What Happens If You Have Solar And The Power Goes Out
So youve got some shiny solar panels on your roof and youre making a lot of your own electricity. Your power bills are nearly eliminated and youre feeling like an environmental champion. Then one windy night, a storm blows down a huge tree on your block and the power goes out. When the morning sun shines over the horizon, will your refrigerator be running? Probably not.
If you have solar panels on your roof, youre most likely connected to the electric grid in your area. That means you draw power from the utility company at night, and when your panels cant make as much energy as you need at any given time. You also send power to the grid when your panels produce more than you need.
When the power goes out, most home solar installations are designed to shut down in order to stop them from feeding power back into the very wires that might be the source of the outage. After all, you dont want your solar panels to be the reason utility workers are injured by live voltage in downed power lines.
But what good are solar panels on a roof if they cant make electricity? Theres got to be a way to keep the power on, right? What about batteries, or preventing solar energy from flowing to the grid when its down? Read on to discover the answers to these questions.
As Long Blackouts Become More Common In California To Reduce The Risk Of Devastating Wildfires More People Are Turning To Solar Power And Battery Storage
Hundreds of thousands of homes in California lost power early on Wednesday as windy, dry weather increased the risk of fire, prompting the electric utility, PG& E, to shut down the grid to avoid any chance of the type of power-line accident that sparked the deadly wildfire in the small town of Paradise less than a year ago. It may take days for the power to come back on. But at some homes, solar and battery storage systems are keeping the lights on.
Between the solar and the batteries, we could go on indefinitely as long as theres some sun, says architect Richard Schuh, who lives and works in the hills north of the town of Sonoma in an area without power. He and his wife now rely on a Tesla Powerwall connected to the solar panels on their roof. They decided to install the system after a major fire in 2017 blazed through their property, sparing their house but taking out power for three weeks.
We had solar the whole time, but the solar was shut down because its connected to the grid, he says. So we werent able to use that even though it was still generating power. They installed the battery earlier this year. When the utility warns that it may need to cut off power, the battery gets an alert so that it can automatically fully charge in advance. When the grid is down, the system operates independently, continuing to store power from the houses solar panels.
Distributed Solar Is The Future In California
With PG& E struggling under bankruptcy while facing billions of dollars worth of legacy infrastructure that needs to be upgraded to be made safer, itâs apparent that rolling blackouts are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future.
Along with the obvious clean energy benefits of solar, situations like this make it clear that the distributed nature of home solar is an another important benefit.
If youâre thinking of going solar, use the links below to quick check your costs or to get multiple quotes from qualified solar installers in your area.
Quick Background On How Solar Systems Work
Lets start with a very quick solar 101. You probably know some of this already, but its worth a quick recap just so we know what were dealing with.
All home solar systems, whatever the type, use solar panels to collect light energy from the sun and convert it to electricity. There are several types of solar panels, but all of them use materials that work by creating a when they come into contact with energy from the sun.
This photovoltaic reaction frees electrons, which are subatomic particles that carry an electrical charge. Your solar system collects this energy as direct current DC electricity, which it can convert to the Alternating Current AC energy we use in our homes by using an inverter.
The next thing that happens in your home solar system depends on the type of system you install, and this has a big influence on whether you can use it when your mains power goes out. So lets take a look at the different types of home solar systems.
The Impact Of Solar Power Panels On Your Electricity Usage
While many homeowners would like to rely on complete solar power to run their homes, most states and cities require homes also to be connected to the power grid, primarily as a matter of safety. Solar panels only work when there is sunshine, and because that is out of your control, you need to tap into the electrical grid to keep your home running when your solar energy system cant meet your needs.
Your solar panels can only produce electricity from the sunshine. When its cloudy or dark outside, you consume energy without being able to replace it. On the flip side, when your system is producing the most powerthe middle of the dayyoure much more likely to not even be home.
But solar power can still help you cut your energy costs, especially when you add a few extra steps to your solar power system. Here are two solutions that you can use: net metering and battery backup.
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Will My Solar Panels Work During A Power Outage
Part of the appeal of installing solar panels is the idea that your home will be unaffected by power outages. And at a time when power outages are becoming more common due to storms, wildfires, and even high power demand, homeowners increasingly want the ability to independently maintain their power supplies.
However, Dan Glaser, Panasonic Senior Sales Engineer, Solar and Storage, notes that simply installing solar panels doesnt guarantee youll have power during a grid outage. Instead, homeowners should first understand their potential off-grid power needs and then plan accordingly.
Historically, people often think that when they install a PV system, theyre installing a power production plant, Glaser says. But there are a few more pieces to consider before that happens.
Solar panels collect and generate energy from the sun. A PV inverter then converts that energy from DC to AC, so that the power can be used by appliances in your home. Most inverters are programmed to shut off when the grid goes down. This is primarily for safety reasons, as utilities dont want power unexpectedly flowing back to the grid while people are working on the system.
Your solar panels are still working, but there isnt a way to transfer that energy to your home, Glaser says. In these situations, a power outage means that even solar-powered homes go without power.
Convert Dc Energy To Ac Energy
If you do plan on emphasizing resilience in your solar array, then you may want to pay special attention to the type of inverter you choose. Your panels naturally produce Direct Current electricity, but the grid uses Alternating Current electricity to power your home or business. String inverters, hybrid inverters, microinverters, and power optimizers are different technologies that convert the DC energy your panels produce into AC energy. Check out their costs and benefits to determine which one is right for your needs.
- String inverters: The most affordable option, string inverters convert the energy of many different panels, but can fail if a single panel in the series goes bad.
- Microinverters: Microinverters are more expensive than string inverters but offer protection from a system-wide failure, as each panel has its own inverter.
- Power optimizers: Power optimizers control the solar panel to maximize energy production by moving it throughout the day and by moderating the currents they send out to minimize losses from electrical imbalances.
- Hybrid inverters: Hybrid inverters are more expensive than string inverters, but they combine the solar inverters and battery inverters, which are needed for systems that store excess electricity via battery into one, removing the need for two separate inverters.
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Can Solar Panels Provide Electricity During A Blackout
Yes, solar panels generate electricity from the sun, so they do produce electricity in the daytime during blackouts. However, unless your solar system is configured to allow you to draw power from it during a blackout, you cant draw power from your system. Most grid-tied solar systems are not configured to draw electricity during blackouts. To draw electricity from your solar panels during a blackout, you need a power inverter that is designed to provide it.
How Can I Keep My House Powered During A Blackout
The first option is to use a generator. Depending on the frequency and duration of blackouts in your area, the amount of electricity you want to be able to use, and your ability to keep your generator fueled throughout an outage, a generator could be your best and most cost-effective solution. This is especially true if you have infrequent blackouts and only want to keep a few key appliances running, such as your refrigerator.
A small generator that provides enough power for lights, some low power appliances, and one or two refrigerators can cost only a few hundred dollars.
But if youâre a solar homeowner and want to use solar electricity rather than fossil fuels to keep your house powered during a blackout, you have two options.
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Three Main Factors To Consider When Looking For The Best Solar Generator
- Battery Capacity Battery storage capacity is an important thing to look for when determining the usability of a solar generator. Higher capacity means that your generator will keep your devices running for a longer period before it needs to be recharged. So, be sure to go for the highest possible battery capacity for your budget.
- Inverter Rating If your solar generator has a low inverter rating, you might not be able to use high-wattage devices and appliances. Be sure to get a generator with an inverter rating that corresponds with the wattage of items youre planning to power with the generator.
Some solar generators are equipped with inverter chargers. These generators can obtain battery power via other sources apart from solar panels. You might consider investing in these types of generators if you are looking to use high-wattage devices and appliances.
- Portability Look for a solar generator that is easy to carry around. If youre going for a backup solar generator, its advisable to choose one that has wheels and extended handles to enhance portability.
When it comes to choosing portable solar charges, some are designed to be more portable than others. Therefore, be sure to select a unit that has properly-designed handles and is relatively lightweight.
Are Home Battery Systems Safe What Are The Potential Risks
Battery storage systems are generally safe. The primary safety concern is the potential for overheating which your storage provider should address through several safety measures, including:
- Ensuring there is an adequate cooling system
- Including dividers between individual battery cells
- Using battery packs with built-in electronic protection circuits
- Monitoring of system temperature, rate of charging and discharging
- Providing remote shut-off via smart management software
You should confirm with your prospective battery storage providers that all included hardware meets the safety criteria of reliable third-parties, such as Underwriter Laboratories and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, who set safety standards for most battery storage components.
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What Are The Sizes And Dimensions
Home battery storage system size is largely dependent on your specific energy needs. Almost every battery storage provider offers a scalable technology and designs products according to your energy use and home needs. For the typical home, a garage or backroom will provide sufficient space to install the battery. Your storage provider can help you select appropriate placement for your battery storage unit.
Financial Incentives Include Battery Systems
If youâre seriously considering a battery system, youâll be happy to know that the 30% federal tax credit also applies to your battery system. This means that the substantial upfront cost of a solar battery is reduced by at least the federal tax credit, and possibly other state and local incentives as well.
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Does My Home Solar Work During A Power Outage
During an electric power outage, your solar system will not provide power to your home unless designed to do so. This is to ensure that your solar system does not send power to the grid when it could be dangerous to electrical workers. For more information on accessing your homes solar power during and outage, call your solar provider.Ready to go solar? Learn more about your options.
Future Costs Of Batteries
The cost of lithium ion batteries has been dropping dramatically, just like it has with solar equipment. This means that if have a battery system, the inevitable replacement cost in 5 to 15 years should be substantially lower than the cost that you pay now.
Just keep in mind that the current 30% federal tax credit will be dropping in 2020, and drop to zero in 2022, unless Congress renews the credit again. This means that you might not have the benefit of incentives that are available now.
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Can Home Batteries Be Installed Either Indoors Or Outdoors
Most battery storage suppliers offer both indoor and outdoor options to suit your needs. If you decide to install an outdoor system, ensure that your battery storage enclosure is Underwriters Laboratories -certified or National Electrical Manufacturers Association-rated to meet applicable safety standards.
Power Outages Are Increasing At An Alarming Rate
The United States leads all developed nations in power outages and blackouts,5 affecting millions of people6 in the path of severe storms, wildfires, and heat waves. On the East Coast, high winds at 60 mph winds cut power to more than 1 million customers and toppled 4,000 power lines. On the West Coast, a raging fire in California forced utility companies to shut off electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes.7
Power companies are now preemptively shutting down the utility grid because they anticipate a blackout. For example, news outlets up and down California are reporting that utilities are planning on voluntarily shutting down power. If wildfires, heat waves or customer demand is too much for the grid to handle, utilities want the authority to turn off the power that feeds our homes.8
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If I Have Solar Panels Will I Have Power During A Blackout
If you have a home solar system without a battery that is connected to your utility, your home solar system will not work during a power outage. Your home will not be able to produce or consume solar energy while the power is out.
When the power goes out, your home solar-only system will automatically turn off. This is to prevent solar energy flowing through the utility grid while repair crews fix any downed power lines or other failures. When the utility grid comes back up, your home solar-only system will automatically turn back on.
You can add an energy storage system to your home solar system to help you power your most needed lights and appliances during a power outage. For more information, visit our blog.
The amount of power available from the battery during a power outage is limited, depending on the loads connected, customer usage and battery configuration . Solar systems and/or batteries may require repairs after weather events and such repairs may be delayed due to forces outside of our control. No assurances can be given that the solar system or the battery will always work. You should never rely upon either of these to power life support or other medical devices.
So How Can I Keep The Power On
There are several options for keeping the power on, depending on how much you need and where you need it. Make sure your system can be disconnected from the grid before activating back-up power, for the reasons outlined above.
- Back-up generator. If your needs are modest, a small fuel or oil generator can provide enough power to keep the lights on or other appliances running until power is restored.
- Dedicated battery. This is a small battery that is hooked up to a single circuit to keep it running, for example your fridge.
- Back-up battery. This can be a single battery or a bank of batteries that are charged by your solar panels. When the power goes out, they can be set to power potentially your entire house, at least until they run out of charge.
Just remember that while back-up batteries are tempting, power outages in Australia are fairly rare and a good battery can set you back between $5,000 and $20,000.
What if I’m off-grid?
For off-grid systems that aren’t connected to the main power network, you will most likely already have batteries installed as part of your set-up. In case of a power outage on the network, you won’t be affected, and your solar panels and battery back-up will continue to function as normal.
Solar Run is a solar retailer who can help you install solar on your rooftop.
- Get quotes for solar panels and battery storage
- Clean Energy Council approved retailer
- NSW, VIC, SA, QLD and ACT
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