Should I Install Battery Backup For My Home?

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A home battery backup system neatly installed in the corner of a garage on the Santa Barbara Riviera.
A home battery backup system neatly installed in the corner of a garage on the Santa Barbara Riviera.

Did you know that by law solar systems must shut down during a power outage? Here’s why.

Grid-tied solar systems are constantly back feeding energy to the grid and therefore require a rapid shut down switch for emergency situations. If we experience a power outage and the utility company needs to send linemen to inspect or repair power lines, they need to be able to do their work without being electrocuted. So unless you have battery backup, your system will shut down. (For a more technical explanation and what technological advances need to be made for grid-tied solar to be operational during an outage, check out our blog post on the subject.)

Residential Advantages

There are many advantages to having solar powered batteries for your home.

First, in the event of a power outage, a battery backup system will give you peace of mind and security.

With an optional custom automatic transfer switch, your backup power for your whole house or just a few essential circuits (refrigerator, lights, plugs, etc.) will come on automatically. You won’t have to worry about having to turn on the system in the dark or if you have enough fuel stocked up (unlike with generators). You become the owner of your own power company!

Second, battery backup will provide you power when Edison or PG&E shut off the power in order to mitigate fire risk during wildfire season.

In response to the devastating fire and mudslide that affected Montecito in 2018, Southern California Edison and PG&E have put into effect preventative regulations in anticipation of future wildfires. In March of this year, both companies announced their plan for Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) during fire season. PSPS would occur in the case of unusual meteorological conditions like high winds, low humidity, etc., and power could be shut off for up to four days (depending on how long it would take linemen to physically inspect all power lines before re-instating power).

This means that our community is at the mercy of Edison and PG&E, and depending on how on edge they are, we could loose power for days at a time and as often as the utility companies please.

Third, batteries can offer you the luxury of living off-grid within the city.

You don’t have to live in a remote location to be completely independent from utility companies. Whether you are fed up with them hiking up electricity prices or want peace of mind knowing power outages won’t affect you, batteries can provide you with a solution.

In keeping your specific energy goals in mind, we will size a system to your consumption needs and to best fit your lifestyle.

Commercial Advantages

Commercial installations specifically, have distinct benefits from battery backup systems.

While a generator will provide a business with backup power within 30 seconds to 2 minutes after an outage, a battery system can provide seamless power. This is especially important for loads like medical equipment, computers, etc. that require an uninterrupted power source in order to function properly, not loose data or other such issues. In these cases, it’s best to have your solar backup power configured with an automatic transfer switch.

With a battery backup system your business can also take advantage of time of use shifting (using your battery during peak hours) and peak load shaving to avoid incurring extra charges when your usage hits certain kW tiers. By utilizing these tactics, a battery backup system can reduce or even completely eliminate demand charges that can make up over half of a commercial electricity bill.

Why Batteries?

Batteries are by far the most reliable backup power source, and here’s why.

You may be tempted to opt for a generator solution but (while we can install them and always design systems with the customer’s needs in mind), we generally recommend (these) batteries.

The initial cost of a generator is generally less than batteries as a rule, however, this is deceptive. Like any motor, generators require oil changes, fine tuning and need to be exercised every 1-2 weeks to charge electric starter battery and to lubricate the system. (Negligence in maintenance could result in a voided warranty.) Over time, these maintenance requirements and the cost of fuel begin to make up the price difference.

Additionally, depending on your location, generators may not be permitted by the local jurisdiction because they can be loud and the off-gassing can be dangerous to you and your neighbors, depending on its proximity to a home.

A solar powered battery, however, is silent, efficient, and renewable. Batteries can also start your backup power automatically to provide seamless power, something that even a generator with an automatic transfer switch can’t do. (Generators take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes to build inertia and be fully up and running.) Batteries also require less maintenance than generators.

How Does Battery Backup Work?

To help answer this question, you must first decide what kind of battery storage you need.

  • Are you interested in battery backup for your home or business?
  • Do you want to use solar during the day and batteries at night so you can be independent from the grid?
  • Or do you just want back up power during utility grid outages?
  • Do you want your whole house powered or just the most important appliances and a few lights?
  • Do you have medical equipment or other appliances that need continuous electricity?

If you have special equipment that requires a continuous power supply or simply want the convenience of having a battery backup system that starts automatically when an outage occurs, we can install an automatic transfer switch. A solar system with batteries will still be fully operational without this feature, it just means that you will need to turn on the battery bank manually.

A solar powered battery is very efficient. As your solar produces electricity, it will prioritize supplying your home with power and any excess energy will go towards charging the batteries. By the end of the day, your batteries will be fully charged. Depending on how you decide to use your batteries (daily or for emergencies) this process varies slightly.

If you’re using batteries for grid outage emergencies only, your batteries will charge themselves as above.

Your solar system will produce electricity during the day to power your home. At night, you will get energy from the utility grid. If a power outage occurs, your batteries will either start automatically or you’ll have to manually turn on the system (depending on if you choose to have an automatic transfer switch installed or not). Your batteries will then provide you with enough energy to run the loads of your choosing (whole house or specific appliances). The next day, your solar will recharge your batteries and the process can repeat, as necessary.

If you’re using your batteries on a daily basis (you’re completely independent from the grid), your system will function slightly differently.

The solar energy your panels produce will constantly charge your batteries. And your home will always draw its power from the batteries. If your batteries become fully charged, the system’s charge controller will either curb the incoming power from the solar or completely block any inbound energy.

At night, your battery system will automatically turn on and power your home. When your solar system starts back up the next morning, it will begin the charging process again and the process repeats.

As you can see, batteries can have many different types of applications and can solve various issues for individuals or businesses relying on grid-tied power. If you have any questions regarding battery storage solutions, drop us a message or call us at (805) 965-9292.

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