Lady Elliot Island Resort: PV behind beautiful eco-tourism in Queensland

In the heart of K’gari, a World Heritage-listed sand island in Queensland, sits the beautiful Lady Elliot Island Eco-Resort. The resort has been leading the sustainability charge since 2008, when it became one of the first resorts in Australia to implement a hybrid energy system.

The resort’s hybrid energy system, facilitated by SMA, boasts nearly 20 times the solar capacity of an average home, seamlessly powering the entire island, which accommodates approximately 200 people, including resort guests, and helps to nurture thousands of trees in the resort’s nursery.

Pioneering sustainable energy solutions

The cutting-edge system has resulted in substantial annual savings of over $300,000 in running costs, a feat achieved by reducing reliance on diesel and harnessing the power of the sun.

In the past, the island relied solely on diesel transported by barge from Gladstone, a 15-hour journey by boat. This dependency brought logistical challenges, leaving the island vulnerable to power outages during cyclones or disruptions in barge services.

The transportation of diesel across the ocean also posed a significant environmental threat, with the potential for oil spills in the protected ‘Green Zone.’

For Robert Thomas, the project manager at Lady Elliot Island Eco-Resort, the conventional practice of burning through hundreds of litres of diesel to power generators for guests was far from ideal, and he sought a more eco-friendly solution.

Robert takes pride in the resort’s pioneering move towards self-sustainability, sharing how the resort provides an opportunity for visitors from all over the world to experience the natural beauty and fragile ecosystem of a coral cay and its inhabitants, including the birds and the marine creatures, which live on or visit the island and its surrounding reef.

Showcasing the island’s natural beauty

Pristine in its natural beauty, the resort is nestled within a marine sanctuary for over 1,200 species of marine life, including manta rays, turtles, and untouched coral reefs.

“We wanted to do something more in line with our focus on being eco-friendly,” said Robert. “Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort was one of the first to do this, and others have definitely tried to follow.”

SMA’s modular power system, designed for scalability, ​​​​facilitated easy expansion as the resort grew after it first opened in 1985. A robust backup system ensured continuity, mitigating the risk of power outages during unforeseen events.

The system, overseen by Robert, boasts an impressive 189 kilowatts (kW) of solar capacity and 617 kWh of usable battery capacity.

Robert explains that if the weather is fine, the resort can run 100 percent on solar and batteries. “On average throughout the year, we derive around 80 percent of our power from solar, with the remaining 20 percent sourced from the diesel generator,” he said.

Patrick Duignan, SMA Australia’s Vice-President Home Commercial & Industrial, highlights the reliability of SMA’s product in the challenging marine environment.

He explained how the harsh working environment many kilometres out at sea can pose extreme challenges, with ocean and salt creating a risk of rust.

“Despite these challenges, our product has continued to work reliably well for the past 15 years,” he said. “The inverters, capable of enduring temperatures ranging from -40°C to +90°C, have proven resilient since they were first implemented in 2008.”

Switching to solar power, as Robert explains, not only aligns with the resort’s environmental commitment but also makes clear financial sense.

“Because fuel keeps going up in price, the cost of electricity from diesel generators keeps increasing. However, for us, the cost of solar and batteries keeps falling. Although we did start from a very high price, we are in this amazing situation where our electricity costs are, in fact, decreasing over time.”

Lady Elliot Island Eco-Resort stands as a shining example of how sustainable practices not only benefit the environment but also make economic sense, creating a true eco-paradise for its residents and guests.

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