inverters

I started looking on eBay and Gumtree for second hand inverters (I simply cannot afford a new one) and found heaps of them.  It seems every second person in Australia is upgrading from their small initial investment to the full 5kW, or even bigger.  Trouble is, they are nearly all Chinese rubbish…..  Many of the inverters for sale were branded with names I was unfamiliar with, and googling for info on them soon revealed so many problems I was blown away.  I even found pallet loads of dead inverters available ‘for parts’ on eBay, including lots that were the same as my defunct one……  and these failures are driving solar installers to bankruptcy.

I eventually found a used Xantrex, the brand I am now kicking myself for not buying in the first place, and installed it yesterday.  It’s almost 5 years old, but according to its original owner was only in service for about 2½ years.  Mind you, he ‘works’ in the solar industry, and I would not trust him any further than I could throw him, and he was big and heavy!  So far so good, the Xantrex works, and we’re feeding power back into the grid from the second array after a break of at least two months.  It will have cost us $200 at least in lost revenue, but there you go.  It had to be fixed, could not sell the house without it.

Xantrex inverters, however, are no longer sold in Australia.  It seems the bigger 5kW ones had problems.  Xantrex is a Xantrex GT 2.8 - 2800 Watt 208/240 Volt Grid Tie Inverter - Xantrex ...Canadian company with a reputation for quality; they make all sorts of other things solar related including battery chargers and other assorted peripherals, but the inverter I bought is ‘assembled’ in China.  Is this a problem?  Is it the problem??

I like these devices because of their huge heat sink at the front, rather than the normal ‘sandwiched between the hot inverter and the wall’ manner.  Plus they have two MPPTs (Maximum Power Point Trackers) which means whoever buys our place and wants to add another kW can easily do so by plugging it into the unused input plugs.

The guy who sold me the inverter had the gall to tell me about ‘all the cowboys’ in the industry closing up shop when they could not keep up with warranty claims…  when clearly he is one of them, he’s just new to the solar Matrix, and his turn will come.  Then he’ll have to sell the Beemers parked in his garage.

I have now met so many people with failures it’s bewildering.  Our neighbour up the hill had a Sharp inverter, installed by his electricity supplier no less, which failed within months.  He too upgraded to 5kW with a Dutch made Nedap inverter from a company in Nambour which no longer exists….  I just checked!  Another neighbour, the one with 10kW I’ve mentioned before had a SMA installed which had problems right from the start and was quickly replaced, proving that even the best are not infallible.  The lady at the back of us had a Solazone system installed (I sold it to her) and her Sunteams inverter died too.

Because all my tools are now parked in a shed in Tasmania, I had to borrow a cordless drill from a friend to finish my installation.  When I told him I was replacing a dead inverter, he told me his neighbour was also having problems and maybe I could have a job helping her out as she’d had two ‘cowboys’ come to have a look who told her completely different stories…. and these are all within walking distance from here.  You can even find lists of defunct solar power companies like this one.  It only goes to 2013, I’m sure the list is an accelerating one…

Go to whirlpool forums, and you’ll find more info about inverter failures than you can poke a stick at….

As the industry matures, failures will smartly pick up.  It might be a good thing for the industry as they sell more and more junk with inbuilt obsolescence, but you have to feel sorry for the people who unlike me have no idea how to repair their systems themselves and have to fork out maybe $2000 or more just to keep their solar systems going.

John Michael Greer recently published an article about the demise of the internet not due to technical problems, but rather economic ones.  I find it difficult to not feel the same way about the solar industry.  Methinks all the optimism about ‘100% renewables’ is highly overcharged.  Except of course we will one day be running on 100% renewables…..  because there won’t be any fossil fuels left to burn!  Which will of course mean the closure of all renewables factories and the return to the one true solar god, photosynthesis….





Why our next project is off-grid

17 10 2013

“Off-grid” or “off the grid” can mean lots of things to different people, especially if they are as diverse as Americans versus Australians.  I think the term probably started in the US.  I’ve always thought of the term as meaning not involving or requiring the use of mainstream sources of energy, but some definitions have wider meaning….

Off-grid is a new adjective which describes the situation of not using public utilities such as electricity, gas, water and mains sewerage. A truly off-grid home or building is completely autonomous in that it operates independently, not relying on any central supply of power or water.

I have to say that after seeing how much it costs now to be connected to the water grid and sewerage, I am very pleased we are not hooked up to either of those…  According to the definition above, we already are off-grid to a large extent, but for the purpose of this essay, I will mean not being connected to the electricity grid.

When we first connected to the grid with our first solar array, I wanted  to make a point.  Being the 400th grid tied solar house in Queensland makes us pioneers.  Today, there are 285,000!  Had we built at Mt Nebo as originally planned for the system which I bought before I even started building, we would have been even further up he list.  Compared to the cost of solar today, back then it really was an extravagance.  Like $500 for 64W panels, when today that sort of money will buy you 500W!  Or a 1500W inverter (that admittedly was also a stand alone inverter and battery charger) costing $5000…. when today you can buy portable inverters of that capacity for under $100, and grid tied devices for $350…!

The main reason, however, for my wish to go off-grid after being a campaigner for grid tying, is that I can see the writing on the wall for the grid once the brown stuff hits the fan.

Recently, Tristan Edis wrote in Climate Spectator:

The ‘Declining Demand Death Spiral’ is a story that has captivated many involved in the electricity sector. Imagine a downward spiral where electricity businesses chase their tails increasing prices to recover large fixed investments, which prompts customers to install solar and reduce demand, which is followed by further price rises followed by further demand drops and ad infinitum until the rich start going off the grid with batteries leaving the poor like pensioners behind.

He then adds….

It is massively overblown for two reasons:

1) The foreseeable change in network charges due to solar demand reductions is not big enough to spur other people to spend several thousand dollars on solar and batteries;

2) The available evidence suggests a small difference in uptake of solar according to income levels.

That’s all very well, but I know quite a few people who hate the way Campbell “can’t do” Newman has trashed the Feed in Tariff in Qld, and the power companies themselves so much, they are already contemplating waving their middle fingers at the grid very soon….  One commenter who is obviously also an installer left this comment”

I’ve received numerous enquiries from rural households wanting to disconnect from the main-grid. Interestingly, even when advised it is not economic, some households still want to proceed as they ‘dislike’ their electricity provider so much that they are prepared to pay a premium to not have to deal with them anymore. Hopefully, the retailers will continue to confuse and annoy consumers, so this niche market keeps growing.

For me who wants to move to Tasmania, however, the clincher was this little news item which I have seen nowhere else:

THE state government must consider selling Hydro Tasmania ahead of costly maintenance demands and sliding profits, a Tasmanian energy consultant has warned.

and….

Despite posting a record $238 million profit last week, Mr White said the business was likely to soon be faced with huge repair bills for its ageing infrastructure and had already flagged a drop-off in profits due to plans to axe the carbon tax.

But will this be a problem for just Tasmania?  As the financial system grinds to a halt over the next few years (boy I wish I had a crystal ball…) and fuel, or rather cheap fuel runs out to power the helicopters which fly the HT power lines in the valley below us all the time to monitor potential high tension grid problems,  how long will the grid remain reliable?  Of what use is a grid tied solar array when the grid is down?  What is the point of generating all that power, the costs of which you have already paid for, if you can’t use it when you need it most?

Until recently, we had back up batteries for the odd time this happened, and as luck would have it, no sooner had I sold the batteries, we had to endure a five and a half hour blackout while we waited for the power lines that were all over the road just a few hundred metres away to be fixed….  After nearly ten years of uninterrupted power, it came as a rude shock, believe me…!

All sorts of things go wrong in blackouts.  We couldn’t get water from our taps.  The fans in the compost toilet stopped working, slowly filling the house with unpleasant odours, and of course no lights apart from candles and torches….  Luckily for us, our fridges are so efficient that when the power came back on, the main fridge didn’t even cut in!  Imagine what might happen to the eggs in our incubator though if we suddenly had a lengthy blackout in the middle of an incubation?  How compromised would those eggs be if they were allowed to cool down for any length of time…..?  While I had good reasons to ditch the old battery/inverter system, I miss the security of uninterruptible power already.

As the price of grid power goes up, and renewables come down, Tristan’s “death spiral” may well become real.

And yes, I acknowledge that even if we do end up with a good stand alone system in Tasmania, eventually it will all end up being for nought as post collapse it will become impossible to repair or replace failing components.  That will be our children’s problem I’m afraid……..





Effect of Thermal Derating on PV Output

11 10 2013

I’ve mentioned Thermal Derating on PV Output caused by hot weather several times on this blog.  It affects us more and more as the temperature refuses to be normal this year.  Then out of the blue, we did have a normal Spring day last Wednesday (it didn’t go over 26ºC), so I made the effort to chart our PV output all day, taking readings every half hour from the moment the inverters woke up (around 5:30AM these days…) until they fall asleep again some time after 5:30PM.  All the data went into a spreadsheet which is how I generated the chart…….

Two days later, on the 11th of October, we had another stinker, it was 36ºC for most of the afternoon with strong Norwesterly winds hitting us from the inland desert……  well, you get the picture!  The day was entirely cloud free too.  So I went through the whole exercise one more time.

The chart below has two lots of data.  Data taken on the 11th of October have red bars (for HOT!), while all the others are for data from the cool day.

The reason those cool day data bars are different colours I will now explain……  most of the bars are blue (for COOL)……..

Around 10AM, dark clouds rolled in causing havoc with the readings.  That’s the grey (for CLOUD) bar, the only one.

The yellow bars are ‘false readings’ caused by a phenomenon I call ‘lensing’Lensing is what happens when the Sun has

All four LEDS on

All four LEDS on

been behind clouds for a while, and then makes a sudden reappearance.  Two things happen.  First, as the Sun starts shining through the edge of the cloud, extra sunlight seems to hit the panels as the cloud edge acts like a lens and ‘concentrates’ the light on the panels.  Secondly, while the panels are shaded by the clouds, they cool down; and when the Sun reappears, the cooler panels momentarily overproduce causing ‘spikes’ in the data.  The 9th was a particularly difficult day to decide exactly when I would use a reading, as those readings went up and down like yoyos….  but I decided to use the high ones to demonstrate what occurs when this happens.  To differentiate those from the blue bars, I decided to use yellow……..  If anything it makes for a pretty chart!

The 9th was the first day all four lights on the new PV Edge inverter (indicating it was operating at between 87.5% and 100% capacity) came on, and stayed lit.  They’d come on before, but for no more than quick blinks, probably caused by the lensing effect described above.

PVoutput

The interesting things to take home from this chart (which you will have to click on to get a sharper view)

As you can see, our 3.5kW solar system doesn’t even come close to producing its rated output……

Had there been no lensing or clouds on the cool day, a clean bell shaped curve (like the red one) would have been created with blue bars.  It is obvious though, that even ignoring the highest yellow bars, more power is generated on the cool day than the hot day.  To further prove my point, you may notice that some of the early red bars are in fact taller than the blue ones (by almost 2%).  I think the reason this happened is because while it was very windy all day long, that wind was actually quite cool in the morning (until about 8AM), and that this wind aircooled the panels to an even lower temperature than occurred on Wednesday.

The hot day produced a nice bell shaped curve from the red bars thanks to no interference from clouds coming and going… but even though we had more sun, we actually produced less energy.

I worked for a crowd called Future Sustainability (yeah, I know……) in Brisbane for about six or seven weeks.  They refused to acknowledge this occurs, lying through their reps’ teeth that panels bought from them would produce their rated output all the time…..  obviously, I didn’t last, can’t stand unethical behaviour!  But then again, very few solar companies will tell you the truth.

Memories of doing the Renewable Energy course at TAFE in the 90’s………..  I just love doing stuff like this.

I did a few other calculations, and worked out that on the cool day, our panels produced between 8% and 11.5% more power than on the hot day.

I also worked out that our old thin film US64 panels operated at 79% of their rated output, while the newer monocrystalline ones only reached 73.8% of capacity.  This is NOT efficiency I hasten to add.  What I mean here is that the 64W panels produced 50.5W (on average), whilst the 185W panels only produced 136.5W.  As I also keep going on about, thin film panels, while less efficient, work better in hot weather.  Pity they are so hard to get these days.





End of an era…….

24 05 2013

Today, you will be spared another depressing post about climate change…..

The ten year old SunProfi inverter which has literally been here as soon as the roof was up and our first solar power system was able to be installed has been playing up for the past couple of years, occasionally not turning on in the morning, sometimes discharging the batteries into the grid, and lately behaving more and more erratically.  So seeing as we’re selling the house, I don’t want to sell the new owners a lemon and problems in the future, it had to go…  I looked into replacing it with a more modern equivalent, but such an exercise would’ve cost us over $5000 (that we don’t have), and in any case, the grid today is far more reliable than it used to be when we were building.  The cost of batteries is such that we doubt this particular array, apart from knocking power bills on the head, was ever really paying its way.  So I’ve sold the batteries, and the old inverter will be replaced with a new Latronics PV Edge 1200…..

bye bye batteriesThe fellow who bought my batteries – Glen – lives some 40km the other side of a town called Millmerran, and he offered to pay me to move them to his place.  We agreed on a fee, and the hard work started.  The whole bank weighs 900kg, and whilst it was relatively easy to move them downhill to their position, I now had to physically lift them back up some 1.8m to the tray on the ute!  With my chronic fatigue problems, that took me two days…..  and it took less than five minutes to unload at the other end.

Glen had warned me that there were lots and lots of roadworks out his way, and to stay well away from the Toowoomba Range Highway, the main road between Brisbane and West of the Great Divide.  So I planned another route (never having travelled it before) via the back roads of Kilcoy, Yarraman. and Crow’s Nest…….  little did I know what was in store.

The whole trip didn’t even start on exactly the right footing, because whilst I knew the ute always had issues with traction, I never expected it to get bogged on the wet grass with nearly a tonne of lead in the back…….  I actually had to ring my mate Dean to come and tow me out with his 4WD after messing around with letting air out of the tyres, putting boards under the back wheels, etc etc……

The GPS.

Never having been on most of those roads before, I thought it might be a neat idea to use the GPS in my mobile phone…….  and seeing as the radio does not yet work in the ute, I thought it might actually keep me company!  So I set the trip into the device, which of course calculated the quickest way via Brisbane which I had no intention of following.  It all became an amusing “battle of the wills”, and all I can say is thank goodness I knew where I was going and I have a good sense of direction!  I now know why some people even drive into lakes under the instructions of these idiot devices!

I thought it most amusing that whenever I went in some direction it didn’t approve of, it would repeatedly tell me to turn around, until, having given up, it just said “follow the road”….  yeah right, like I was going to go off it!  It constantly tried to find any way of getting me back on its original track, no matter that it would add maybe even hundreds of kilometres to the journey.  The number of times it told me to turn off the main highway to Toowoomba (which is where I had to go to first!) in places where there were NO ROADS to turn into was truly baffling…  but the real corker was when I was in Toowoomba at a T junction with a big clear road sign saying Millmerran and pointing to the right (West), and the stupid thing said “turn left”…..  at that stage, I simply shut it down, the comedy had worn off.

The roads

Glen lives some 40km South of Millmerran, in the middle of nowhere, which Australians prefer to call Whoop Whoop (sp?).  And the last 200 metres to his property was deep black soil, stuff so slippery you can forget steering, throttle and brake adjustments…..  I drove half of it at 45 degrees to the road in full opposite lock in both directions!  That I even made it without getting bogged amazes me to this day……..  and I even did it on the way out when empty!

I don’t get out much these days, and I have to say I was a bit stunned at how much damage the last few bouts of flooding caused to the roads (I refrain from mentioning climate change here…).  Glen had warned me it can take over an hour to get up the Toowoomba Range because of roadworks (normally a 15 minute trip), but even the Blackbutt Range road must’ve been heavily damaged by landslides, it appears millions have been spent concreting the slopes to what looks like as much as 100 metres above the road in places.  It was obvious many trucks, including B Doubles now go this way too, and I must’ve waited well over 20 minutes before I was let through.  I was stopped more times than I can recall, and many of these stops were over ten minute waits which, when all added up easily added well over an hour to an already long trip of 840 km……..

westernplainsThe return voyage in the late afternoon light was quite delightful, I’ve never thought of the western plains as being particularly beautiful, seeing as they are so boringly flat….. but with all the stops I even had time to take some snaps.

The ute

I was expecting the ute to consume a lot more fuel with such a big load especially with the long climb up the range in third gear, but because it was all open road travelling, it didn’t, returning exactly 10L/100km on the way there and back to Toowoomba where I filled up, and it seemed to be doing only 8L/100km on the all downhill and empty trip in the cold night air.  In fact the old girl ran like clockwork, I’m so impressed by it, and to think the previous owner let it go for $200 is truly baffling……  but I must do something about the seat……..  cars like this were obviously not designed for travelling really long distances!  Did I have a sore butt when I got home…!