It’s said that there is no place like home. However, many of the comforts of home rely on a functional electric grid. During power outages, many of our houses are dark, cold, and inhospitable. This is one of the biggest reasons solar systems with battery backup have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. Also, falling battery prices have made them more affordable to Oregonians than ever before. Meanwhile, advances in solar batteries make them safer and more powerful, boosting their appeal.
Many homeowners contact Smart Solar Energy asking about solar batteries. Let’s explore why so many people are installing solar systems with batteries and examine some basic information, so you can determine if they are right for your household.
How do solar batteries work?
Installing a solar battery bank allows your home to store the electricity that your solar panels produce. At night, you can draw electricity from either your solar battery or the power grid.
When your solar panels are producing more power than your home is consuming, you can either:
- Charge your batteries or
- Send your power to the grid and receive credits on your bill.
Net energy metering (or net energy billing) is a program where utility companies provide credits to their customers for supplying surplus solar energy to the grid. Under Oregon’s net metering laws, all utility customers can generate their own electricity and offset their energy bills. Solar system owners with batteries can still take advantage of net energy metering or store the solar energy for later use.
Can solar batteries save money?
Power outages can cause expensive damage to homes. Having a solar system with batteries can help provide power when the grid is down, saving money.
Burst or frozen pipes
When water freezes, it expands. If pipes freeze, the water inside can cause the pipes to crack or burst. A ⅛ inch crack can cause 250 gallons of water to spew out, resulting in costly property damage.
If a pipe does burst in your home, turn off the water supply immediately to stop further water damage. In addition to the water damage, accessing frozen pipes can also be expensive. In some cases, walls must be repaired after fixing the pipe.
Many furnaces, boilers, and space heaters are fueled by propane, natural gas, or fuel oil, but they still require electricity to operate. For example, a natural gas furnace uses a blower to distribute the heated air throughout your home. If you have a solar system with batteries, it can help power your heating system, preventing pipes from freezing.
During power outages, much of the perishable food in our homes can spoil in an extended power outage. Although this might be an excellent excuse to eat all the popsicles and ice cream at record speed, many foods in the refrigerator or freezer may spoil.
Unfortunately, it can be challenging to know how long a grid outage will last, but utility companies do try to offer their best estimate. If you think the power will be out for a relatively short period, keep the doors to the refrigerator and freezer shut.
If the grid outage is likely longer than a few hours and you have frozen gel packs and an empty cooler, you might be able to save some of your food by moving it into the cooler. If the power is out for an extended period and the gel packs have unthawed, consider buying ice. If your solar system has a battery bank, like the Tesla Powerwall, you can easily power critical loads like the refrigerator and freezer, preventing spoiled food.
In Oregon, many homes have basements that flood. Sump pumps can remove water from heavy rains and snowmelt. Unfortunately, power outages often correspond with storms because downed trees are often the culprit. Therefore, your sump pump might fail when you need it most! Flooded basements can cause property damage and even mold issues. Solar system batteries keep sump pumps running, keeping basements dry and preventing costly water damage.
Having supplies on hand during a power outage can help reduce the impact and disruption. For example, some people may buy a camping stove if their electric stove is down. Candles and flashlights are helpful for nighttime power outages. Likewise, purchasing a small battery pack or idling a car to charge a cell phone can keep your device powered. Keeping frozen gel packs and a cooler handy are also excellent ideas for preventing food from spoiling. Having firewood onhand can prevent the pipes from freezing if you have a wood stove. Some families may even need to stay at a hotel until the power comes back on. Unfortunately, these additional purchases can really add up but are preventable with a solar energy system with batteries.
Now more than ever, many people can work from home. When the grid is down, it is tough to power computers, wi-fi routers, and other devices. Having a solar system with batteries helps reduce work-related productivity from a power outage and the associated wage losses.
To find out how much a solar system with batteries for your home would cost, request a free solar audit from Smart Solar Energy. We have years of experience and have hundreds of families in Oregon go solar.
Can I save money on my utility bills with solar batteries?
Yes, especially if your electric utility uses time-of-use pricing. This approach involves using your stored solar energy when the price of electricity is highest.
Our electric bills are assessed using a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. In many areas, the price of kWh varies depending on the time of day and the time of year. This pricing model encourages customers to use power during times of off-peak demand, helping to smooth out demand throughout the day. In Oregon, many utilities offer time-of-use pricing, and customers can opt-into this program.
Portland General Electric
Portland General Electric (PGE) offers time-of-use pricing for its residential customers. They divide up the year into two seasons: May 1 to October 31 and November 1 to April 30. During off-peak hours, the electricity rates are the lowest, at $0.041 per kWh. At mid-peak pricing, customers pay $0.071 per kWh and $0.124 at on-peak pricing.
Although it varies a bit by season, off-peak hours are when most of us are sleeping, between 10 pm and 6 am. Mid-peak hours include the morning and into the afternoon. On-peak hours are generally late afternoon and early evening.
Pacific Power offers a slightly simpler time-of-use pricing schedule for electric utility customers. During off-peak hours, the electricity rates are $0.06 per kWh, and on-peak pricing is $0.24 per kWh. On-peak pricing is in effect from 5 pm to 9 pm, and Pacific Power offers off-peak rates the rest of the day.
Solar Batteries and time-of-use pricing
Without batteries, utility customers can try their best to use power during off-peak hours to lower their electricity bills. For example, if you have an electric vehicle, you can charge it when the power rates are the lowest. Unfortunately, other adjustments in power use can be awkward or impractical.
For homeowners with solar batteries, you can power your home from solar energy and your batteries when rates are highest. Smart Solar Energy technicians can program your solar battery bank to power your home during times of on-peak pricing if you need more than the solar panels are producing.
Then, you can use power from the grid when the rates are lowest and the sun has set throughout the night. In the morning, if your solar PV system is generating more electricity than your home is consuming, your batteries will charge back up. When evening comes, and the electricity rates are highest, your home will be powered by solar panels or the battery storage system again.
Powering your home this way means that you can consume power when it is cheapest, at $0.04 or $0.06 per kWh instead of at on-peak pricing of $0.12 or $0.24 per kWh. This approach can result in significant cost savings to solar systems owners and reduce peak demand on the electric grid.
To find out how much you can save with a solar system with batteries, request a free solar audit from Smart Solar Energy. We have years of experience and have hundreds of families across Oregon and Washington go solar.
Will solar panels increase my home value?
Numerous studies show that installing a solar energy system on your home has a significant impact on the property value. A 2019 Zillow study compares comparable homes with and without solar panels. The research shows a 4.1% increase in property value in homes with solar systems than homes without.
One of the reasons solar PV systems boost property values is that solar houses are cheaper to operate because they have significantly lower energy bills. Many home shoppers want to help the environment, and owning a solar-powered home is an excellent way to reduce their carbon footprint. Also, adding solar batteries protects the home during power outages, further increasing the solar energy system’s benefits.
If I have solar panels, will my home have power during an outage?
If your home has energy storage capabilities, you will have power during a blackout. Solar energy systems without batteries typically shut down during grid outages to protect the safety of workers restoring power. However, solar systems with batteries do operate during outages. At Smart Solar Energy, our solar technicians are skilled in installing solar systems with battery banks.
Will my whole house have power if I have solar batteries?
Whether all your appliances and gadgets have power during outages depends on the size and capacity of your solar system and batteries. At Smart Solar Energy, we install solar PV systems with a critical load panel to prioritizes which circuits get power.
For example, you might want to run a sump pump in your basement to prevent flood damage. Running the furnace might be a high priority, so your pipes don’t freeze in the winter. Keeping the refrigerator running can prevent food waste, and critical medical equipment might help keep your loved ones healthy. Powering communication equipment and computers can help ensure home offices are up and running, maintaining productivity.
When the Smart Solar Energy team installs your system, we can help you decide which loads are most crucial. We are dedicated to really understanding your needs so we can best serve you. Contact us today to request a solar audit from Smart Solar Energy.
Which is better, a standby generator or solar batteries?
A whole house generator (or standby generator) is another way to produce your own electricity during a blackout. These engine-powered machines connect to your home’s electrical system and contain a fuel source. Depending on the set-up, they can either automatically turn on in less than about 30 seconds during an outage, or homeowners can manually start them. Standby generators come in a variety of sizes, capacities, and models.
There are numerous pros and cons to having a generator during a power outage. The cost of a standby generator starts at several thousand dollars, plus the cost of a professional installation which can run in the thousands. Although a whole house generator could have a lower upfront cost than a solar system with batteries, going solar has numerous advantages.
Significant utility bill savings
A solar system provides value on a daily basis by dramatically reducing your electricity bill. Even on cloudy winter days, a solar system will generate some electricity. A solar system can literally pay for itself in utility bill savings. Generators only provide value when the power grid is down, which is typically less than 1% of the time in Oregon. Unlike a solar system, a whole house generator won’t lower your energy bills.
Generators make noise whenever they are running because they contain a motor and moving parts. During an extended outage, generators can run for many hours and may even disturb neighbors. Thankfully, solar batteries are completely quiet, even if you are standing right next to them.
No harmful emissions
Because generators consume diesel, liquified petroleum gas (LPG), propane, or natural gas, they produce carbon monoxide and other emissions. This exhaust is harmful from both an air quality and climate change perspective. Hospitalizations from carbon monoxide poisoning are not uncommon in the United States.
Thus, proper generator placement is essential to protect your family. If you install a generator, locate it at least 20 feet from your home and far from the air conditioning unit, windows, or doors. Placing a generator in an enclosed space like a garage is extremely dangerous. Sadly, carbon monoxide deaths from generators during power outages are not uncommon. In fact, four people passed away in Clackamas County in 2021 from using a backup generator during a power outage from a snow and ice storm that swept the area.
By contrast, a solar battery is a clean way to power your home, and lithium-ion batteries produce no exhaust. The most crucial consideration when siting a solar system is how to capture the most clean energy to get the most significant utility bill savings.
Because generators depend on fuel, they are only as reliable as their fuel supply. They can only run for a finite amount of time before they need more fuel (unless connected to a gas line). Unfortunately, fuel supply shortages can occur during natural disasters from supply disruptions. During earthquakes, utility companies often turn off natural gas lines to prevent fires from ruptured lines.
Thankfully, solar systems with batteries can recharge daily using the free solar energy falling on your property. You can match your household energy consumption with the solar system output, allowing your home to operate indefinitely without grid power! Solar energy systems with batteries are an excellent way to boost your energy independence.
Although some backup generators are small, built-in generators can take up a decent bit of space in your yard. Due to safety concerns from the exhaust fumes, proper placement is essential. Unfortunately, the safest option isn’t always the most convenient location.
If your garden space is limited, finding space for a whole house generator can be a major disadvantage, especially for something that so rarely provides value to your home. By contrast, solar energy batteries have a tiny footprint. The Tesla Powerwall and LG Chem battery are compact and mount to your wall.
No power disruption
Even the fastest generators take several seconds to power up to keep your home running. Before the generator powers up, the lights might go out, the clocks could reset, and electronics without batteries may shut down.
By contrast, solar batteries react to a power outage in just a fraction of a second, resulting in no downtime or disruption. Many solar homeowners don’t even know there is a blackout until they realize that none of the neighbors have their lights on!
Very little maintenance
Whole house generators should be serviced every couple of years or after every 200 hours of use. Servicing a generator includes changing the oil, spark plugs, and air filter. Without proper maintenance, the standby generator might not work during a power outage, which is what it is designed to do.
With no moving parts, solar energy systems are virtually maintenance-free. Advanced lithium-ion batteries are safe and highly reliable. One thing that can help protect the batteries and extend their lifespan and performance is installing them indoors to avoid extreme weather fluctuations, such as frigid temperatures or smoldering heat. Keep in mind that you could void the warranties on your solar batteries if they are exposed to extremely cold or hot temperatures. Our expert solar energy technicians can help assess the best location for installing your solar panels and battery storage system.
What causes power outages in Oregon?
Thankfully, Oregon has a relatively reliable electric grid. Acts of nature, equipment failure, and even emergency power shut offs are the primary causes of blackouts in the Pacific Northwest. A few outages are caused each year by animals, like squirrels creating a short circuit or vehicle collisions with utility poles. Unfortunately, climate change could make extreme weather more common, increasing the prevalence of blackouts in the future.
Oregon has a lot of trees, which also makes it a beautiful place to live. During storms, high winds will often knock down trees which can impact power lines and equipment. Even though utility companies take actions to prevent trees from causing downed utility lines, it is difficult to avoid them altogether.
After storms, Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, Idaho Power, and other utility companies send out crews to restore power. Restoring power to all customers after a severe storm can be a time-consuming process.
Utility equipment failure
Transformer problems, broken insulators, and underground cables issues can cause electric outages and require equipment replacement. Ongoing maintenance from utility companies helps prevent equipment failure, but some occasional outages are challenging to avoid.
Public safety shutoffs
Like in California, electricity is sometimes shut off in Oregon when the risk of wildfires is greatest. Sparks from power lines, combined with windy and dry conditions, can create the ideal conditions for raging wildfires. Thus, Pacific Power and other utility companies use public safety shutoffs to mitigate the risk.
This drastic measure is only taken as a last resort and to impact the fewest number of utility customers possible. The electric company makes efforts to contact customers when public safety shut-offs are necessary and considered unavoidable. Once the extreme wildfire conditions have lessened, the electric company will restore power. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for utility providers to predict precisely how long the power will be out, adding uncertainty to an already difficult situation.
What should I look for when choosing a solar battery?
There are three primary metrics to keep in mind when selecting your solar battery: maximum power rating, usable capacity, and warranties.
Maximum power rating
This is measured in kW and describes how much electricity the battery can output at one time. A high power rating will mean you have more available electricity, but the battery will become depleted more quickly because it is rapidly using power. A battery’s maximum power rating will dictate how many and which loads can run simultaneously. The higher the maximum power rating, the more major appliances your solar batteries can power at one time.
A battery’s usable capacity is measured in kWh and describes how much electricity can be stored when the battery is fully charged. The usable capacity dictates how long you can power your loads before needing to recharge.
Solar battery warranties
Two of the best batteries on the market are the Tesla Powerwall 2 and the LG Chem RESU. They both include a ten-year warranty to protect your investment. Like the battery in your cell phone or laptop, the capacity decreases over time. Both Tesla and LG ensure a certain percentage of the battery’s original rated capacity for ten years. Tesla ensures 70% of its capacity to hold a charge, while LG Chem offers 60% for ten years.
It is crucial to understand the improper installation of a solar battery can void its warranty. Thus, it is essential to use a solar contractor that is skilled and experienced in installing solar systems with battery backup. The Smart Solar Energy team has years of experience installing solar batteries throughout Oregon and Washington.
What are my solar battery options?
Smart Solar Energy installs two advanced lithium-ion solar batteries for our Oregon and Washington solar customers. Both products have been on the market for several years and have a proven track record for delivering reliable, high-quality products.
Tesla PowerWall 2
From the Tesla Model 3 to solar roofs, the Tesla name is nearly synonymous with clean energy, innovation, and sleek product design. The Tesla Powerwall has a usable capacity of 13.5 kWh, and it has a maximum power rating of 5.0 kW. Because the Powerwall is a modular battery, our solar installers can add numerous Powerwalls to the same solar energy system. This solar battery comes with a ten-year warranty to protect your investment. The warranty ensures that the battery retains 70% of its ability to hold a charge during the ten-year period.
LG Chem Battery
LG is a leading name in home electronics and a trusted solar panel manufacturer. The LG Chem RESU battery has 9.3 kWh of usable capacity and a maximum power rating of 5.0 kW. LG recommends installing no more than two RESU solar batteries together. LG offers a ten-year warranty on its battery and ensures the battery will retain at least 60% of its capacity to hold a charge during that time.
Should I install a solar system with batteries?
Installing a solar energy system makes sense for most Oregon homeowners. However, whether it is best to also install solar batteries depends on your particular home, your energy needs, project budget, and the local utility provider.
If your local utility offers time-of-use rates, solar-plus-storage tends to make more financial sense than it would otherwise. Adding energy storage capabilities to your solar energy system does increase the total system cost.
The good news is that solar batteries do qualify for a 26% federal solar tax credit, which helps offset the cost somewhat. This is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in income taxes owed to the federal government. Thus, the solar tax credit is more valuable to the taxpayer than a tax write-off. A $20,000 solar panel system is eligible for a $5,200 tax credit, significantly reducing the total system cost. Speak with a tax expert to understand how to utilize the solar tax credit.
Another important consideration is how reliable is your electric grid? Do you experience frequent extended power outages? It is also useful to consider if it is crucial for you to have power during an outage. In some cases, backup power is essential to prevent costly damage, protect the vulnerable, or remain productive at work. Other families can wait out power outages when needed.
To learn more about installing a solar PV system with batteries, request a solar audit from Smart Solar Energy. A solar expert will assess the solar potential of your home and provide a quote for a system.
Has climate change made the power grid less reliable?
Unfortunately, climate change is contributing to extreme weather events and making them more common and widespread. Our aging electricity grid is vulnerable to heavy precipitation, hurricanes, wildfires, coastal floods, heatwaves, and droughts.
Sadly, extreme weather events and resulting power outages have become more common in the United States in the last several decades, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. In the coming years, scientists predict the severity of several types of extreme weather will increase, including droughts, wildfires, coastal flooding, heatwaves, and severe precipitation events, including rain and snow.
2021 Texas power crisis
There were widespread power outages in Texas in February of 2021 after snow and ice storms left 4.5 million households without power at their peak and many without clean drinking water. Frigid temperatures closed gas fields and coal power plants and highlighted how some power grids are not resilient during extreme weather.
According to estimates, the economic damage of the 2021 Texas power outage ranges between $195 billion and $295 billion. Tragically, there have been dozens of deaths due to the event, several from exposure to cold within homes after power outages caused heating systems to fail. Some consider the Texas power grid failure to be a climate change cautionary tale.
Climate change in Oregon
In Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest, the impacts of climate change have been severe, and average temperatures have increased at least 1.5°F since the first half of the twentieth century. Declining mountain snowmelt is threatening summer water supplies, impacting rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers throughout the Willamette Valley. Since 2000, there has only been one year that Oregon has not experienced at least moderate levels of drought.
Meanwhile, record-shattering wildfires have been devastating local communities and destroying forests. The 2020 wildfire season in Oregon was catastrophic and burned over 1.07 million acres and 4,000 homes. Continued severe droughts could create similar conditions for future fire seasons.
Using solar power is an excellent way to mitigate climate change and reduce your reliance on polluting fossil fuels. Adding solar batteries to your solar system provides power during grid outages. Thus solar-plus-storage is a win-win situation for the environment and Oregon homeowners.