How to build a solar installation that keeps the lights on in case of grid outages?
Contrary to popular belief, solar installations will not always work during natural disasters and severe weather events. In order to create a resilient solar installation if the grid goes down, you’ll want to ensure you have certain components installed to give you the ability to disconnect from the grid or tap into battery storage. Here’s what to know about building a resilient solar power system.
What is resiliency?
For solar installation to be considered resilient, it must be able to operate independently from the grid during an outage. Many people purchase and use gas-powered generators as a solution for providing back-up power, but that is not the quietest, sustainable, or even most cost-effective solution. Additionally, in case of catastrophes, fuel supplies can become vulnerable to contamination or shortages. Off-grid solar installations or systems with battery storage can be a great way to ensure you continue to have access to energy, no matter what.
What are my solar power system options?
Off-grid solar systems (stand-alone power systems)
Off-grid systems utilize a battery bank to store energy produced from solar panels. Instead of being connected to the grid, you simply tap into your battery bank at night or when there’s too little sunlight. Off-grid systems are a popular choice for those living in a remote area without reliable and affordable access to the grid.
On-grid systems (grid-tie solar systems)
On-grid systems are the most common and widely used systems amongst those who go solar. Grid-tied systems do not rely on a battery bank when your panels are not producing. Instead, they just tap into the grid. One important thing to consider is on-grid systems do not function during a blackout. This is because it would be a safety concern for a system to push power into the grid when utility workers may be out making repairs to the network.
On-grid systems with battery storage
As the cost of batteries continues to drop, more people are choosing to add battery storage to their on-grid projects to take advantage of the benefits of both on- and off-grid systems, such as ensuring you have energy access during blackouts and paying for less energy from the grid. To work during an outage, an on-grid system with battery storage should have the proper technology to disconnect from the grid. Then, your solar system will be able to provide power to your home by accessing your stored power in your battery bank even when the grid is down
Will my solar installation work if there is a grid outage?
As noted, just because you have solar panels doesn’t mean you’ll be able to access power during a blackout. If you have battery storage and the ability to disconnect from the grid, you’ll be able to keep powering your home’s devices and appliances with your solar installation.
Off-grid and hybrid systems: Yes, it will work during a blackout.
In order to maintain power during a blackout, you’ll need to have battery storage and a solar power station or gas-powered generator. The cost of batteries continues to decrease, but they are still an investment. If you don’t have the budget for a sizable battery bank, back-up generators are often a less-expensive solution. Solar power stations or gas-powered generators can keep the lights on when the grid goes down. However, as noted earlier, fuel can be difficult to come by during emergencies, so relying on a gas-powered generator may not be the way to go.
Grid-tied systems: No, it will not work during a blackout.
If you are connected to the grid, then you most likely will not be able to access power during a blackout. This is because it would be dangerous for your system to be running and pushing energy into the grid while utility workers are out trying to repair the system.
Should I buy an off-grid or hybrid system?
Off-grid and hybrid systems are your best bets for ensuring you’ll have energy access during power outages or severe weather events.
The benefits of off-grid systems are having ultimate energy independence and sustainable lifestyle. That said, there’s no peace of mind from being able to use the grid when your system needs servicing or there is bad weather. You’ll also need more equipment and have higher initial costs to cover.
The benefits of hybrid systems are having to use less energy than a traditional grid-tied system, while also having the added security of being able to tap into the grid if you need it. The downside of hybrid systems are that they require expensive equipment to cover energy storage needs, as well as connections to the grid. Likewise, you’ll need space for all that equipment, which you may not have if you’re not in an isolated rural location.
What components do I need for a resilient system?
Renogy has a variety of solar kits designed specifically for use with a battery bank. These solar panel kits come with everything to power up your cabin, home, and are great additions to sheds, tiny homes, or any other type of remote system. You’ll need to purchase a separate inverter and battery bank to be able to stay powered up in case of grid outages. If you are connecting to the grid, you’ll also want to consult with a professional to make sure you have the proper technology to disconnect in order to make your system rely solely on battery power in case of outages.
How do I size my system?
Because you’ll be relying solely on your solar installation during an outage, it’s crucial that you take the time to properly size your system. The Renogy solar panel calculator is a powerful and easy-to-use tool that makes it a quick and easy process to help determine your specific needs. The solar sizing calculator allows you to input information about your lifestyle to help you decide on your solar panel requirements.
Which is the best battery to purchase?
If you’re going off-grid or want to have energy storage in your system, you’ll need to do some research to decide on the best battery for your system. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are the most expensive option, but they also last four times longer than lead-acid batteries and weigh much less. They also require very limited maintenance. When it comes to building a powerful and resilient system, lithium iron phosphate batteries are the way to go.
Hybrid or off-grid systems are two solar systems that can be customized and built to be resilient to any severe weather events. And as the risk of grid outages continues to increase as natural disasters become more commonplace, that will be money well spent.