Great Barrier Reef Island Turns Green into Gold

Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia (29 August 2009)

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, on the Great Barrier Reef’s southern-most tip, has become one of the first island resorts in Australia to move almost entirely to renewable energy, dramatically reducing its carbon footprint and lowering dangerous risk to marine life.

Lady Elliot, which at 80km off the Queensland coast is one of the most isolated of the Great Barrier Reef island resorts, has reduced its annual power consumption by at least 75 per cent since the current owners took control of the lease in 2005.

The dramatic change has been achieved through a combination of solar and gas technology, water desalination and various strategic behavioural adaptations.

The resort’s new three-phase solar hybrid power station was unveiled at a ceremony on the island today, attended by Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones as well as several key tourism and environment industry leaders.

Ecotourism Australia will also officially present the resort with its Advanced Ecotourism certification at the function.

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort Managing Director Peter Gash said the changes would go a long way to help maintain the island’s pristine conditions.

“Climate change is a real threat to the Great Barrier Reef and as an environmentally committed group, we wanted to do everything we could to mitigate our carbon footprint,” Mr Gash said.

“When we first took over the lease, the island was consuming more than 550 litres of diesel fuel each day, now we are using barely 160 litres of the fuel each day.

“This is a great change and one we are really proud of. Our team has worked extremely hard to achieve this remarkable goal.”

Following extensive consultation in conjunction with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and following a Level 3 Energy Audit, the resort employed the services of Tropical Energy Solutions to design the electrical and solar component for a hybrid solar power system.

The result is the largest privately owned, off-grid three-phase solar hybrid powered island system in Queensland, costing more than $600,000 and built with the support of a Federal Government grant.

It consists of 130m² of solar panels, battery banks with 48 cells, inverters and a new generator a third of the size of the resort’s previous units. The long term goal is to run the entire resort on solar power and to use the generator as back-up in case of emergency only.

Operational since early this year, the system has been fine-tuned with spectacular results.

“Previously we had to barge in 45,000 litres of fuel from Gladstone every three months; that’s been slashed to between 10,000 and 15,000 litres of fuel over the same period,” Mr Gash said.

“If you multiply that out by a year, that’s a lot of fuel and a lot of carbon reduction.

“Not only do these savings represent great cost efficiencies but considering there are only a few tides each month in which to land such heavy loads, this represents a dramatic reduction in spillage risk and storage on island – a crucial factor when dealing with an environment as iconic as the Great Barrier Reef.”

Other changes the resort has made include switching cooking and hot water systems over to instantaneous natural gas, while the resort also treats its own sewage and produces its own water through an on-site desalination plant. The resort is currently trialling a much more energy efficient desalination system which produces water at a reduced unit cost of power per litre.

Mr Gash said interest in the renewable energy system had been overwhelming, both from within the tourism industry and from visitors to the island.

“People just love it, our guests are very keen to find out how it works while other resorts are looking at our project with great interest,” he said.

To satisfy that strong interest, Lady Elliot has introduced interpretive tours of the island for guests and educational groups, outlining the effects of climate change on a coral cay and what the resort is doing to combat this.

Lady Elliot is one of just three permanent resorts built on a coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.