A TEAM of technicians and a music academic from Southern Cross University have created a mobile solar power station that had its first public outing at the Byron Bay Bluesfest last week.
Nicknamed the Sunflower because of its unique petal design, the 1.2 kilowatt system powered the new SCU-sponsored venue The Lotus Palace throughout the festival.
Contemporary Music co-ordinator at SCU, Dr Barry Hill who has been overseeing the project, said he hoped it would showcase the possibilities of incorporating sustainable power generation within large scale festival events.
"Music has always been a force for social change and festivals have the potential to be a real force for social change," he said.
"I think the creative arts has a place in getting involved with the cutting edge of technology and discovery."
Dr Hill and his team of SCU students were collecting data throughout the festival to measure the power being generated by the Sunflower and the amount of energy being used by the venue's sound system, lights and screens.
He said changes in audio technology in recent years meant that 'class D' digital amplifiers were so efficient that the system they were running required less power than the average kitchen toaster.
"The two technologies (solar and digital amplification) have been converging for the past five years so they can now be used commercially," he said.
A panel discussion, chaired by veteran broadcaster George Negus and featuring Dr Hill, Bluesfest director Peter Noble and Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson was held in the Lotus Palace to talk about how festivals could pioneer new sustainable technologies.
"When you set up a festival, you are basically setting up the infrastructure for a small town for a few days and then it all disappears again," Mr Noble said.
He said now that Bluesfest owned its own site, they had been able to implement long-term projects for waste water management and waste minimisation.
He did some quick calculations and estimated that the total power bill for the five day festival would be in the vicinity of $200,000 and said he would certainly be looking at a range of alternative energy options including solar, wind, bike-power and something he'd heard about in Europe; a kinetic dance floor that creates energy when people danced on it.
A UK-based group, Firefly Solar have been powering stages at Glastonbury festival for a number of years and have increased the capacity of the venues powered by the sun from 1200 to 12,000.
Dr Hill said he had been in contact with Firefly and they had been keen to share information and he looked forward to the day when some of the big stages at Bluesfest were fossil fuel-free.
The Sunflower has been built by SCU technicians Mark Searle and Troy Schmidt.
It contains 16 lithium batteries for storage and, when fully charged, could run the equipment in the Lotus Palace for up to eight hours without any sun.
The petal design can be tilted towards the sun for maximum efficiency throughout the day.
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