Why COVID-19 Is Turning Homeowners to Solar Energy

Sustainable Living
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Residential solar and COVID-19

Although COVID-19 has negatively impacted the global economic climate since March this year, the downturn has not gone without its valuable lessons. At the very least, this pandemic has made it clear which forms of energy will sustain our future.

With the uncertainty COVID-19 and future pandemics bring to our energy infrastructure, homeowners are in a position where learning the merits of energy independence is more valuable than ever, and solar looks like it has become the best way for homeowners to achieve a greater degree of energy independence.

Whether you are a doomsday prepper or you just want to make sure you still have power during an outage, solar can help you own your power.

Energy Demand Changes During the Pandemic

Last month, the International Energy Agency reported that renewable energy in the US comprised a greater share of all energy methods than it did prior to COVID-19. While the overall increase in renewable energy is only 3-5 percent, this statistic reveals what the economy’s smartest consumers understood about how power sources affect their personal finances when they purchased their solar systems, not a degree of change in renewable energy use that can be chocked up to random statistical variance. Combine that with the fact that almost everyone relies on electricity to survive, and 3-5% is a significant figure. While natural gas still leads the US’s electricity mix, renewable energy has increased in use more than coal-fired power plants.

Decreased Electricity Demand Since the Beginning of COVID-19

Regardless of its power source, overall electricity demand has decreased, despite the emergence of the US’s work-from-home economy. While changes in electricity demand can be traced to a number of sources, one possible explanation for the decrease in demand is that many homeowners and business owners alike know utility companies are in the business of producing coal-based power, which has been a scarce and therefore increasingly expensive commodity for quite some time.

This has undeniably made it hard for coal-based power businesses and homeowners alike to justify larger power bills given the US unemployment rate reaching nearly 15% at its highest in April 2020, which is by far the worst the US economy has seen since the Great Depression in 1929.

Unlike other forms of power, renewable energy doesn’t cost as much to produce, manage, and operate. Reducing the production of nonrenewable fossil fuels via solar energy throughout the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have proven solar a solution for many savvy utility companies and conscientious homeowners throughout the US.

How the Work-From-Home Economy Flattens the Electricity Demand Curve

With roughly 42% of the employed US economy engaged in the new “Work-From-Home Economy” reliance on coal-based power has dropped. While a huge portion of the US GDP comes from partially solar-powered businesses like Target, WalMart, Macy’s, Intel, and IKEA, a comparable amount of solar energy is produced by solar-powered homes in the US. While residential solar installations are not skyrocketing, the work-from-home economy brought on by the pandemic means residential solar ROI and its emergency-proofing features have now been stress tested for performance, reifying the very conditions solar salesmen weren’t able to point to in their presentations until March 2020.

This economic shift has also reduced transportation and company energy consumption, reducing traditional coal-based electricity use significantly. High-energy activities that conflicted with work schedules such as laundry, large appliance use, and cooking now occur more evenly throughout the day, which reduces peak electricity demand during peak usage hours.

The Security of Battery Backup

The electricity sector’s reliance on renewable energy during the pandemic should shift the attention of conscientious coal-based power homeowners to the idea of solar energy, which has become the most cutting edge renewable energy source on an individual scale.

Installing solar on your home is step 1, but step 2 toward energy independence requires some form of battery backup, which allows homeowners to power their houses in power outages from excess solar energy produced by their solar arrays.

Energy Independence Tiers in the Context of COVID-19.

Given the uncertainty homeowners are facing with electricity prices and the availability of traditional power sources during COVID-19, their next step to power continuity and peace of mind is understanding the tiers of energy independence for homeowners, which are best measured in 5 levels of solar power. Tier 1 means complete reliance on and trust in the power grid and tier 5 means complete self sufficiency independent of the grid and trust in ones own economic decisions.

Tier 1: What Homes Were Doing in the 1880s

Homes have been powered by coal since the the US’s Industrial Revolution (1880). Sadly, the majority of homes are still powered this way in 2020, 140 years later. If the power goes out, these homeowners have to wait in the dark until the utility company can fix it, pay increasingly high prices for increasingly scarce coal-based electricity, and generally be at the whim of the utility company’s sometimes erratic decisions.

Tier 2: Solar-powered Home

Solar-powered homes usually have arrays installed that are designed to generate enough energy to meet the occupants’ historical usage patterns. However, since these systems don’t store excess solar power produced by their panels, these homes still rely on the grid for power like Tier 1 homeowners when the sun isn’t out.

If these homes have panels that produce more energy in a given day than what its occupants consume, that power is exported back onto the power grid and credited to the homeowner. While that may sound nice, recent net metering changes in many cities and states with a high percentage of solar-powered homes only credit solar-powered homeowners for the energy their home produces and exports back onto the grid at 80-90 cents on the dollar.

Tier 3: Solar and Battery Backup

Battery backup is essential to working around the utility company as an “energy broker” of your solar array’s excess power you put back onto the grid, instead letting you consume that power at market rate value. When a home has solar and battery backup, less of (if not all of) the excess solar power produced by the home’s array that is left unused is stored in a home battery, like the Tesla Powerwall.

When solar-powered homes are coupled with battery backup, these residences can function almost entirely without the grid and store power for use at a later date without losing 10 to 20 cents on the dollar for power they export back onto the grid for other homes to use. Over the span of 40-50 years, that can significantly compound solar ROI.

Tier 4: Solar-Powered Home with Battery Backup and EVs

Solar homes with battery backup and an electric car, cover home consumption and travel needs, making a home almost as futuristic as it can get when it comes to renewable energy. However, like Tier 3, homes who’ve achieved Tier 4 of Energy Independence are still connected to the grid.

Tier 5: Off-grid Homes

Off-grid homes have the most freedom from grid-tied outages and utility companies. While homeowners with battery backup can prepare for an outage, off-grid homes don’t have them, unless their own solar equipment breaks or malfunctions. There are relatively few spaces in the US that are off-grid, but nothing is stopping people who’ve suffered from the Pandemic from becoming homesteaders and taking their lives off-grid via solar power.

Why the Pandemic Is Actually A Good Time to Transition to Solar

If you are a homeowner, now is the time to discover if solar is the right decision for you. If you have a power bill above $50 per month and don’t see it getting smaller any time soon, solar for your home is likely a wise investment. As any smart investor would, it’s just as effective to be cautious when the market is booming as it is to be aggressive when the market has down-turned. While it’s a significant investment, solar for your home is as surefire a bet as the sun rising for the next 40 years, which we can surely count on, even during this trying economic time.

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