How to Use Solar Panels During a Power Outage
As long as there’s enough sunlight, solar panels can provide sufficient power to your home.
In the event of a power outage, either from routine maintenance on the electrical grid or unforeseen natural disasters, having solar panels could be the lynchpin in keeping your lights on.
Can Solar Panels Provide Electricity During Blackouts?
How Solar Panels Work
Solar panels power homes and businesses by absorbing sunlight and converting it into usable electricity. Aside from the environmental benefits of solar energy, it’s also fairly reliable, at least while they're getting sufficient sunlight. These are just a few pros of solar energy.
The panels themselves are made up of between 32 to 96 solar cells depending on their size and efficiency. The number also affects the power output of the panel, measured in watts. These photovoltaic solar cells each produce approximately 0,46 volts of electricity and are responsible for collecting the sun’s UV rays. This is also where the energy conversion takes place.
However, this energy is not usable as-is. This is because the direct current (DC) provided by the solar cells must first be converted into alternating current (AC) by a solar inverter. The solar inverter is responsible for making sure that usable electricity is sent to your home or local power grid.
There are different types of solar systems, all with different benefits and weaknesses.
Types of Solar Systems
Grid-Tied Solar System
Since the invention of solar panels, grid-tied solar systems have become the most common form used for commercial purposes. This type of solar system allows you to harness energy from the solar panels while still drawing power from the electrical grid when you need to make up a shortfall.
With this type of solar system, you can choose between using solar energy or energy from the grid for situations where solar energy isn't an option, such as nighttime or when the batteries haven’t had the chance to store enough energy.
Having a grid-tied solar system comes with the advantage of net metering. With net metering, any excess energy produced by the system is sent to the grid in exchange for credit on your electricity bill at the end of the month.
This, on top of not needing to purchase any solar batteries, makes grid-tied solar systems some of the most pocket-friendly amongst them.
Being tied to the grid has a downside, though. In the event of a blackout, the grid-tied system will be turned off as well, and the household will be without power.
Off-Grid Solar System
An off-grid solar system isn’t tied to the electrical grid. It stores and produces energy independently.
Instead of feeding any excess energy to the grid, an off-grid solar system uses solar batteries to store solar energy. Depending on the size of your home, you need to have enough solar panels to provide the energy needed for the entire household, as well as batteries with sufficient storage capacity.
This is the reason that off-grid systems tend to be pricier, and why most people opt for a grid-tied one. One advantage an off-grid solar system offers is its ability to provide power to your home even during a power outage.
An off-grid solar system is best if you live in remote regions with no utility grid, or in an area that’s particularly prone to blackouts.
Hybrid Solar System
A hybrid solar system is connected to the grid while also relying on a solar battery, which serves as a backup power source.
Solar energy is gathered up and sent to the household, but instead of sending excess energy to the grid, it gets sent to the solar battery for later use.
This being the case, the household will forgo any credit earned through net metering.
Why Most Solar Panels Can’t Provide Energy During a Power Outage
Since the most popular type of solar panel system is a grid-tied one, the majority of homeowners in the U.S who use solar panels are still left without electricity during blackouts.
Since the solar system is tied to the utility grid, it shuts down along with the rest of the homes. The reason for this is to avoid feeding electricity into the grid, which a grid-tied system does with its excess energy. This serves as a safety precaution to protect any utility workers who might be working on the power lines.
Despite this, there are still options available for homeowners who want to stay powered up during blackouts, even for those with a grid-tied solar panel system. The answer lies with a single device; the solar battery.
Using A Solar Battery During A Blackout
The use of solar batteries gives you the chance to power your home even during power outages. Depending on which type of solar panel system you own, the specifics of how it’s done may vary.
When it comes to staying powered during blackouts, off-grid solar panel systems have a clear advantage. They aren’t connected to the grid to begin with, so using this type of solar panel system means you won’t experience any utility-related blackouts.
With a grid-tied system, the best solution is to invest in a solar battery to act as a backup. If the goal is to power your entire house in these situations, you need the correct number of batteries with the optimal storage capacity to suit their needs.
Having a solar system that's connected to the grid while also using a battery to serve as a backup is the best way to make sure the house is always receiving electricity, whether it be in overcast weather or during a blackout.
That’s if you’re willing to invest in a solar battery because, as stated previously, they can be quite pricey.
While utilizing a solar battery is the best option to keep your home powered during blackouts, it isn't the only one.
Using an Inverter as an Emergency Generator
An inverter may not be enough to power an entire household, but it can still provide power to certain parts of your home.
Depending on the type of inverter, it can be used to send power to appliances, lights, or chargers. It won't be able to power them all though, so certain parts of the home need to be prioritized over others.
In the event of a blackout, solar batteries can be used to power the home using the solar energy that has been stored. The downside to this is the price of the batteries. Inverters can be used during blackouts as well, but only for a limited number of appliances.
Thanks to their ability to switch between power sources, hybrid systems are the most effective in providing your home with power in difficult situations.
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