Off-Grid Living is a new series where solar customers who have installed emergency solar power systems are interviewed about their solar with battery backup installations.
Off-Grid Living: February 2013 Edition
Homeowner: Bob M.
Location: Cumming, Georgia
SEUSA: Please tell us about your emergency power system (size, panels, inverter, batteries, etc.):
I currently have an 8 kW bimodal solar system. It consists of 36 solar panels and is tied in to a 40 kW battery storage system. This allows backup power in case the grid goes down and also allows me to sell excess power back to the electric company with normal power conditions. It is powered by an Outback inverter system.
SEUSA: There is an extra cost incorporating batteries into a solar energy system, why not just tie into the grid?
The cost of the batteries increased the final cost about 15 percent. The purpose of my system was to have a backup power source. IF I had opted for just a grid tie system without the batteries, when the grid went down, I would only be able to get power when the sun was shining. I wanted a backup system 24/7, not just a reduction in my monthly electric costs.
SEUSA: Why not use a gas generator?
After analyzing gas costs I found it prohibitively expensive to back up with a gas generator for more than an hour or two.The extra cost for batteries and the peace of mind they provided seemed like a prudent tradeoff.
SEUSA: How frequently have you experienced power outages in the past (before purchasing your emergency power system)?
Power outages are currently infrequent. Maybe one every two years, and only for an hour or so. This system was put in place for the possibility of a more serious event lasting a few days, or the possibility that the grid becomes overtaxed and we enter a period where power starts to be rationed with rolling blackouts.
SEUSA: To what extent did economic conditions play a role in your decision-making?
Economic decisions were crucial to my decision to install solar. The difference that made the system affordable was the inclusion of government rebates. Without the rebates the system would not justify the cost. My solar system needed to have an adequate payback period. In my case it was about 6 percent a year with the rebates. There was nowhere else in today’s financial environment where I could get a guaranteed 6 percent return on my investment (and that was based on CURRENT energy prices). The return on investment will only go up as power costs increase over time.
SEUSA: What critical loads are supported by your emergency power system?
My power system currently powers three rooms in the house, along with heat and air conditioning, and security systems. Enough to be self-sufficient for long periods of time.
SEUSA: Hurricane Sandy left millions of northeasterners without power and caused around $50 billion dollars in damage. Do severe natural disasters like this help validate your purchase decision?
I don’t suspect I will be affected by a hurricane such as Sandy. Natural disasters are not my primary concern. Natural disasters such as storms only impact the electricity use for a few hours or so in this area. There are many other negative events that I think are more appropriate for living in the Atlanta area. We are served in Georgia by two very old nuclear power plants. If either one of them had a problem we could see a reduction in power generated and possible rolling blackouts for quite some time. Cyber security threats to the electrical grid are also a major concern, along with a disruption of gas supplies to power the remaining plants.
SEUSA: Any plans to purchase a plug-in electric car an “emergency transportation source” or redundant battery backup?
I have priced out electric cars. The technology just isn’t there yet. The range of electric cars is just too limited for the price paid in today’s market.
SEUSA: Why did you decide to go with a Solar Energy USA emergency power system over one from a competitor?
Simply put, honesty and integrity. And I was not disappointed. Customer satisfaction was second to none with Solar Energy. When Solar Energy made a commitment, even a verbal one, you could take it to the bank. That kind of customer focus is invaluable, and very comforting, when considering such a high cost and very complex system such as solar.
SEUSA: (Or attempt to build one yourself – we hear there are YouTube videos that make it look real easy)…
Unless you are a master electrician I would strongly recommend you leave the installation to the professionals. These systems are way too complicated for a non-expert to attempt. I say this as a degreed Mechanical Engineer.
SEUSA: What advice do you have for people like yourself who are debating some form of emergency power?
My advice is to do your homework and learn as much as you can, study the financials, insure it makes sense for you, and then leave the installation to the experts.
Solar Energy USA is proud to be the largest residential solar provider in Georgia with offices across the nation. Solar Energy USA sells a number of residential and commercial solar array options including grid-tied, bimodal, and off-grid applications.