California has been ravaged by wildfires for the last few years and the trend is showing next to no sign of slowing down. With the fires getting so bad and PG&E being held liable for the historic Camp Fire a few years back, utility providers throughout the state have implemented policies that allow them to shut off power when the risk of fire gets too high. That means that virtually anyone throughout the state could find themselves facing days without electric lights, air conditioning, a refrigerator and more when fire conditions are too prominent or a wildfire blaze continues to burn.
It’s more important than ever to have a source of backup power in the event of an outage—especially when they can last several days at a time. Those who are considering switching to solar or who have even already made the jump themselves may be wondering: is it possible to use your solar energy system to provide you with emergency power? Why should you need a generator if you have a major producer of clean energy sitting up on your roof?
First, we need to clarify this: a general solar installation cannot power your home in an emergency. The reason for this is because your solar installation is wired to the public power grid. Any power you don’t use is sent back to this grid in order to provide clean power to someone else - and it’s done so through an inverter that carefully monitors and matches the voltage in your home to the voltage in your main electrical line. You’re then paid for the power you didn’t use under California’s friendly net metering laws. However, this means if the power shuts off, your solar panels cannot pump this power back to the grid if it isn’t used. Therefore, your panels themselves have to shut off if the power source to which they’re connected shuts off.
Battery Backups and Power Outages
With that being said, it is still possible to use solar power to keep your lights on in a power outage and you’ll need to make an additional investment in a battery backup system. Battery backups were initially designed with these types of situations in mind: when the power goes out, why shouldn’t you be able to use the clean energy you generated to keep your home powered?
The average solar customer who also invests in a battery backup system actually uses their battery backup every night: because your panels don’t produce energy when the sun goes down, your battery backup system kicks in and powers your home with the remaining clean energy you produced during the day. Only when these batteries run down, do you then turn to grid power to keep your lights on.
During a power outage, your battery backup system can function as your primary source of power. Battery backup systems usually require special inverters and power controllers to direct power to the battery backups before switching it over to the public utility grid. This allows the two systems to remain separated and to keep your power on even when the public grid goes offline. Your solar panels will continue to produce the clean energy you need, your battery backup system will store any power you don’t use and you’ll be able to take advantage of that clean power as long as there’s a charge left.
However, keep in mind that when the power in these batteries runs out, your lights will shut off if the sun isn’t out. Battery backup systems do not provide you with a potentially limitless source of power, so it may actually be in your best interests to purchase a larger battery backup system that’s capable of providing you with a limited level of power for at least a few days’ time as a source of insurance and protection against fire-induced outages in the future.
To learn more about adding the power of solar energy to your home, pick up the phone and call Valley Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Solar at (408) 868-5500 today.