Does solar work when the grid goes down?
The average solar consumer is looking to solve one simple problem—high energy bills. For this there are straightforward solutions: Either purchase solar panels to lock in 20-plus years of low energy rates while reaping an excellent tax incentive, or qualify for $0-down loan or lease options and start saving immediately on your monthly power bill.
For others, however, reasons for going solar may range from “sticking it” to the energy utility or preparing for the remote possibility that the electrical grid goes offline. For these solar seekers, a major consideration is whether solar panel systems are capable of keeping household energy flowing if and when the grid goes down.
So, does solar work when the grid goes down? Yes and no…
ON-GRID SOLAR PANEL SYSTEMS
Standard solar setups are connected to the grid and, therefore, so is the homeowner’s ability to use energy. Simply put, the electricity meter on a home without solar rolls forward as energy is consumed; on a home with solar panels, however, the meter rolls backward during daylight hours as the system generates power. If the grid goes down, your power is unavailable because it has already been fed back onto the grid.
The exception is on-grid solar systems that also incorporate one or more high-capacity batteries. The excess power generated by the home’s solar panels will be stored by the batteries, providing a rechargeable reservoir of energy to use in case the utility company is unable to feed power to the home.
OFF-GRID SOLAR PANEL SYSTEM
It’s not typically the threat of an EMP, government coup or any other doomsday scenario that causes a solar consumer to get an off-grid system—it’s usually infrastructure. If a homeowner values land over convenience, he or she may be setting up a custom house in a rural area without access to the electrical grid.
As this type of system has no connection whatsoever to the electrical grid, it runs completely independently. In this case, high-capacity solar batteries are a must, as off-grid homes will rely on these backups to provide power at night and during cloudy days when the sunlight is obscured, preventing the solar panels from generating energy. With no connection to the grid, however, any utility outage, rolling blackout or other interference will not affect the home’s power availability.
WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU?If you have easy access to the electrical grid, it’s almost certainly better and easier to go with a standard, on-grid system. Although the power very rarely goes out, families focused on being prepared for routine outages or more dire situations can add a battery to their solar plans or, alternatively, look into getting a more versatile diesel generator to keep the lights on during rare grid downtime.