How Do I Use Solar Panels in a Power Outage?
Many think that solar panels are an excellent way to keep your home powered during an outage in your neighborhood. However, with the revision of the National Energy Code (NEC) in 2017, your home’s power lines are required to be shut off in the event of a problem with the grid. Because lineworkers may need to access power lines in your home or nearby, which could lead to injury or death if your wires were still live, they have to be shut off. This means that a grid shutdown, even if you draw all your power from solar panels, will leave you in the dark. Luckily, there are ways to establish backup power using your solar panels in the event of a power outage. We’ll cover some of these forms of backup, how they interact with solar panels and which form is best.
Why Solar Panels Won’t Power Your Home During an Outage
We covered some of this information in the introduction, but it’s worth going into a bit more detail. Power outages can have multiple causes, from problems at the power plant to downed power lines in your area. These outages can be tricky to fix, particularly if the cause is somewhere outside of the plant itself. But why does that mean your solar panels need to be shut off if the grid is shut down?
A big reason for this is the updated NEC. The NEC is a code adopted by many regions throughout the US in order to standardize electrical installations and repair. The NEC is actually a subset of the NFC — the National Fire Code. Despite the name, these codes are set forth by a private entity, not a federal one, but they have been adopted throughout the US to make it easier for electricians to perform their duties.
Why Do These Codes Matter for Solar Panels?
Electricians are often put into dangerous situations. Handling live power lines requires a lot of equipment and safety training to avoid being electrocuted. One of the ways that electricians avoid potentially dangerous situations is by shutting down power whenever possible. If there’s an electrical problem in your area, the electricians will likely switch off the power to that area while working on the issue. However, if solar panels are still active, they would be feeding power back into the very lines that the electricians are working on — thus increasing the chances of potentially fatal accidents. To avoid these situations, solar panels wiring is designed to automatically shut off if the grid does. So how do you keep power to your essentials during a power outage if your electrical wiring shuts off?
Secure Power Supply
The first thing that a lot of people think of when they think about power outages and solar, is the possibility of drawing energy from your panels while the grid is dark. As we covered above, your home won’t be powered completely by your panels while there’s an outage. However, there are ways to get power anyways.
A secure power supply is an outlet, installed through your inverter, that provides power directly from your solar installation. Because it is a circuit connected directly to the inverter, it will not be shut down if the rest of your wiring goes down. It doesn’t connect to any other wiring and so will not get in the way of the electricians.
Anything you plug into those outlets will be able to receive power during an outage. This allows you to keep certain necessities powered during an outage, which could otherwise have interfered with things like medical equipment or your computer.
Unfortunately, secure power supplies come with a major downside. This downside is so large that we, at Go Solar Group, have ceased offering a secure power supply option. We believe that they are not worth the money you would spend on them. This downside is simple: what do you do when the power goes out at night?
There is nowhere for power to be stored with a secure power supply. This means that a secure power supply can only operate when the sun is shining. That might not be so bad during the summer when the sun shines well into the night, but what about during winter? In some places, the sun will fully set by 4:30 p.m., leaving you with just a few hours of daylight. And that’s not even getting into cloudy weather.
The hours in which power is available may not match up to the hours in which you need power. If an outage were to strike when the sun has set, whether at 5 p.m. in winter or 9 p.m. in summer, you would be left without necessities like a fridge, your computer, or medical devices. This can be a disaster.
Because of the unreliable nature of secure power supplies, we recommend against installing them. Instead, we at Go Solar Group recommend battery backup as your primary form of drawing power for your home during an outage.
Battery backups are simple. They’re large, high-capacity batteries that can store several kW of power. The best forms of battery backup are lithium-ion, which has a larger capacity, higher output, and a longer lifespan when compared to the more common lead-acid batteries. Go Solar Group offers only lithium-ion battery backup as we believe that they get you the best value for your money.
Why Battery Backup Is Best for Outages
Because batteries are standalone, they do not need to be shut off during a power outage. There is no risk to electrical workers from battery backup. During an outage, where other homes are dark and your solar panels are no longer powering your home, you’ll still have power for things like your fridge, charging your phone and powering a computer.
Battery backup compares favorably to a secure power supply because it’s always active. Once a battery is filled to capacity, it will maintain that power for quite some time. If used during the day, a battery will be constantly replenished by the panels it is attached to. If used during the night, it will provide enough power for some of your appliances and electronics for many hours.
- A refrigerator for a bit less than three days
- Your lights for nearly a week
- Your Wi-Fi for almost three months
Keeping your fridge and freezer powered is especially important, as spoiled food can end up costing you hundreds of dollars during your next grocery run. Additionally, keeping your Wi-Fi powered is important for many people who need to stay in contact with friends or family during a power outage.
Two Tesla Powerwalls are enough to power your whole home for quite some time, more than enough for any potential power outages. This means that you can keep watching your favorite TV show and working from home while keeping your food from going bad during a long power outage.
If you don’t want to have a whole-home backup for a power outage, Go Solar Group also offers other battery backup levels. The options provided are a Goal Zero Yeti 1500x or Yeti 3000, which can power many of your essentials during an outage that lasts for an hour or two. These batteries are also portable, so you can take them with you throughout the house to keep your laptop and phone charged, or power a small fan.
Other Tips for Preparing for Power Outages
Besides battery backup, which is the best way to prepare for an outage, there are some other things that you can do. These include:
- Having non-candle sources of illumination, as candles can be a fire hazard.
- Having a radio for updates from the city.
- Have a supply of non-perishable food.
- Keep a good amount of bottled water to avoid potentially overheating.
If you implement these tips alongside battery backup for your solar installation, you’ll find that even the worst power outages will only cause you a minor inconvenience.