Off-Grid living, working & educating at Lackan Cottage Farm
County Down, Northern Ireland
I first heard from Steven Golemboski-Byrne of Lackan Cottage Farm around four years ago and wrote a blog in 2015 about their family lifestyle.
Things have certainly moved on since then – now Steve is even more of a Victron Energy aficionado, to the extent his product knowledge and practical expertise has increased – which now enables him to run courses for other off-gridders from all over the world.
We like what he is doing, so we decided to sponsor some course demonstration equipment to help him out and spread the Victron word.
In this guest blog Steve details the history of his family’s off-grid journey and how that has evolved to date.
Lackan Cottage Farm
Eight years ago now, my wife Claire and I set out on what we hoped would be an off grid adventure. We wanted to see whether we could reduce our ecological footprint, and provide for our own needs in energy, water, food and fuel. To begin with we lived in a tiny house on wheels – a converted horsebox, and our requirements were minimal. All we needed to run were a few lights, a laptop, coolbox and charge a phone. It was at this point we first encountered Victron products, when Phillip Gordon (now a UK & Ireland Sales Manager for Victron Energy) came to see us and gave some much needed advice. Now it is hard to imagine that we managed with 160Wp of solar panels and a little BlueSolar 75/15.
After much searching we found a property in rural County Down in Northern Ireland – Lackan Cottage Farm. With two cottages and six acres of land including birch woodland, it was ideal, and we set about renovating the property. As there was no grid electricity connection we decided to develop our own generation, and the gift of some used solar panels gave us a good start.
We realised early on that without a substantial solar installation we wouldn’t be able to rely on solar PV alone, and so installed a Bornay 3kW wind turbine to keep our batteries charged through the middle of winter.
It soon became apparent that there was plenty of interest from others interested in doing the same as us, and we began to offer short courses in food growing, natural building and permaculture. A natural progression from that was to develop one of the cottages as self catering accommodation, and we made the decision to use this as an opportunity to try out a variety of environmentally friendly materials and techniques, so that visitors could come and experience off grid, low impact living in a way they could relate to their own homes and lives.
Seven years later, Lackan Cottage Farm is established as a pioneer in Green Tourism in Ireland, and we are the first business here to be accredited under the internationally recognised Green Key standard, run by the Foundation for Environmental Education based in Denmark. We welcome visitors from across the world to stay here throughout the year, and offer advice and consultancy to those interested in adopting aspects of what they have encountered here.
We also run courses and training both here at Lackan, and across the island of Ireland, predominantly in Practical Sustainability, Off Grid Living and Permaculture. A key aspect of all these courses is energy production, and of course we are able to demonstrate the viability of renewable energy here in the Irish climate. Over the last 2 years we’ve also had the opportunity to film with both the BBC and RTE, UK and Irish state broadcasters, which has been invaluable in getting our message out to a wider audience.
Victron products form the core of our power generation system, and increasingly we are assisting course attendees with the installation of their own equipment, once they have attended a course and been impressed with the Victron equipment that they see here. These are typically battery based off grid systems, where reliability is crucial. From cottage renovations to tiny homes on wheels, we have been involved with some fascinating projects and people.
Our own system has grown considerably. With over 6kw of installed PV, and a 3kW wind turbine, we run a range of BlueSolar and SmartSolar MPPT controllers, which feed 24kW of OPzS batteries. We then use three 24/3000-70 MultiPlus units connected in parallel to provide power to our cottage.
The wind turbine is AC coupled to this system, as is an additional 3.9kW of PV, and a load diversion unit uses the majority of the power from these to heat water in the two cottages, with our core DC coupled PV arrays providing domestic electricity. Monitoring is through a BMV-712 Smart, and a Color Control GX (CCGX) unit. We also use Victron Energy meters on the AC coupled wind and solar to provide accurate information to our CCGX and the VRM.
Most recently we have separated the second cottage using its own 24/3000 MultiPlus, and a smaller battery pack charged by a 2kW PV array through a SmartSolar 150/60 MPPT. This is monitored using a BMV-700, and a Raspberry Pi running the Venus OS. Once again it is interesting to be able to demonstrate a different approach to monitoring the system, and we’ve already helped one other user to install a Raspberry Pi based monitor.
With another 4 courses left to teach this year, and over 50 attendees to introduce to our systems and Victron products, we’re confident that Ireland’s network of small scale renewable energy producers will continue to grow.
Phillip Gordon – Victron Energy UK & Ireland Sales Manager
Lackan Cottage Farm – http://lackancottage.co.uk/
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