Will my solar system work during a blackout?

Will my panels keep my lights on?

I was asked this week whether or not a solar system would allow my customer to be completely independent of the grid if their PV system would generate enough electricity for their consumption needs.  A good question, and one that can be answered with a 'No, but...'

Power Outages

The Australian electricity network is not immune to power outages (blackouts) which can be caused by a number of issues including severe storms, maintenance or technical faults, lightning strikes etc.  During a blackout power to your suburb will generally be cut leaving you and your neighbours in the dark.  Your electricity distributor (Energex if you are living in Brisbane) will generally send out technicians to find the issue as soon as practical, but in some instances beyond their control this may be an extended period of time - hopefully not long enough for your freezer to melt of your beers to get hot!

Why your solar system will cease to work during a blackout

A solar system will cease generating electricity during a power outage for safety and technical reasons.

Safety first!

Technicians searching for a power outage need to be sure there will be no electricity flowing through any of the wires they are trying to repair.  If a solar system was still operating and generating power this could potentially be exporting electricity back to the grid thereby creating an unsafe environment for the technicians. For this reason, solar systems are designed to stop producing electricity during times of an outage to prevent unnecessary sparks flying.

Technical

A solar system is only as good as the inverter installed to monitor and direct the power generated.  An inverter needs power to conduct its operations, but it draws its power from the grid, not the solar system (this sounds a bit silly, but that's the case..).  Therefore when there is a power outage during the day, although you may have brilliant sun shining on your panels, your building will be without power for the period of the outage.

Solving the problem

This situation is an ideal problem for batteries to solve.  Whilst comments continue to fly that batteries still don't make commercial sense, this can be dismissed with a few short paragraphs.  As the property owner who asked the question that sparked this post (pun intended) has found, there are a multitude of reasons to install a battery storage unit with your solar system, one being the provision of independence from the grid during a blackout.  A correctly sized solar system combined with battery storage will allow the owner to store excess electricity in the batteries for use at a later time.  This use could be to cover nighttime electricity requirements or to ensure the property will have solar and battery power during a blackout.  The power from the batteries powers the inverter and allows the system to continue working as normal as long as there is daylight or available energy from the batteries.

Call to action:

When you are making a purchasing decision for your solar system, consider what your objectives are with regard to your power.  Do you simply want to reduce your annual electricity bill spend?  Do you want to produce excess energy for your household or business and store this energy in a battery pack for use at a later stage?  Or do you want to prevent the inconvenience on relying solely on the distributor for your electricity by installing a solar and battery system giving you a certain amount of independence from the grid power and giving you some comfort that your business can continue operations or you can finish watching your game of footy.

Give Spinifex Energy a call today to discuss how solar and battery systems might work for you.