Hooked on the alternatives

Steve Doyle and Emma Batkin with baby Abigail at their Crossmaglen home, which is powered by solar and hydro energy sources.
Steve Doyle and Emma Batkin with baby Abigail at their Crossmaglen home, which is powered by solar and hydro energy sources.

STEVE Doyle’s enthusiasm for sustainability started in his grandmother’s kitchen in Maroubra in the seventies.

“She was very keen about self-sufficiency and planned to move to Bellingen. Once she moved I visited her as often as I could,” Steve said.

“I probably saw my first solar set-up 25 years ago – it was one little panel attached to a car battery that ran a small black/white television, a radio and one light. I was hooked immediately.”

While the panels themselves have not changed much, their availability and uptake certainly has, which is what led Steve, who did his trade as an electrician, and his wife Emma Batkin, to start Bellingen Solar in 2003.

Solar energy is not, however, the only option when it comes to alternative energy and at home in Crossmaglen, near the headwaters of Bonville Creek, the couple has included hydro-electricity, generated from the creek, in the alternative energy mix.

“The hydro is great because it gives you power 24 hours a day regardless of the weather,” Steve said.

“In fact we have energy to burn, in spite of having a modern home, well, shed.”

Together with their two children Mali, 6, and Abigail, 10 months, the couple lives in what has become a very comfortable four-bedroom shed with study, complete with electric fridge, freezer and dishwasher.

“I’m from an urban, English background. Being completely energy-independent means we can have a modern home and still live sustainably,” Emma said.

Hot water is solar with a gas booster, the stove is gas, heating is by slow combustion stove and the waste from the flushing toilets is processed through reed beds. With diligent recycling and composting, trips to the tip are only required every couple of weeks.

“The energy side of moving here was easy – the biggest challenge was the infrastructure such as roads and drainage on this steep block.”

Exploring alternatives continues. A recent experiment with a vertical axis wind turbine proved unsuccessful, but Steve’s new electric motorbike is a hit.

“The turbines are advertised as perfect for urban situation as they are noiseless, but here is not the ideal wind location,” he said.

“The bike, however, is great – no noise, no exhaust. It’s a great feeling riding my electric bike home to my solar house.”

Topics:  sustainability

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