How Can Solar Power Be Used When the Grid is Down?

As we look back a year later we evaluate how we can be better prepared for the next natural disaster. In addition to wide spread flooding and devastation of people’s homes and businesses, nearly 6 million people were without power last year during the Hurricane Sandy aftermath. Many of those people were without power for weeks at a time and some up to a month. Back up gas generators were used to keep necessary items running in households, hospitals and businesses but eventually failed due to widespread gas shortages in the region. Those with solar power thought they would be immune to the power outages but also lost electricity, but why?

Homes and businesses with solar installed were still generating power during the grid outages in the Northeast but were unable to harness the electricity because of their system set up. When a solar panel system is installed and tied to the grid that system basically becomes its own little power station pushing electricity into the grid for net metering. This is how excess electricity is stored and how a home not powered 100% by solar can still have enough power for the entire home. This is great for your electric bill but fails when it comes to having back up power because when the grid is down any grid-tied solar panel will automatically be cut off. This is done for safety reasons to prevent any technicians from being electrocuted when making repairs.

So how can you use solar power as a backup system when the grid is down? There are a couple different ways to utilize your solar panel’s power during an outage.  The first option is as simple as having a different power inverter connected to the system that allows you to switch off the grid and run solely on the solar panel’s power. This is called “islanding” which means when the grid is down, you would simply pull a switch, the inverter would disconnect from the grid and you would become your own island running off the renewable energy of your solar panel setup.

The second option is having a back battery system that the solar panels can charge. This battery system will allow you to set it up so that specific breakers (refrigerators, freezers, etc.) switch over automatically when the power is out. Certain systems allow you to run up to 48 hours without any recharging from the solar panels.

For long term outages such as those faced during Hurricane Sandy another option is to have a hybrid system of the previous two. Utilizing “islanding” and the battery backup system together can keep households with power for necessary items longer allowing the household to ride out any grid outages more easily.

Make sure you’re prepared for the next grid outage by doing your research and finding a solution that works best for your home or business.


Article written by:

Tanya Castaneda - VP of Marketing & Sales SuperGreen Solutions of Westchester County

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