Many people go solar because they want more control over the electricity in their homes. Solar panels can help you curb rising electrical costs and even become a source of income if you sell extra electricity back to the grid. Many homeowners also install solar panels because they want guaranteed electricity whether or not the electrical grid is working.
However, traditional solar panel systems don’t work when the power goes out. This can catch homeowners by surprise. It’s important to understand how solar systems function so that you can install the system that best achieves your goals. Here’s more about how solar panels respond to power outages.
Aren’t Solar Panels Off-Grid?
Although solar panels are a popular solution for going off-grid, they aren’t synonymous with grid independence. Most home solar systems are actually wired into the grid so the system is less expensive. With this connection, you can send excess energy to the electrical company for a profit and homeowners can enjoy power overnight and on overcast days.
The wiring in solar panels send electricity through a single junction box. Before you can use this power in your home, you have to change it from direct to alternating current (DC to AC). Traditional systems use a single inverter to change the current before it reaches your home’s main service panel.
For many people, grid-tied solar systems are the perfect solution because they bring independence from energy costs. If homeowners balance their energy use carefully, they can eliminate energy costs and even make money off their solar systems. However, grid-tied solar panels will automatically shut down when the electrical grid stops working.
Why Do Solar Panels Shut Off?
Before you can connect your solar panel system to the grid, you have to sign an agreement with an electric company. Part of this agreement requires your solar panels to shut off during a power outage. This stops energy from running along the lines from your house and potentially injuring workers during an outage.
Power outages usually occur because of an issue in the wiring between an electric company and your home. After you report an outage, companies send a lineman to identify and fix the issue as quickly as possible. Although these workers follow safety protocols, working with electricity is still dangerous.
Electrocution can lead to severe shocks, bad burns or even death. Unless you’re completely off-grid, your solar system isn’t isolated from other sources of electricity. All grid-tied solar systems have wires to automatically shut down during a power outage to protect any linemen working on the problem.
How Can You Back Up Electricity?
If you want security against losing power during an outage, there are a few paths you can take. Some homeowners choose to go completely off-grid and build an electrical system that’s separate from the electric grid. This route can be expensive, but it’s a good option for people who live in remote areas.
To ensure 24/7 power on an off-grid system, you’ll need backup batteries to store extra energy. On sunny days, your system will transfer excess energy to these batteries. If you need energy on cloudy days or overnight, your backup batteries will work to power your home. Some off-grid homes also rely on a gas-run generator for backup.
If you’d like to stay connected to the grid, you have similar options for backup power. Many homeowners invest in a backup battery storage system that can accumulate excess power. Once your electricity disconnects from the system, this system switches on to power your home during an outage. Backup generators are also a good option for homes connected to the grid.
Investing in Energy Security
It may surprise you to learn that solar panels don’t generate electricity during a power outage. Most panel systems are wired into the grid and required to shut off during power outages for security reasons. This protects linemen who are working from electrical shocks.
Adding solar panels to your home won’t ensure you have electricity during power outages. However, you can invest in backup batteries or generators so that you have electricity all the time. Once you disconnect your electrical system from the main grid, these backups will give you access to safe, consistent energy around the clock.
Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.