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Will Solar Panels Work During a Power Outage?

Will my solar keep working? The answer can be yes, but without a battery backup system, that’s going to be a no. Learn how panels operate in a power outage and how adding a battery backup to your system can benefit you.

Blog post size (4)It’s one of the questions we hear all the time: Will solar panels work if the power goes out?

Short answer: No. But that doesn’t mean you’re totally in the dark. Here's why solar panels don’t work in a blackout and how to work around it.

Do Solar Panels Work During a Power Outage?

No, and Ultimately, it's a safety measure. 

Your solar is intentionally designed so that it can produce more power than your home can actually use. The electricity that doesn't go directly into your lights, TV, or other appliances has to go somewhere, so it gets sent to the grid. Your neighbors can benefit from it, and you can get compensated from the utility for all the energy you produce. (This is net metering in a nutshell. More on that here.) 

So what happens during a power outage? Your solar has to stop sending electricity to the grid, or you could put the linemen who are trying to fix those electric utility lines at risk. Solar is smart enough to detect that there's an outage and automatically turn off. 

How to Use Solar During a Power Outage

Here's one big piece of good news: If you have a backup battery, your solar will keep producing.

The inverter can say: There's no power on the grid, so I'll turn off. But a battery is smarter than this: Battery backup systems can temporarily and automatically disconnect your home from the grid when you have a blackout. This battery then becomes your buffer for that solar production—it can store any energy being produced that otherwise would have no place to go. If your battery fills up, it can even turn your solar off if it needs to. It's very similar to an automatic transfer switch for a standby generator. 

Learn more about backup mode and other ways to use a solar backup battery.

Consider a scenario like this: On day one, there’s a big thunderstorm and the power goes out. It’s not sunny enough for your panels to make much power, but your battery kicks in and keeps your home running—lights, fridge, etc.

On day two, if power hasn’t been restored yet, but the clouds have cleared and it’s now a sunny day, your panels are back in the game making enough power to run your home and recharge your battery. Your home is going to use any of the produced solar power before it even goes to the battery.

This means a few different things for your solar and your battery: First, it means that you have backup power stored in your battery to run your home. And, because you’re temporarily disconnected from the grid, it means that your solar will keep producing power, keeping your battery charged. 

Generator vs. Backup Battery for Home

Speaking of a generator, Marcus Shapiro, Senior Solar Advisor, rattles off several reasons why many people opt for a battery over a generator: “They're quiet. They're not stinky, no fossil fuels, no maintenance, no lag time when it kicks on.” And while portable generators are less expensive, a more apt comparison is a whole-home generator, which is going to be much closer in terms of cost.

What Can I Power with a Battery?

It depends on the size of your system, but we can do a lot more with the batteries that we have available now than we could five or 10 years ago. Everything beyond really heavy loads (you know, big motors turning on), we can do fairly comfortably.

This includes things like lights, the fridge, freezer, your internet router, even an electric range—they can all be powered by a battery. Within reason: You can definitely boil a kettle of water, but maybe don’t cook a turkey!

Appliances that may be too large for a conventionally sized system include heat pumps, big air conditioners, and power tools. But when the system is designed with your needs in mind, it should be able to handle just about anything.

Still on the fence? Want more info? Schedule a site visit with a solar advisor to talk through your options. 

Read on! Battery Backup for Solar Panels: What to Know

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