I did a double take when I read this Q&A exchange:
Q. What can people do to protect themselves?
W: People are beginning to understand that they need their own onsite capabilities to island themselves from the grid. That’s because the grid’s external vulnerabilities will continue to be a problem until we do have substantial amounts of distributed generation. I have a solar photovoltaic system that provides 100 percent of my power needs. I am looking into how I can island myself off the grid. But it is not just me, the military is moving toward micro-grids at all of their bases because they understand the vulnerability of those bases to outages.
Who might this person be??? A “crazy prepper” perhaps…?
Not quite – would you believe the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the person responsible for the oversight of the nation’s grid system. I couldn’t believe it either and hence my double-take.
I literally read this and stated writing this blog because his comments are the final corroborating evidence of what I’ve been learning from my potential customers over the past several months: they want not just lower energy bills but energy security and reliability.
Last quarter, I spoke to a homeowners’ association small group in Georgetown. An upscale neighborhood, I expected to hear them all say they wanted to protect themselves against energy inflation.
But what surprised me is that every couple in that room had once lived in Houston (Georgetown is doing a great job attracting Houstonians to their growing city!). And if you lived in Houston, you’ve lived through a major hurricane. And if you’ve lived through one of the gulf coast major hurricanes, you’ve learned what it’s like to not have electricity for 3-7 days.
Nobody in that room ever wanted to go through that again.
So, expecting to discuss the benefits of grid-tied systems, I had to quickly change and discuss the benefits (and costs) to having battery backup.
Last October, I attended the Solar Power International conference with the prime objective of understanding where battery technology was. I wanted to know if lithium batteries were cost effective and ready for prime-time.
I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I still think it’s a lead-acid battery world for greatest value. But what was really amazing was the latest inverter technology to store and manage that stored energy.
There was no doubt to me that Outback Power had the most comprehensive integrated system on the market. That’s now what we work with when somebody says they want battery backup, because we think their systems and company culture of continuous improvement really does produce what they are advertising – the “future proof” inverter.
We installed a Radian 8048 (8.0 kilowatts, 48 volts) for a customer in Salado that is quite amazing and his case study bears this out.
Instead of sending excess solar electricity generated at midday back to the grid, the battery system stores it and with it being in “Net Zero” mode, the inverter uses this stored energy to avoid pulling more from the grid after the sun goes down.
So for those of you in the unregulated market areas, instead of selling back excess solar at a lesser cost that what you pay for it, you keep it and use it later at night or the early morning instead of pulling more from the grid. As Texas energy prices continue to go up, this is increasingly lucrative. But the best part is that when the grid goes down, like it did during a severe thunderstorm that we typically see in the Central Texas spring season, his home’s critical lights and appliance keep on going with nary a hiccup. Amazing.
If one is comparing a battery backup to a generator for pure dollar for dollar cost effectiveness, the generator wins every time.
But you don’t run your generator each evening…and this is in essence what you can do with an Outback system in Net Zero mode (or in many of its others modes). This will be valuable as more time of use rate plans are implemented (TXU already has a “free nights” plan and I’m doing the analysis right now on how I might work a grid-tied battery backup system to minimize my monthly bill under this).
But you don’t have to wait.
Today, we’re planning to integrate an Outback 8048 Radian in an AC-coupling architecture in Casa Arey. I won’t go into the technical details here, but I will say that with this, the Outback inverter uses battery power to replicate the presence of the grid and allow my solar array to keep operating even when the grid goes down. This is a game changer, folks.
And while I thought it was cool to have this for the early adopters, my reading about the former FERC Commissioner’s own solar array made me realize this is something that Texas homeowners want today.
Please call us if you have a solar system today and want to see if AC Coupling can work for you. If you’re designing a house, please don’t finish the plans until we discuss some electrical panel planning and a battery backup space. This is always easier before drywall goes up!
Knowing what I know today, I wouldn’t build a home in Texas without solar on its roof immediately. And I wouldn’t build one that wasn’t at least battery backup ready.