solar panels power outage

Will Solar Panels Work During a Power Outage?

Solar power has a lot going for it: it’s clean energy, renewable, inexpensive, and can be harnessed practically anywhere in the world.

With it having all this positivity around it, it’s not uncommon for people to assume that all power blackout issues will be well behind them once installed.

This is a fair assumption. Solar panels make energy. So once you have them, you should always have electricity, right?

Well, this is not quite how it works. This does not, however, mean that it’s impossible. It only means that it does not work in the way you probably assume it will.

Before looking at this, let us first explain why you get a blackout when using solar-powered energy.

Why Do You Get Blackouts?

To understand why having a solar panel does not automatically mean you will have electricity during a blackout. 

Here are two things to have in mind:

The first is that solar panels generate energy during the day. This is when the sun is out.

The second is that you are connected to a power grid. Your solar panel system must be connected to a power grid because this is how you receive energy in your property when there is inadequate energy being produced. 

Here is why you need a grid. 

Your panels can only generate electricity during the day when there is sunlight. The grid comes in handy at night once the panels cannot generate power anymore.

During the day, your home will utilize the power produced to keep you running. The excess is sent back to the grid. There are also times you will need to use power from the grid during the grid as well.

The electricity company sells the unused energy, and your account is credited for the same.

You end up saving money in this way because the credited units are used to buy your nightly energy. 

With this in mind, then, should your power be on if the lights are out? In theory, they should.

The first challenge is that your panes might not be producing enough energy to power your home completely. When this is the case, your lights will turn your appliances on and off. 

The second is operational requirements.  During power outages, the power company sends teams out to rectify the issue. The grid being worked on has to be shut off as a safety precaution to protect the workers. 

Your solar power panels must be shut as well to ensure there is no electricity being transmitted to and from the grid. 

Do I Have Options?

Luckily, yes. 

There are ways to have your lights on and power some appliances when everyone in your neighborhood is in the dark. These are:

  • A solar power inverter
  • Solar power with a battery-backed system
  • a generator

Let’s look at each option more closely. 

Inverter

This can be installed with your solar panel system. 

When the grid is switched off, you can manually switch on the inverter to use energy previously generated by your panels. 

However, these panels do not generate that much energy. At times, they don’t even generate enough to run your HVAC. 

Still, you can have lighting, keep your refrigerator running and charge your phone. 

A solar inverter works by converting direct current output from solar panels into usable alternating current. Alternative current is what powers up your devices.

If you need much more than this, then a solar battery or a generator will be worth considering. 

Some of the things to keep in mind when purchasing an inverter include:

  •   Capacity

This is the maximum load that can be connected to the inverter. If the inverter’s capacity is 1MW, it can support a similar load. 

  •   Battery

Find out how much a solar inverter can offload, and consequently, what loads can be supported in the event of a power outage.

  •   Power considerations

Surge power is the maximum power an inverter can supply over a short period. Certain appliances require surge power when starting, then revert to typical power. 

Typical power is the power an inverter needs to supply steadily. 

These power considerations have to align with your household’s specific needs for you to have an efficient backup power plan.

Solar plus batteries

The gains from solar batteries are huge for homeowners. With these, you can use more energy on-site or store it for when the grid is off.

Solar batteries are popular for another reason as well. 

Some homeowners have time of use (TOU) rates or pay demand charges monthly. If you are on this system, you can use power from your battery at peak billing times and make significant savings on your energy bills. 

How easy or difficult it will be to integrate a solar battery depends mainly on whether your panel system was designed to carry a battery.

If your solar system lacks this provision, it becomes a bit more challenging, but still doable. In such a case, you will need to make an inverted replacement, or an ‘’AC coupled’’ solution. 

While there are exceptions, most small scale batteries are often compatible with most existing solar systems. Solar batteries cannot take you off the grid entirely, but they are great for powering your house for a few hours when the grid is shut off. 

These come with a downside, however. While batteries have become more common, they are still considered expensive by most. For this reason, installers will often ask you about the devices you would like to power in the event of a blackout. Keeping your entire home functioning as usual certainly racks up huge energy bills. 

If you are looking to keep some power on without spending an arm and a leg on it, generators are the way to go. 

fixing power lines

A generator

A generator is a great way to power your house when the grid goes down. Generators run on propane, natural gas and diesel, are easy to find and even easier to get set up. 

Depending on your needs, you can get a generator to either power up a few appliances in your home or your entire property.

This means you have some leeway in terms of cost, as the larger a generator’s capacity, the more expensive it tends to be. This means you can choose the most affordable and efficient unit for your home use. 

Generators depend on electromagnetic induction to start up. This electromagnetic induction can convert or transform into electrical energy.

Considerations when buying a generator

Because power backup units are large ticket items, it’s wise to give the options available to you some thought in order to find the best choice for your home. 

Here are the top considerations to keep in mind when looking to buy a backup power generator. 

  •         Budget

The expenditure at your disposal is a serious consideration when shopping for a generator. This does not necessarily mean finding the cheapest generator available. 

Instead, you need to figure out your needs and get a unit that meets your needs and is within your budget.  

  •       Power requirements

Think about how much power it takes for your household to run efficiently and which facilities you would like to remain on during a blackout. This determines the capacity of the generator you should get. 

What this means is that you can power up your entire house and your appliances if you need to by buying a generator with a large capacity. It is also good to know that you can do this without breaking the bank. This is true of generators compared to other back up plans like batteries, which require more significant budgets to maintain.

  •   Fuel type

The availability of the fuel type a generator uses is key. Ideally, you want to settle on a generator whose fuel type is locally available. This ensures you bet enough supply as when you ended it.            

  •     Voltage requirements

If you are not familiar with this, consult an electrician to tell you how much voltage you would typically need for the backup generator. 

One other thing that stands out with generators is that they protect your appliances from power fluctuations when the grid is switched back on.

  •     Warranty

A warranty is the duration your generator should run adequately without breaking down. 

These run from one to five years. Before making a purchase, understand the warranty, coverage, and upgrade costs in the event that you want better coverage.

  •         Convenience

Generators automatically turn on during a blackout. Other options, such as inverters, need to be turned on manually.

When you think about night time power outages or outages during storms or winter, generators offer a safer, more convenient option.

no power

In Summary

As you can see, your power will go off when the grid is switched off, even when you are using a solar system. 

If you want to avoid the inconveniences and frustrations of blackouts, these three options will provide you with just that. However, it will be critical to evaluate what your needs are in order to select the best choice for your household.