In the decade after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, there has been a lot of local discussion about resiliency and disaster preparedness, as well as multiple initiatives that strive to prevent, mitigate, and better respond to disasters. What we've also seen is an increased interest in small-scale solutions, such as battery backup systems or off-grid development, that make solar system owners feel secure and independent in the face of an uncertain and changing climate.
One of the many benefits of owning a solar system is the fact that it can be easily combined with a battery backup system to produce energy even in the midst of a power outage. This gives solar system owners peace of mind and allows for decreased reliance on the grid.
Of course, there is the fear that the solar system itself will become damaged by hurricane-force winds. However, if you have chosen a quality solar panel installer, a structural engineer will sign off on the design to ensure its resiliency. For example, all Joule systems have a 140 mph wind rating, giving our clients an added sense of security. Not to mention, most components of your solar system come with a 25-year warranty, and the panels we recommend to our clients have glass that is rated for one-inch hail and similar impacts. If anything, your solar system should be the last thing you worry about in a storm.
Corey Shalanski, our Safety and Training Coordinator, has extensive experience providing the Gulf South with battery backup solutions. He shared with me some practical considerations that come up when selecting and installing a battery backup for your solar system.
How can you use a battery backup to continue producing energy when the grid is down, and how much can you produce?
Battery backup systems can provide energy during both day and night and can operate with or without the utility grid. Most operate by converting battery (DC) energy into usable (AC) electricity via an inverter.
The amount of energy available depends on the size of the battery and the size and quantity of inverters. Joule has installed systems capable of keeping a refrigerator running through the night and to systems sized to keep large luxury properties running for an entire month in off-grid mode.
Is it easy to install a solar system now and get a battery backup later?
With the advent of "AC coupling" over the past few years, it is now fairly straightforward to add a battery backup system to an existing solar system. Previously, any sort of battery component would have needed to be included in the initial system design.
Not counting the Tesla Powerwall, what kinds of battery backup options are currently available for clients and how do these compare?
The most time-tested battery technology is lead-acid based. These batteries are available in either flooded or sealed packages. Flooded batteries are generally less expensive, but require greater maintenance and need to be refilled with distilled water occasionally to maintain the electrolyte. Sealed batteries are more expensive but require much less maintenance. They are the best choice for most of our clients.
If the grid goes down but it it sunny outside, can a solar system continue to produce electricity?
Every system will disconnect from the grid when there is any sort of outage or disturbance - this is a safety feature designed to protect utility line workers. Without a connection to the grid, most systems will cease producing electricity, as they are designed to search for and synchronize to an external frequency or voltage signal of sufficient stability.
An exception to this rule is a line of transformerless inverters from SMA that include their proprietary "Secure Power Supply" feature. This innovative component allows for a limited supply of output power during daylight hours in the event of a grid outage. And of course, battery backups allow the solar system to continue operating in the event of a power outage.
Storms and outages are a difficult part of living in the Gulf South, but modern technology provides a few ways to adapt to whatever weather pattern nature throws at you. Over the past decade, we've seen those strategies evolve and take hold in our communities, and we're excited to see what the future holds, especially when it comes to solar power and battery backups.