Founder at TouchLight Innovations
If you want to boil this entire article down into one sentence as to how to combat a future blackout:
Want to understand how your home and property use energy check out this other article on The Rising.
Great, so now to the ones who are curious why solar + storage – though marketing information says otherwise – cannot outlast the Northern California Blackout caused by the Power Safety Shutoffs put in place by PG&E
If you live in the bay area and pay an electricity bill you likely are using PG&E as your primary electric provider. If so you are among the 800,000 + homes that either lost power or are infuriated at the fact that the state with more money flowing through its local economy than most countries couldn’t keep up with changing electrical grid infrastructure needs. Enter the furious homeowners and property owners who lost power for 3+ days causing businesses to lose money and homeowners to be put at risk as electricity has become a basic necessity for life – especially in a region where Electric Vehicles are almost an expectation for you to own.
Power safety shut offs are going to be a recurring theme which will cause repeated electric blackouts from here on out for the coming years as the development of micro-grid infrastructure is going to be a multi-year maybe decade long political and economic war that is going to have to occur before we have a direct path to successfully executing on a multi-billion if not trillion dollar infrastructure push.
So naturally, there are going to be companies swarming in a full on war to win your business under the promise of
Which is only fair in a capitalistic economy in which we all partake in, but, what you see in marketing information is rarely the full picture. So in the hopes of helping you see the full picture and save your pocket from making the wrong financial decision lets dissect exactly why Solar + Storage Cannot Outlast Power Safety Shutoffs.
Right off the bat the best way to know if you are going to be able to use solar + storage on your property to stay online “perpetually” without grid support is to answer these questions with ease:
Q1: How much energy [kWh] do you use daily?
Q2: What is the max power [kW] demand do you have through the day?
Q3: Do you have or plan to purchase new Electric Vehicles or similar high energy demanding products [Ex. HVAC]?
Most people will stumble on the first two questions and have to think for a good minute about the third question. This is because for the most part people barely even know what they pay for electricity other than a ball park figure and if public utilities – which are supposed to be doing good for the public – you should never have had to know this level of detail. If you would like to learn more then check out this article on understanding energy usage.
However, we are in a position today where you are considering solar + storage for your home because dealing with frequent power failures due to power safety shutoffs is unacceptable and can become a major issue especially if you don’t have power for critical systems [HVAC, Heat if its electric, general lighting and outlets, fridge, etc]. If you happen to have someone with medical conditions in your household it creates a new challenge dynamic especially so since that is required for sustaining life.
So why wouldn’t solar + storage be enough to cover these appliances for extended periods of time during these power safety shutoffs or blackouts in general.
The simple answer is that you will use more energy than what you can generate and store just due to the likely size of solar system you get put on your home.
No, because one, traditional solar installers will charge you an arm and a leg to do so and two it is likely that you will begin to install solar panels in less than ideal locations on your roof. Plus if you increase the size of your solar system then all you have done is made it more complex to store and manage because your home doesn’t just use a lot of power for a few hours while the sun is out. You need it 24/7 which is where battery storage comes into the mix.
Again the more batteries you get installed, the more these installers will charge and just because prices have come down to a point where upper middle class families can now afford a Tesla Model 3’s, battery packs for your home from LG, Tesla or the myriad of other battery pack manufacturers are still pricey when you begin to consider everything from the inverters to labor to design and install these systems when you go through traditional routes [Yes, there are cheaper ways available today, but, not mass market – discussion for different article]. Also, this answer is assuming you see battery storage as backup power solution as opposed to a great tool used by energy management companies which leverage storage for intelligent energy management based on building and grid load requirements throughout the day.
Yes, battery packs for your home should not be purchased with the goal of “backup power” while it can technically run your full home for a short period of time or longer if you pour money into multiple battery packs, it truly isn’t the ideal or most economical way to keep your home running for extended periods of time during power safety shutoffs or blackouts in the future.
Yea – Tesla & Sunrun two major companies that sell battery packs promote or provide what I classify as mis-leading information regarding what the real value of batteries in your home energy infrastructure is. Which is an issue as the true value proposition of purchasing battery storage is that companies that specialize in full home energy management or developing home energy infrastructure can deliver to you a solution that when paired with solar can not only reduce your electricity bill, but, help support some critical infrastructure for short periods of time before a backup generator kicks into action – which is the ideal and most cost effective way to leverage a mix of natural gas & solar to keep your full home running without a hitch when a blackout does occur.
So when considering solar + storage you need to immediately realize that batteries are a good thing to have part of your home’s energy infrastructure, but, definitely not the source of backup power.
So what is the solution if solar + storage Cannot Outlast a future blackout and Power Safety Shutoffs?
Solar by itself isn’t a stable source of power as it only generates electricity for your home to use during the day and is affected by weather – which as of recently has been great in the bay area by the way – which means the amount of energy you will have available to you will vary on a day to day basis.
Well, it was mentioned briefly when we were doing the analysis of why battery storage should not be looked at as a backup source of power.
“Solar + Storage + Natural Gas/Propane Electric Generators”
Now I know what a few of you might be thinking – “if we use Natural Gas, that still has emissions and is feeding into this overall problem of Climate Change”
Yes, you are not entirely wrong, however, the usage rate and amount of emissions that would be produced by natural gas generators is far less significant than other sources of pollution that if solved would push us leaps an bounds ahead in the race to switch to a cleaner and distributed grid. Especially if you get your home designed by an good company, there should be a level of software operational intelligence that those companies would embed that make sure that you always prioritize using solar energy when possible and only fire up the Natural Gas Generator when power levels begin to drop. Meaning even less in terms of emissions to the globe & environment with all the benefit of making sure you don’t lose power during these to become frequent power safety shutoffs.
Implementing a mix of solar + storage + generator will always ensure that your home will remain operational and functional while also assisting in reducing your dependency on the local grid – meaning lower electricity bills if implemented properly. Not to mention you will still be helping move the world to a greener more resilient world without breaking the bank. As a distributed ecosystem of generators and storage solutions is necessary for our collective future.
Educating yourself before going out and making a haste purchase of solar or any other energy generation or efficiency technology becomes critical and necessary especially if you want to make sure you invest in what is best and right for you.