Responding to a request from communities in the Utopia region in the mid 1980’s,
CAT investigated and designed small solar powered light units for community clinics to provide lighting for after-hours emergencies. This led to a collaboration with the Murdoch University Energy Research Unit and later Advanced Energy Systems in the development and monitoring of the “Solar Pack” power generation units that were prevalent in WA in the late 1980’s.

As a result of these associations CAT became a core partner in the development of the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy (ACRE CRC) and undertook a market survey of the performance of renewable energy (RE) systems across remote Australia.

The market survey found that the majority of remote renewable energy systems:

  • did not meet the power needs of residents

  • were installed without information and training, and
  • did not have a regular service and maintenance regime in place.

Following a number of community and industry forums CAT developed a policy paper based on the ACRE CRC report which was presented to the federal government. The paper convinced the then Australian Greenhouse Office and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) that investment in remote RE systems was not sustainable unless considerable resources were also invested in community support and regional technical capacity building.

Bushlight

In 2002, Bushlight – the energy division of CAT – was established to address these issues. Bushlight does this by:

  • informing, training and empowering communities to better understand, use and maintain their energy services
  • designing and building high-quality, robust and reliable renewable energy systems
  • engaging and training technical service providers further develop their capacity to install, service and maintain RE systems.

Our work in these areas is underpinned by our Community Energy Planning Model. This model lays out a staged process of engagement, planning, design, installation and ongoing support and monitoring. Using the model, we have designed and installed RE systems in more than 130 communities.

This work has led to a significant increase in the reliability of energy services, reduction in community expenditure on diesel, a significant enhancement in residents’ and regional service providers’ abilities to carry out basic maintenance on their systems, and reduced greenhouse emissions.

Key impacts on the RE industry have been:

  • significantly increased RE industry capacity and capability in regional and remote areas of Australia;
  • significant contribution to the development and refinement of Australian Standards for the design and installation of remote RE systems;
  • improvement in quality of RE systems installed by other service providers through the use of components and techniques approved/developed by Bushlight;
  • dissemination of Bushlight education and communication material to be adapted for broader RE industry use;  
  • multiple RE industry training and work placement opportunities created.

Bushlight delivers energy services in small remote communities using nationally and internationally recognised best practice in renewable energy system design and community consultation. Bushlight’s commitment to the principles of uniform system design, appropriate quality standards and national procurement strategies (including volume purchasing) bring an efficiency to this work which would be unattainable in anything other than a national format. The development of RE system service runs incorporating multiple communities into single runs in order to minimise mobilisation costs is an example of the efficiencies gained through this national approach.

Bushlight’s high national profile (winner of the 2006 National Engineering Excellence Award) enables CAT to attract staff of the highest calibre to the Northern Territory which ultimately furthers the reach and impact of CAT’s work.

The body of expertise accumulated by Bushlight and the technical specialists the organisation has attracted, enabled CAT to play a leading role in the Alice Springs’ successful Solar Cities program. Bushlight staff prepared a feasibility study that led to the successful solar demonstration project at the Desert Knowledge Precinct in Alice Springs.

Bushlight India

CAT Projects, a fully owned subsidiary company of CAT Inc, has taken learnings from the Australian Bushlight program into a collaborative development and demonstration project for remote village electrification using renewable energy in India. This project provides distributed generation RE supplies to six remote Indian villages. Collaboration between Australian and Indian partners includes the testing, development and documentation of best practice models of energy system planning, system design documentation and installation, and sustainable management of energy services. The project has developed an optimised model for the electrification of remote villages in India using renewable energy. In 2011 the Bushlight India project was awarded the highest engineering accolade in Australia – the Sir William Hudson Award.