Putting a solar backup system on my home was one of the best things I ever did to make myself more prepared for emergencies.
Large-scale natural disasters seem to strike our country several times a year. Just think about the winter storm in Texas in early 2021 that left hundreds of thousands of people without power for days. To prepare myself against such a storm in my state, I chose to invest in a solar backup system.
There are numerous reasons to invest in solar. Keep reading to find out if a solar backup system is right for your home and learn about ways to get discounted solar systems installed on your home.
Why I Put a Solar Backup System On My Home
- Never be without power.
- Save money in the long run.
- Make money by contributing excess electricity to “the grid.”
- Add value to your house.
- Good for the planet.
- Solar backup generators are silent.
- Maintenance costs are low.
If you’re already ready to buy a solar generator, check out my review of the Titan Solar Generator.
How Do Solar Energy Systems Work?
Solar energy systems work by collecting the energy from the sunlight through panels placed on your roof. Most solar energy systems are made up of a battery, a solar panel, an inverter, and a solar charger. (Most installed on homes today are sold without battery backup, because the batteries are quite expensive.) The energy collected by the solar panel is passed through a charger, which allows the energy to be stored in the battery in DC form. To use the energy in your house the inverter changes the DC energy to AC.
For people who rely on solar energy as their primary form of energy, the panels channel the energy straight into the electrical system of the house. If the house doesn’t need all the energy being produced, the excess energy gets stored in the battery and/or gets funneled into “the grid.”
This is how my system works. In addition to the energy produced by the solar panels during the day, my system has a 16 kW (kilowatts, meaning thousands of watts) battery backup (Since my purposes were to be able to have power in a “grid down” emergency, I insisted on having backup batteries). In addition to charging my backup batteries, any excess electricity I produce goes into the main electrical grid in my town, meaning my neighbors can use the energy I produced.
In exchange for this, we get a credit that can be exchanged for electricity in the winter, when our solar panels are covered in snow.
Types of Solar Energy Systems
There are three broad categories of solar energy systems: home systems, backup generators, and portable solar generators.
Portable Solar Generators
Portable solar generators have a smaller output capacity, but are light in weight and are excellent options for RVs, campers, backcountry cabins, boats, and for some smaller appliances in a home.
The portable solar generator will not be capable of powering large appliances.
These small systems are the cheapest and offer the ability to power a small fan or charge a cell phone several times. The price range for these types of systems goes from around $100-$500.
For $500-$750, you can get a slightly bigger solar generator that is more capable of powering things like laptops or multiple cell phones.
Solar Backup Generators
These are units that are designed to do things similar to unattached fuel powered backup generators. Uses for these systems can be to provide limited power when camping or in an RV. And some are big enough to run limited essential devices in a home during a power outage.
The biggest limiting factor with these units are the size of the inverter. For example the Titan, which currently is the largest of these types on the market, is limited to a 3,000 watt inverter. You can have almost as many 2,000 watt hour batteries as you want with their system, and you can attach almost as many solar panels as you want.
But the inverter will only accept 2,000 watts of power from the panels. And it will only handle an output of 2,500 to close to 3,000 watts at any given time.
Depending on the size and brand of the solar backup generator, and how many batteries and solar panels you get with it, your system will cost between $1,000 to $12,000 generally.
Home Solar Systems
Home systems literally come in just about as big or as small as you want nowadays. You just need to decide how many solar panels you can fit on your roof (or on a stand in your yard), and the size of your inverter and charger. You also need to decide if you want to have backup batteries, and if so at how much capacity.
All of this is usually determined by both the power needs of running the essential appliances in your home, and your budget. I personally know people who have such large systems that they don’t really need the power company because they can run everything in their home from their solar panels and battery backup. The particular family I am thinking of is only still connected to the grid so that they can limit the wear on their backup batteries.
Can I Install My Own Solar Energy System?
Absolutely, depending on your health and technical skills. I came very close to installing my system myself. The only reason really that I decided to not install my system myself was because I needed to finance my system and the lenders required the system to be professionally installed for the loan I was interested in.
That and in all honesty I was a bit nervous about getting on and off of my roof safely. 20 years ago I would not have given that a second thought, but it was a concern now. Still I could have gotten the right ladder system and prepared so that my getting on and off really wouldn’t have been an issue.
Not being an electrician I would have still had a licensed electrician actually hook up my system even if I did everything else myself.
Check out this video to see what the installation process was like when I hired contractors to do the work for me.
Are Solar Generators Safe?
Yes, solar generators are as safe if not safer than gasoline-powered generators. As with any large piece of equipment, you must read the safety information provided in the manual.
One issue some solar generators have is that they can overheat if placed in direct sunlight for too long. This is in contrast with the solar panels, which *must* be in direct sunlight to work properly.
That said, many newer solar generators have an internal temperature sensor which helps mitigate this problem.
Can Solar Generators Power an Entire Home?
Yes, but only if you have a large enough system. It all boils down to how many panels you have, and your charge controller, battery and inverter capacities. Room for solar panels and budget seem to be the biggest limiting factors for most people. But solar system prices are coming down, so be sure to get several estimates if this is a route you are seriously interested in.
I chose to hook up most of my appliances and outlets to the critical load panel, and if needed during a power outage I can selectively unplug some of those appliances to save solar energy.
The solar panels on my roof, which can deliver 9,000 watts of energy during peak summer hours, are more than enough to power my house. In fact, we made more energy than we needed and ended up getting a credit from the power company.
Are Solar Generators Expensive?
Yes, the upfront costs for installing a solar generator can be high. The average cost for a system that powers an entire 2,000 sq. foot home is between $10,000-$20,000, and this may not include the price of installation.
Additional costs to consider include shipping costs if you buy your system from a third-party vendor and then have someone else install it. Some regions of the country might require that you obtain a permit, and some locations require a fee to have your system tied into the electrical grid (if, of course, you’re buying a system large enough to do that).
Smaller systems that don’t power major appliances will be cheaper.
Can I Get a Tax Credit For Solar Power?
Yes. But since I am not qualified to give financial or tax advice, be sure and do your own research and talk to licensed professionals to get accurate tax credit details. I will give you some details below I found from my own research, but please double check all this information with a licensed professional.
The federal government as well as some states offer tax credits to subsidize the cost of installing solar energy in your home. The federal residential solar energy credit can be applied to any US taxpayer who installs a solar system on their home before January 1, 2023. This tax credit reduces the cost of original solar installation by 26%. After January 1, 2023, the credit will go down to 22%.
To qualify for the federal residential solar energy credit:
- You must own the solar energy system (no leasing)
- The system must be installed by December 31, 2022.
- The solar system is located on your primary or secondary residence.
- The solar energy system must be new as the credit only applies to the original installation.
What costs are reimbursable under the federal residential solar energy credit?
- All equipment costs (including panels, wiring, batteries, roof-installation equipment)
- Labor costs
- Permitting fees
- Inspection costs (if your state requires them)
- Sales tax on all of these expenses.
What to Look For When Buying a Solar Backup Generator
Investing in a solar backup generator can be a major expense. Be sure to give some thought to the following topics before you buy.
If you’re thinking of getting a solar backup generator, first ask yourself what you need to power. Are you intending this to be an everyday source of energy? Will it only serve its purpose during emergencies? What exactly do you need to power? Will a few cell phones and tablets be enough, or are you looking to power a refrigerator?
How Much Can the Battery Store?
The amount of storage capacity on a battery will determine how long it will run, and what it can give power to. To give you an idea of what wattage power means, a 500-watt generator can power a light bulb for around 100 hours, and a mini-refrigerator for 10 hours.
If you decide you want to add more panels or power to your generator, you will have to look at the number of watts on your charge controller. The charge controller sends power from the solar panels to the batteries, and it regulates how much power (charge) can be sent at once.
The charge controller can only process a certain number of watts, so you shouldn’t overload the system by giving it more solar panels than it can handle. Doing so might damage your batteries.
The inverter is the component of the generator that translates DC power (which is what the solar panels collect) to AC power (which is what your appliances need). The inverter rating will be based in watts and is a measure of how much power your generator can put out at one time.
When you’re getting ready to buy a solar generator, be sure to shop around for not only the right product, but the right person to install your unit. Some companies have the ability to do fancy calculations to figure out exactly how many solar panels you need in order to replace your regular electrical grid and some offer competitive pricing. Some also offer much better financing rates than others.
Is a Solar Generator Worth the Money?
Yes. If you have the upfront money to spend on a solar system, by all means, go for it. The system will pay for itself over the years. The low cost of maintaining a solar generator, the additional value to your home, the fact that you’ll be prepared in case of emergency, and the fact that you’re contributing to a greener planet are all excellent reasons to invest in solar.