Back-up Power -Part 1 (for the grid-tied folks)
Power, you can't live with it (prices that is), and you can't live without it.
Going off-grid isn't easy (or practical for everyone), and that is why I am writing about this topic.
According to the U.S Energy Information Administration, the average American home loses power once or twice a year, and one of the most appealing aspects of renewable energy is that it can be decentralized and offer you power when the sun and wind or whatever else your property may have to make energy with is still "doing it's thing'.
This being said, power outages caused by natural disasters can last much longer, even weeks and months. During these events, homeowners can face many issues and costs for repairs, not limited to food spoilage, damages from high winds, electrical fires and electrocution hazards, frozen pipes, water damage and mold.
Streets can become flooded and clean water and food supplies can be cut off. Unless you have a propane grill, a generator or other means, you may not be able to cook, heat your home or take a shower, much less heat it.
I remember my house growing up. We had one street running next to our neighborhood. We had a hurricane or flood come through once a year at times and the road was covered in water on both exits. If you took a right, you would run into the cow pasture where the water would be about 2 ft over the road. I remember watching nervously as people tried to drive their cars through to get out, hoping to not watch them be carried away by the floodwaters.
If you took a left turn out of the neighborhood, you would reach the two-lane bridge over the now swollen creek which was completely impassible. Before the floods, the local grocery stores were empty of water, bread and milk.
Why do people go for milk anyway!? Could they pick a more perishable item?
Houses backed up to that creek were half-submerged in water. This is also why it is important to look at your local flood zone map before you buy that house you are shopping for.
Ice storms didn't leave folks much better off. Our communities were plunged into darkness amidst plummeting temperatures. My parents would yell for us to keep the refrigerator closed to keep the groceries cold and we would store water in the bathtub if we knew there might be an outage. Our first home had a traditional fireplace, but our second home had a gas one. The gas still worked during these outages (I don't think that would be the case in a serious disaster) but the electric blower did not work, which made it useless unless you were two feet from it. We used the propane grill outside to make due on what food we could cobble together.
various methods of preparation
The ice brought down giant limbs all over the neighborhood on driveways and houses and really made you realize how fragile the electrical grid is when a 5 inch limb can take out the grid.
That feeling of hopelessness made me ponder from a young age ways in which you could help yourself in these situations and not just be at the mercy of electrical and emergency crews.
A generator is the first thing that comes to people's mind when they think of emergency power. They provide instant power in a modular way, they are convenient, and relatively inexpensive.
But what if there is something (or things) better?
Generator models rang from small recreational units that cost a few hundred dollars and can power a single appliance to models that can cost $5,000 and power an entire house. Traditionally, they have been powered off of gasoline, and more recently, a natural gas line going to your house.
traditional gas generator
natural gas whole-home generator
Now, we are a solar and off-grid site, so obviously, we are a proponent of not using fossil fuels. Many off-griders use propane for their refrigerators, cook-tops, and even use gas generators on occasion. To me, this is still a reliance on the grid, but even more so than semantics, in a long-term emergency, there would not be readily-available fossil fuels to refill with once your "stockpile" is depleted. Traditional generators are loud and noisy, don't run off renewable fuel, and gas, as with food, has a shelf life and expires over time. It easily evaporates and spoils, so if you don't use it, you lose it.
Batteries are actually the same way, but unlike petrol, you can keep them topped off, rotate, use and charge them on occasion to keep them at their best for when you need them most.
There are also different types of batteries and different batteries need to retain a certain amount of charge to have a long lifespan. The most common off-grid types are:
1.) Lead-Acid Deep Cycle (need to stay at least 50% charged, 70% optimal, so over-sizing by 150% is a must)
2.) Lithium Ion (need too stay at least 30% charged, so over-sizing by 130% is a must)
The solar that you see your neighbors installing on their roofs is connected to the grid and most likely not backed up with batteries. Even in an emergency, these panels will be generating electricity, but it will not be usable sadly. This is not any fault of the system or panels. Regulations do not currently allow you to directly use the solar connected to the grid if the power is out to protect the workers trying to fix the grid. Otherwise, they could get fried thinking the lines are disengaged.
Q: Why can't the panels just directly run my devices?
A: Your solar system is not sized to run your devices at any one time. Your system is either dumping that energy onto the grid or into batteries. Never directly to your devices. Solar and wind power fluctuates. The sun goes behind clouds, the intensity of the sun varies by the season and hours of the day, wind comes in bursts, night has the sun producing no power at all. In every renewable energy device, the power has to be conditioned and most often stored. That is the logic behind inverters and charge controllers. If your devices were wired straight to the panels they may blink on and off and worse, may be damaged internally.
A way around this is to have a;
1.) hybrid solar system
2.) solar generator set-up
A solar generator kit is the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to have back-up power. Wi-Buy sells the Natures' Generator System that allows you to plug into a wall outlet, directly into solar, or into a special wall adapter tied into your breaker box.
You can find a wide array of sizes to fit your needs, but they are also modular and you can string them together to create more storage. Contact us for custom design and consultation @ Contact or Quotes for pricing. When contacting us for sizing list out all the devices you may need charge in the event of a grid failure or interruption and try to see if the devices list the watts or amps. (AC devices are 120 volts except for dryers, ranges, etc that are 240 volts).
These modular all-in-one systems come complete with a battery, charge controller, inverter, and usb, dc and ac ports for charging and running devices.
If you are wanting to install a full-home solar system, a hybrid system is worth looking into. In this type of system, some of the power generated is diverted into batteries. Some of the inverters out on the market have a power transfer switch to close the connection to the grid and only go to batteries.
The OutBack GTFX2524 2.5kW 24V Grid-Tie Inverter data sheet states that;
“Our built in transfer switch automatically disconnects your loads from the utility grid and powers them from the inverter in the event of an outage, allowing you to continue using your solar and battery back-up power, unlike traditional grid-tie systems.”
Typical grid-tied inverters are specifically designed to cease working if the grid ever fails (termed a blackout) or fluctuates (a brownout). The reasoning for this is for it to prevent injury to anyone operating on the grid to get it back up and running. Power companies do not want other sources of power to charge the lines without their knowledge. For more info on this, search code UL 1741.
Inverters are designed with this failsafe in mind, so abit of trickery is involved in circumnavigating this safety measure. When the grid goes down, you need to turn your home into its' own micro-grid with a little help from some "fancy" technology.
Hybrid solar systems can have many benefits.
In off-grid applications, having a battery hooked up to your solar array allows you to store energy produced by the system for use when the sun isn’t shining on your panels. Hybrid systems store the excess energy produced in panels in the batteries, and when these are topped off, they put it back onto the grid to reduce your power bills.
For a power outage scenario, having a hybrid solar system with a battery provides backup power to your home when the electrical grid goes down. By having your solar panels charge a battery constantly, you will have that energy even when the neighbors are out of power. Necessities, life saving devices and conveniences like heating and cooling, medical devices, lighting, and communication devices can continue to work and be charged even when the grid is in need of repair.
Hybrid systems are usually sized to only store enough energy to run minimal and necessary devices/systems until the grid can be repaired by the utility. Although solely grid-tied solar panels turn off for practical and safety reasons during a grid blackout, having a hybrid system can allow you to continue making the power you need for your home necessities.
Many of the newer solar energy systems with batteries will have either a physical switch or software setting that allows your panels to continue charging the batteries and to disconnect from the grid, instead creating your own household "microgrid". As long as the sun is out or the wind is blowing you can continue to charge this system.
Microgrids are the future of energy, communication, water and sustainanble communities. The more our lives are upset by geopolitical events, we believe we will make the transfer to decentralization and taking the power back into our own hands. The internet, media, telecom, etc. the revolution has begun. We are seeing power, utilities, and agriculture go back to where it should be; the hands of the people. Clean water, renewable energy, recycling and up-cycling, the end of big petrol, and local produce. We are trying our best to help get us there.
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As Always... Thanks again, and be happy
- michael rutledge