Tech billionaire helping fire-hit towns to rapidly install off-grid set-ups

Katina Curtis and Finbar O’Mallon
(Australian Associated Press)


Bushfire-ravaged communities have a chance to get the power back on quickly for vital communications and relief infrastructure with a massive cash injection from a tech billionaire.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and wife Annie are funding a $12 million resilient energy collective to rapidly install solar and battery off-grid set-ups that will power critical services across NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

Within three weeks of forming, the collective has already restored electricity to emergency communications towers near the NSW town of Cobargo, used by police, Rural Fire Services, National Parks and the Eurobodalla shire.

Firefighters had been using diesel generators to power the towers, with one of the region’s four volunteer fire crews tied up for five hours a day refuelling them.

In Victoria’s east Gippsland region, another off-grid solar and battery system has restored power to the Goongerah Community Hall so it can again be used by residents to relief services, internet connections, refrigeration and community meetings.

The projects are using technology from NSW rapid roll-out solar company 5B and Tesla batteries.

Mr Cannon-Brookes said the idea was to get the best technology and best ingenuity to solve the massive problem of power outages in days, not months.

“After a horror summer, many Aussies need our help to get their lives back on track. We’ve got to do all we can to get them back on their feet,” he told AAP in a statement.

“We’ve already rolled out in two locations, and we are ready to do more. We have the capacity to roll out up to 100 sites and we can fund and deploy them in the next 100 days if required.”

The collective is working with energy providers to identify further sites.

One of the lessons Australia had to learn from the past summer was to invest in resilient, fast and flexible energy systems that didn’t hurt the planet, Mr Cannon-Brookes said.

He believes many remote communities will operate with off-the-grid solar power all the time in the future.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Army chief said the bushfire crisis was a sign of the future requirements of Defence.

Lieutenant General Rick Burr said he had learned a lot about the Army’s capabilities as a result of the fires.

“We know that we need to be an army for the nation and an army in the community,” he told a defence conference in Canberra on Monday.


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