Solar Energy and Home Battery Backup Combination vs. Using a Generator
For most of us in Marin, Sonoma or Napa counties our relationship with PG&E changed last fall when PG&E instituted their “PSPS” Public Safety Power Shutdown events, plunging our homes and lives into the dark. Granted the first few hours were fun, in a new challenge kind of way, but for most of us it quickly became a real challenge. The 2nd and 3rd PSPS events were too many, and too long.
Having been in the industry for over thirty-five year, we see how consumers wrestle with their PG&E relationship, specifically in how much they pay PG&E for their electricity. Solar salespeople spend a lot of time discussing bill nuances and details, facts most consumers seldom look at closely. For many homeowners, the benefits of solar far outweigh the cost, and they install solar on their roofs and in their yards.
But a surprise for many solar customers, is that for safety reasons, solar systems turn off when the PG&E power goes off. So last fall those solar system owners were in the dark along with their neighbors. The missing piece is Battery Storage, where you can store solar produced energy for use throughout the day. With that combination, both the solar and battery stays on, when the PG&E power goes off.
Before last fall, batteries seemed too costly for many consumers (and solar salespeople), you were buying expensive technology for events that may not happen. When the wind did knock out a powerline, you lost power for a few hours. As a salesperson it wasn’t like selling solar that had fast payback, and a high ROI. Offering a battery to a customer was closer to selling Insurance, where you hoped the customer never needed it.
Of course, all that changed last fall, where instead of power being down for hours, it was down for days and weeks. Apparently, this is now the new “normal”, that we have Fire Season, and Power Shutoff season starting earlier each year, coupled with a historic drought. Homeowners do not want to ride out the PSPS events in the dark. With a properly sized solar system and battery, you can lead an almost normal life for days and weeks, when PG&E’s power is off. Depending on your solar system and battery sizing you typically do not want to run everything like normal in the home, high draw items like pool pumps are not powered by solar and battery. Since these Lithium Ion batteries are expensive, many homeowners may even choose to keep very few items powered by solar and battery, during a power shutdown.
No surprise, our company went from selling a battery with solar very occasionally, to where there is a battery with 60% of our new solar systems. Some customers in larger homes, have many batteries.
I’m sure most of you heard generators in your neighborhood last fall. These were small suitcase sized Honda generators with a low purr, with some whole home generators that could be heard a few doors away, and then those “contractor” type generators that shook whole neighborhoods. Like the Power Shutdowns themselves, the first few hours weren’t bad, but the generator noise got very old, very fast. Some of you may have read about the related carbon monoxide poisonings and generator caused fires. It’s a thing – Google it. Generators can be powered by gasoline, diesel, propane or natural gas. The portable units using the former, and whole home units the latter. Fun fact, when PG&E turns off power due to nearby fires (not preventative PSPS events) they will turn off the natural gas as well. I did talk to one homeowner in the town of Sonoma where 3 years ago he had sizeable investment in roof solar, carport solar and a large generator, powered by natural gas. When PG&E turned off both the electricity and gas, he was still in the dark with his neighbors. The missing piece – battery storage.
Yes, getting a generator can be cheaper, but in respect to the environment, your immediate neighbors, your larger North Bay community, and the planet, please consider a solar and storage combination. Generators are loud, polluting, carbon producing, carbon monoxide creating, flammable and potentially hazardous devices, that are not good for your home, family or community. Solar is clean and quickly pays for itself in PG&E bill savings, and in combination with a battery, will allow you to ride out PSPS events quietly, and in an environmentally friendly manor.
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