Home Generators vs Solar Batteries
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More homeowners are shopping for home generators or solar battery-backup systems amid a rise in severe storms, power outages, and grid shutdowns. In light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, emergency preparedness has become top-of-mind for both normal homeowners and solar-powered homeowners alike.
Home generators powered by diesel fuel, propane, or natural gas can keep refrigerated food from spoiling, protect family members from extreme temperatures, and power critical appliances such as respirators during a blackout. While home generators and battery backup share some benefits, solar-based battery-backup systems are more eco-friendly and more efficient cost-saving alternatives to many of the same problems. As the comparison below shows, both options have significant advantages and drawbacks. Here’s a scorecard:
Out-of-Pocket Costs: Score One for Generators
A portable 8-kilowatt generator costing about $800 to $1,200 can power many essentials during an outage, including the fridge, lights, water heater, home security systems, and garage door openers. A larger 22-kilowatt standby generator (so named because it’s set to turn on automatically when the grid goes down), costs about $5,000 to $10,000, including installation, and can power most home equipment, including air conditioners, washers, dryers, sump pumps, and well pumps. The up-front cost of battery backup is typically higher, or about $10,000 to $20,000 including installation. Two or more batteries are usually needed to meet a typical home’s needs for more than 12 to 15 hours.
Comparing Long-Term Payback: A Win for Battery Backup
Despite more up-front and out-of-pocket costs, long-term savings from solar-powered home batteries compensate for their higher up-front price. Homeowners can reduce electric bills by tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a battery-backup system, by generating their own power and selling any surplus back to the utility where allowed. In areas where utilities raise rates during peak demand, homeowners can save even more by drawing power from battery backup during peak-demand hours with their solar panels, and returning it to the grid during off-peak hours. In contrast, home generators are a continuing expense. They require fuel to operate and regular maintenance, including oil and filters. For more information on calculating your savings from solar, visit our solar calculator home base and click on the icon with the market in which you reside.
Ease of Purchase: Generators Win This One
Home generators are easy to find at such outlets as Lowe’s or Home Depot, including portable models that come with wheels. Larger standby generators must be installed by an electrician, at a cost usually about equal to the price of the generator itself. Homeowners who opt for battery backup must hire professionals to connect their systems to the solar array and circuit breaker.
Ease of Use: Battery Backup Wins
Backup batteries have no moving parts and require no maintenance or external fuel source other than the sun. As a Certified Tesla Powerwall Installer, Go Solar Group’s battery backup options can meet many power needs during a blackout. Generators, on the other hand, require weekly maintenance when they’re not being used, and daily upkeep when they are.
This includes checking the oil, changing the oil and filter after one or two days of continuous use, and replacing worn motor brushes as needed. Unless a generator is connected directly to a natural gas line, homeowners must refuel it often. That can be difficult and costly during bad weather or a natural disaster when fuel is often scarce. For safety reasons, zoning rules usually require generators to be placed outdoors, usually five feet or more from a house. While some can be started automatically or by remote control, keeping an outdoor generator running during stormy weather requires work.
Lifespan of Equipment: Battery Backup Scores Again
Most high-quality home solar batteries carry a 10-year warranty. That compares with the five-year warranty offered on most home generators. Generators also are prone to breakdowns after 3.5 years of extensive use, whereas battery backup lasts as long as the modules themselves (40-50+years).
Concerned About the Neighbors? Battery Backup Is for You
Most people at some point have heard a generator start. The internal combustion engine sputters, thunders like a Harley Davidson, and then settles into a dull roar. Homeowners in areas of frequent grid outages must get used to nonstop background noise from neighbors’ generators. Solar batteries, in contrast, operate in silence.
Protecting the Environment: Battery Backup a Clear Winner
Solar batteries provide clean energy and while generators that run on propane don’t harm the environment, those that burn fossil fuels, such as diesel, do cause pollution. Natural gas, another fuel burned in generators, is cleaner, but still emits some pollutants, and drilling and piping it across the country does further environmental harm.
Home Generator or Battery Backup? It Depends on Your Priorities
If you’re weighing the scales between a home generator vs. battery backup and have frequent, prolonged blackouts, a tight budget, essential power needs, or all three, a home generator is probably the better choice. Generators can keep running longer in any kind of weather if fuel is available. Also, larger models can start equipment that requires a burst of power to ignite, such as an air conditioner, sump pump, or well pump. For homeowners who have or plan to install a solar array, the environmental benefits and long-term cost savings that come with solar battery backup outweigh the drawbacks. A battery-backup system can keep most appliances running for 12 to 15 hours. If that meets your essential needs, having a clean, quiet, low-maintenance source of backup power that can keep electric bills in check is worth the tradeoffs.