How To Not Die In The Bush In Tesla Model 3 (Installing Solar Farms) — 5 Lessons For Dummies

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Bushfires. Floods. Droughts. Cyclones. Welcome to Australia! It is a vast, diverse country that demands total respect. Clark is an electrician who travels to remote solar farms in the Darling Downs region on a weekly basis from his home in Brisbane. He drives his Tesla Model 3 SR+ over 700 km a week to build and install the electrical connectivity. Here he shares his five lessons learned from bitter experience: how not to die in the Australian bush. Solar farms are being placed in these remote areas alongside batteries and wind farms because the main transmission infrastructure already exists to serve coal mines and soon-to-retire coal-fired power stations.

How not to die
Kangaroos can co-exist with solar farms, but not with vehicles on the road. Photo courtesy of Clark Siemsen.

Australia is as beautiful as she is dangerous. He tells me that: “In my first year working in the bush, I hit three kangaroos, bent a rim, destroyed a tyre, and broke a sway bar (I did not always follow the rules in my electric sports car which is really designed for flat smooth highways). When exploring outside the cities, as long as you are prepared and alert, you will have an unforgettable experience.” The danger is not confined to the roads. Clark tells me that storms generating lightning strikes can be equally deadly. A lighting strike 5 km away can kill an electrician working on a solar or wind farm. “The current travels up the wires from the strike to the farm.”

Here are Clark’s hard learned road lessons:

How not to die: lesson 1

Australia has the most poisonous critters, reptiles, and marine creatures in the world. However, it is the cute kangaroo that is the most dangerous on the roads. I know this only too well, as I broke the golden rule when driving in the bush. Do not drive at sunrise and sunset, as it is most likely a kangaroo will jump out in front of you. I have three sonic devices installed, and each time I hit a kangaroo, I was following another vehicle. This should have kept me safe. Obviously, it didn’t. I did everything I possibly could and I still hit three. On one occasion, it was a doe and joey.

(Warning: graphic image below.)

How not to die
Kangaroo strike on the way to work. Photo courtesy of Clark Siemsen.

After the kangaroo strike, I made it to camp and had to fix the damage myself. Professor YouTube taught me how to pull the front end apart. “Only took 20 minutes.” [Good thing that Clark had the tools with him. He wouldn’t be back to the Brisbane service centre for 4 months.] A little bit of two-pack epoxy held the headlight in place, and a hairdryer helped to sort out the front moulding. “I need a bull bar!” Apparently, these are now being fitted to Tesla Model Y vehicles being used for police work.

How not to die
At camp, fixing the damage. Photo courtesy of Clark Siemsen.

Most people driving out west protect their cars with bull bars. Almost every vehicle has one, as they are also handy for mounting spot lights and communication aerials. During spring, which is the most dangerous time of year, every work vehicle travelling to and from the solar farm had a kangaroo strike and one was wrecked when it hit five of them. Kangaroos are biologically designed to breed rapidly when food is abundant. But if you think kangaroos are bad — don’t hit a feral pig.

My electric car has Autopilot, which I cannot use for the last hour of my trip, as I have to drive slightly left or right of the normal line due to the potholes. Not a problem for larger vehicles with high-profile rugged tyres and soft suspension. One night with Autopilot engaged, there was a loud bang under the car. Even though I was alert, I drove through a pothole and luckily only bent my rim.

How not to die: lesson 2

Plan well. You do not have a Plan A unless you have a Plan B. Plan A is being hopeful that everything will go as planned. This may be okay if closer to the coast or between large towns where there is support available, but not travelling to solar farms in remote locations. It is advisable to carry good paper maps, as your cell phone may not work and vehicle navigation may be limited.

How not to die: lesson 3

Prepare your vehicle. It is your shelter until help arrives. You need to be self-sufficient and carry emergency items like food, water, toiletries, blanket, spare parts, tools, and breakdown gear. My biggest issue is that there is no spare tyre in the Tesla. I have a 4WD puncture repair kit and tyre inflator. My tyres have been plugged many times. Within the first 12 months of owning the Tesla, I dented my rim and cut the side wall due to impact from a very large pothole. It was 4:30am in the dark, and was below freezing with no communications and no help. I filled the cut with 10 plugs and it worked. I drove for one and a half hours topping up the tyre with air occasionally. It took two days to get another tyre. I was lucky. I also carry a 4WD snatch strap for towing and getting out of mud.

How not to die
Tyre side wall plugged. Photo courtesy of Clark Siemsen.

How not to die: lesson 4

The main communication on the road is by UHF radio, hardwired with external aerial. Cell phones will not always work. When travelling to more remote regions, you may need a satellite phone and an EPIRB, which is a portable emergency beacon originally used for marine vessels. When activated, emergency services can locate you easily. These can be rented for those who are adventurous and who wish to tackle Australia’s arid inland.

How not to die
Even the 4WD vehicles get bogged. Photo courtesy of Clark Siemsen.

How not to die: lesson 5

Weirdly, charging was the least of my concerns, as I had various types of connectors and extension leads to get access to any type of socket. Every year, it is becoming less of an issue. Most towns in the bush have an arena for shows, rodeos, and events with industrial grade power outlets that will charge your car overnight if the high-speed chargers are faulty.

I asked how his fellow technicians react to having a Tesla at the remote solar farm site and his concise reply was: “They bag till they drive it.” They love the acceleration, the quiet, the sound system, and are jealous about how little it costs to run. They are blown away by Autopilot. It costs Clark about $13 a week in electricity for his travels — other technicians are spending $170 per week in fuel. Three of them are interested in buying their own EV.

It is Clark’s dream, like many Australians’, to circumnavigate the beautiful coastline of this amazing continent. “When I retire,” he tells me. “It is what we call the big lap — 8,400 miles of adventure. I expect it will take at least 3 months.” When I ask “when,” he adds, “probably within the next decade.” He will have to navigate roads damaged by semi-trailers and clogged with grey nomads towing caravans. A trend is now emerging to set the quickest time in an electric vehicle. The new record is 10 days. But Clark and his wife will not be in a rush. And I am sure they will be well prepared!

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 748 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth