A solar system will not provide electricity during a power outage unless paired with a solar battery bank. Solar installers must design systems to shut off during outages to protect worker safety. If technicians are working on power lines to restore power, the solar system could create unsafe working conditions. As a result, the inverter on your solar system is designed to shut down when the grid is down.
Solar systems with batteries are an exception because they can operate without sending power to the grid. If you have a solar system with batteries, you will have energy during a blackout. At Smart Solar Energy, we design solar energy systems that supply power during grid outages. This enables your solar panels and batteries to power critical loads, keeping the lights and fridge on, powering the sump pump, and charging cell phones.
To learn more about installing a solar energy system with batteries, request a solar audit from Smart Solar Energy. One of our solar experts will assess the renewable energy potential of your property and provide a quote for a PV system.
Why is backup power during an outage important?
Our homes are designed to have electricity. Although we might not think about it, we rely on the power being on every day. Thus, when the grid fails, it can cause property damage. In addition, we typically lose many of the comforts and conveniences of home. When power outages are combined with extreme weather events, it is even more helpful and reassuring to have power.
Preventing property damage
Even if you heat your home with natural gas or propane, the furnace or boiler may need some electricity to run. In severe cases, power outages can even lead to frozen pipes and water damage. Many times, the food in our refrigerators and freezers will spoil, wasting money.
Disrupting daily lives
Children might be afraid of the dark, and it is difficult to communicate with friends and family when the power is out. If you work from home, your productivity may suffer if you cannot charge your laptop or power communication equipment. Even if the pipes don’t freeze, your home might be an uncomfortable temperature. If you use a well pump for water, you may also have no water during a grid outage, making it difficult to wash dishes, shower, cook, and flush toilets.
How can I have power during a grid outage?
To have power during an outage, you will need to produce electricity or store power yourself. The two primary ways are with a solar system with batteries or a whole house generator.
Solar systems with batteries
A solar panel system with batteries allows your home to have power, regardless of a grid outage. Your solar modules charge the batteries, allowing you to have power even during an extended outage.
At Smart Solar Energy, our installers primarily use two different solar batteries: the Tesla Powerwall and the LG Chem RESU battery. Both are excellent options for residential applications, and they include a 10-year warranty.
The Tesla Powerwall has a usable capacity of 13.5 kWh, and the LG Chem RESU has a slightly smaller capacity at 9.3 kWh. Both systems allow the batteries to start powering your home during an outage immediately, and the solar panels will recharge the batteries during the day.
Whole house generators
These engine-powered machines use a fuel source to produce electricity and are stationary. They connect with your home’s electrical system by feeding power directly to your electrical panel. Some generators are designed to turn off when the power goes out automatically. This means it will be producing power within about thirty seconds, or some setups require someone to start the unit.
These generators come in a variety of sizes and capacities, depending on the need of the home. Unfortunately, they are powered by fossil fuels, such as diesel, liquid propane, or natural gas. The cost varies widely depending on the model, but they start at several thousand for the unit plus professional installation runs in the thousands.
Which is better for emergency power: a whole house generator or a solar system with batteries?
There are numerous advantages and disadvantages of owning a backup generator compared to a solar system with batteries.
Pros of whole-house generators:
Upfront cost: Depending on the model, generators often have a lower upfront cost than installing a solar system with batteries. Unlike a solar system, generators require periodic maintenance every year or two, which adds to the cost of ownership. Also, unlike solar energy, homeowners need to pay for the fuel to keep the generator running. Therefore, generators generally have a lower upfront cost but a higher cost of ownership.
Powering demanding appliances: Depending on what you want to power during an outage, a generator might be more effective. For example, if you run your air conditioner, electric water heater, or oven for long periods, a solar system with batteries might struggle to keep up, especially in cloudy weather. When adequately sized, a generator is better equipped to handle power-hungry appliances.
Most solar PV systems are well equipped to handle powering cell phones, routers, an entertainment system, the refrigerator, and LED or incandescent lights. Smart Solar Energy can install a critical load panel with your solar battery that allows you to prioritize which loads you want to run during an outage.
Cons Of A Generator:
No utility bill savings: Unfortunately, generators only provide value when the power grid is down, which is less than 1% of the time in the Pacific Northwest. A generator will not lower your power bills and provides no daily value besides peace of mind.
By contrast. solar systems produce free power, resulting in significant utility bill savings. Even in cloudy weather, your solar panels will generate some electricity. The Smart Solar Energy team is skilled in solar panel placement, ensuring you will get the most clean energy out of your solar investment.
To find out how much you can save with a renewable energy system, request a free solar audit from Smart Solar Energy. We have years of experience and have installed solar panels for hundreds of families in Oregon.
Noisy operation: Many homeowners struggle with the noise that generators produce. They commonly range from 65 to 100 decibels, which can exceed many community noise ordinances. The motor continuously makes a sound when running, which can even disturb neighbors, depending on proximity. If there is an extended power outage, a generator can run around the clock for days. Thankfully, solar systems with batteries contain no moving parts, therefore, are completely quiet.
Air pollution: Unfortunately, generators produce emissions when they consume fuel. These units emit carbon monoxide, which makes proper generator placement crucial. It is essential to locate a generator at least 20 feet from the house and away from air conditioning units, doors, and windows so that fumes don’t enter the home.
Depending on the size and layout of your property, it can be challenging to find a suitable location for this unit. Generators should not be located inside an enclosed space, such as a garage or shed. Sadly, generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when misused, which can be harmful or even deadly.
Thankfully, advanced lithium-ion solar batteries are safe and do not cause air pollution or harmful emissions. In fact, when combined with other zero-emissions technologies, such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, solar electricity can further reduce emissions. Also, Smart Solar Energy technicians are highly trained and experienced in installing solar batteries, so you know we will get the job done right.
Reliance on fossil fuels: Because backup generators rely on a fuel source, they are vulnerable to supply disruptions. During extreme weather, it might be challenging to purchase needed fuel supplies. Some generators rely on a natural gas line, but utility companies sometimes turn off gas service after earthquakes to prevent safety issues from ruptured gas lines.
By contrast, solar batteries recharge each day with energy from the sun. If you match your household electricity use with the solar system output, your home could run indefinitely without pulling power from the grid. Therefore, solar systems with batteries help promote true energy independence.
Regular maintenance: Whole house generators need to be professionally serviced every two years or every 200 hours of operation. If they are not properly maintained, they may not work properly during a power outage. Regular maintenance includes changing the spark plugs, air filter, and oil.
Because solar systems have no moving parts, they are almost maintenance-free. There is no regular maintenance that needs to be performed.
How does a solar system with batteries lower my electricity bills?
There are several ways that your solar system will lower your power bills. One is by reducing the amount of power you pull from the grid because your home will first consume the power your panels generated. Second, you will also receive credits for the surplus power you supply to the grid under net energy metering. Finally, you can benefit from time-of-use rates from the power company. (if offered by your local utility company). Both Portland General Electric and Pacific Power offer this electricity rate structure to residential customers.
In many areas in Oregon, the price of power varies depending on the time of day and even year. Utility companies offer this pricing model to encourage customers to use less energy during times of peak demand, thus evening out demand throughout the day. In Oregon, many power companies offer time-of-use pricing, and you can opt in to this program.
Portland General Electric (PGE) divides the year into two seasons: May through October and November through April. Off-peak rates are just $0.041 per kWh. At mid-peak pricing, the rate is $0.071 per kWh and $0.124 during on-peak pricing.
The time for each rate varies a bit. Off-peak hours are between 10 pm and 6 am. Mid-peak hours are during the morning and early afternoon. On-peak hours last during the late afternoon and early evening.
Pacific Power’s time-of-use pricing schedule is a bit simpler and doesn’t have a seasonal component. The off-peak electricity rate is $0.06 per kWh, and on-peak pricing is $0.24 per kWh. On-peak rates are in effect from 5 pm to 9 pm, and off-peak rates are in effect the rest of the time.
For homes with solar batteries, you can draw power from your batteries during times of on-peak pricing, saving money. You can then pull energy from the grid during off-peak pricing when rates are the lowest. In addition to cost savings, doing this also helps reduce the need to turn on peaker power plants to meet your energy needs, thus benefittiing the environment.
Will my power go out temporarily while my solar batteries power up?
During a power outage, you will have no loss of power if you have a solar system with batteries. Unlike a backup generator that takes up to 30 seconds to power up (or longer if it is manual), the solar system will automatically power your house right away.
In fact, Smart Solar Energy customers have told us that they didn’t realize the power was out until they noticed that none of their neighbors had the lights on when they did! This immediate power means you won’t have to reset clocks or other electronics.
What are the leading causes of grid outages in Oregon?
Pacific Power, Portland General Electric, and other power companies go to great lengths to maintain equipment and manage vegetation around electrical equipment. Despite this hard work, we still do experience power outages. Although Oregon has a pretty reliable utility grid, there were some relatively widespread outages recently. Occasionally, these outages can last for an extended period of time.
Often, weather-related events cause blackouts, but they are sometimes caused by equipment failure, an animal, or a vehicle collision with utility equipment. Despite power companies taking actions to prevent outages, they are difficult to avoid altogether. As the effects of climate change intensify, outages will likely become more common and widespread due to increasingly common extreme weather events.
Storms: Winter and summer storms are often responsible for outages because they cause trees to fall. This can cause interruptions in the electrical lines and equipment. Because Oregon is such a heavily forested state, downed trees are relatively common after major storms.
Pacific Power, Portland General Electric, Idaho Power, and other electric utility companies dispatch technicians to make repairs to restore electrical service. Depending on the extent of the damage, this can be a lengthy process.
Public safety power shutoffs (PSPS): Like in California, the electricity in Oregon is sometimes shut off when the risk of wildfires is incredibly high. Unfortunately, sparks from electrical lines during windy, dry conditions create the conditions for wildfires. Therefore, Pacific Power and other power companies must use public safety shutoffs to reduce this risk.
This extreme action is taken only as a last resort and has the intention of impacting the fewest households and businesses possible. Whenever possible, customers are contacted to keep them informed, but it can be challenging to predict how long PSPS will last. The power is restored as soon as these extreme conditions have decreased or ceased.
Equipment failure: Even with periodic maintenance and upgrades, electrical equipment can fail. Issues with transformer issues, broken insulators, and underground cables cause power outages, and technicians must replace broken equipment.
Does Smart Solar Energy install solar systems with batteries?
Yes, the Smart Solar Energy team is skilled in installing PV systems with solar batteries. Our installation team offers two different batteries to choose from: the Tesla Powerwall 2 and the LG Chem RESU battery. Both options feature a sleek, compact design and take up very little space. These solar batteries combine well with other high-quality solar components, including solar panels and SolarEdge inverters.
The Tesla Powerwall 2 has become an especially popular option recently in California, where residents have had power safety shutoffs to prevent forest fires. Sadly, 2020 was the most active fire year on the West Coast. Climate scientists warn that wildfires could become increasingly common due to global warming and more intense weather patterns, such as droughts.
Will I still be connected to the power grid if I have solar batteries?
Yes, we recommend your home stays connected to the power grid after installing solar batteries. Even if you have solar batteries, being connected to the grid allows you to consume as much power as you need without being mindful of depleting the batteries. Otherwise, you need to be mindful of running power-hungry appliances, such as the air conditioner, electric heating systems, the oven, and dehumidifiers.
Can I install my solar panels now and add a battery later?
Some Smart Solar Energy customers want to install the solar system now and add storage capacities later. If you are interested in doing this, it is helpful to let us know before designing your solar system. Knowing you will add a solar battery bank might impact our equipment selection, such as the solar inverter. The Smart Solar Energy team can design and install a solar system that is “storage-ready,” which allows you to easily add a lithium-ion battery later.
What are the disadvantages of installing a solar system with a battery?
If your solar panel system doesn’t have a battery, it will have a lower upfront cost. Unfortunately, adding storage capacity does add to the total system cost. For this reason, some of our customers design the solar system to be “storage ready” and then add the battery later.
Another option is to seek solar financing. Smart Solar Energy works with Oregon credit unions to provide excellent financing options with low-interest rates. Many of our customers install solar systems for no money down!
Does the federal tax credit apply to solar batteries?
Yes, the solar tax credit also applies to batteries. The federal government offers a 26% tax credit that reduces the net solar system cost. This is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income taxes owed to the federal government and is more valuable to the taxpayer than a write-off.
The solar tax credit applies to all the equipment and labor associated with the solar system, including the battery and installation of the energy storage system. Keep in mind that the tax credit will taper down to 22% at the end of 2022, so now is a great time to install your solar system. Speak with a tax expert to better understand how the tax credit applies to your household.
How do I get started with installing a solar energy system with batteries?
The first step in going solar is to request a free solar audit from Smart Solar Energy. One of our solar experts will help design a solar system that fits your needs, goals, and budget. It is helpful to have a year of electricity bills to assist us in properly sizing your solar panel system. Also, if you would like a solar battery, it is helpful to know what loads you most want to power.