Education, Innovation, News

Sarah Solar Initiative: Saving 10 Tonnes of Co2 Per Year

Sarah Energy Pod

At Sarah Constructions, we continually look to make positive progress. Innovation is at the heart of our business. That’s why our staff have access to a range of in-house development programs, which encourage outside-the-box thinking and the trial of new business initiatives. It was through one of these programs that Project Manager, Melisha Willington, developed the concept for a site solar energy pod to improve sustainability on construction sites.

She said, “It’s a cliché but the driver was to make a difference, even in a small way to help the environment. The construction industry still has so much potential when it comes to sustainable initiatives and innovation and I know Sarah Constructions have more in store.”

What is the Solar Energy Pod?

Shipping containers are common on building sites and provide the ideal base for mounting solar panels – key reasons why Melisha’s idea was feasible. The dismantled frames and solar panels can be packed away inside the container on custom racks, enabling relocation to the next site. Once assembled, the free space within the container can be used as additional secure site storage or as a site office space.

The shipping container also provides opportunities for environmental awareness and the use of solar energy. At the Whyalla Secondary College construction site, where the first solar shipping container has been located, this translates to reaching large numbers of the local community and visitors to Whyalla, numerous subcontractors and stakeholders.

Bringing the idea to life

Sarah partnered with another South Australian owned company, NRG Solar, to bring the idea to life. Melisha said, “NRG were professional, passionate and couldn’t do more in sharing their knowledge and experience. NRG really understood the brief and were instrumental in delivering a fit for purpose solution.”

“What excited me about this project,” said Eddy May, NRG Solar Managing Director, “was working with an innovative company who are putting sustainability at the forefront of their projects. It’s a lofty but rewarding goal to want to build in a carbon neutral way. A big first step in achieving this goal is delivering a portable solution to allow the Sarah Constructions team to be self-sufficient for their energy needs. We have thoroughly enjoyed the collaborative process and we look forward to continuing this partnership with Sarah Constructions to create sustainable solutions together.”

It was late in 2020 that Sarah Constructions invested in implementing the idea. Melisha worked with NRG Solar to transform the initial concept design into a final engineered product, which involved the creation of an engineered tripod mounting system for the solar panels on the exterior of a 40ft shipping container. The design is engineered for wind region A terrain Category 1, meaning it can go almost anywhere in South Australia and withstand all weather conditions. It’s suitable for 1, 2 and 3 phase power connections.

The first operational solar shipping container located on-site in Whyalla has an 11.88kW system and is providing power to help run the large site office of the $100M school project.

There are 36No photovoltaic (PV) solar panels with 60m2 of surface area over two separate frames; one on the roof and one on the side of the container. Two inverters are installed within the container to convert the solar power generated into standard AC power.

Melisha is proud that her idea has been backed by the business and brought to fruition. “To have your idea supported in such a big way and see the finished product out on site is very encouraging,” she said.

The benefits of Sarah’s Solar Energy Pod?

The Sarah Solar Energy Pod will generate 16 megawatt hours of power per year or around $5K of savings per annum in power costs.

As for benefits to the environment, the container will save 10 tonnes of Co2 per year. This is equivalent to planting 150 trees.

An online/app dashboard is provided, displaying real time solar power production each day, along with other key statistics. On bright sunny days, the solar panels, which were largely paid for by government solar rebates, are in use up to 90% and more of their capacity. There is also scope to add solar battery storage.

The local high school students in Whyalla have been provided with a practical learning opportunity to visit the site, where Sarah team members explain how the solar container project works and its sustainability benefits, educating the community and inspiring the next generation of sustainability advocates.

“The students have had the opportunity to gain real world experience on an important community project that is relevant to their life and future,” said Andrew McLean, Design & Technology Teacher at Edward John Eyre High School. “The students’ learning at school becomes relevant through the observation of skills and knowledge in action on site”.

Here at Sarah, we’re all extremely proud of Melisha and everyone involved in the collaboration. “This project marks the start of our focussed sustainability journey,” said Terry Tsapaliaris, Sarah’s Operations Manager. “We will utilise our graduates to monitor energy use and continue to develop the technology whilst reviewing other sources of sustainable technology.”

You can read NRG Solar’s article on the project here.

To find out more about this project, Sarah’s sustainability or any of our other development initiatives, contact us today.

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