We’ve all thought of it at one time or another, that end-of-the-world sort of scenario where all the lights go out. And there is good reason for this.
Blackouts tend to feel apocalyptic. A few noteworthy examples of this are; the Northeast Blackout of 1965, then the New York blackout of 1977 and then another Northeast Blackout in 2003. And those were just in the United States. In 2012, 620 million people living in India found themselves without power. To put that into perspective, that’s almost twice the entire population of the United States.
From email to video conferencing and virtually every financial transaction, the importance of reliable power can not be understated. Which brings us to solar panels. We know that they can produce power from the sun, but do they actually work in a blackout?
For the record, the capacity of a solar panel to produce power depends entirely on the amount of sunlight available. However, it is also worth noting that any panel tied to the electric grid will be disconnected in the event of a blackout – in other words, they will not work, regardless of whether they are capable of generating power or not.
So in short, if there is a blackout and your panels are connected to the grid, then without some sort of battery backup or generator you are sitting in the dark… just like everyone else.
By way of comparison, if your panels are not connected to the utility and you are in fact ‘unplugged’ from the electric grid, then your panels will continue to do what they always do – turn sunshine into power.
Why are my solar panels turned off in a blackout?
It might seem unreasonable to disconnect solar panels during a blackout. After all, you are able to produce what the utility is short of. But there is a very good reason why your ‘supplemental power’ needs to be shut of.
Utility workers are, in my opinion, some of the most hard-working and underappreciated people on the planet. When the power is up and working, we get annoyed at their vehicles slowing traffic. When the power is down, we’re all sorts of anxious and agitated because ‘we can’t do anything until the power comes back on.’
And when it is most common for the power to go out?
When the weather is absolutely at its worst!
Where I live, we get ice storms and nothing makes life a little more interesting than an inch of ice on everything. Imagine trying to be out in some of the most inhospitable conditions, working with some of the most dangerous voltages known to man – you know, the kind that can melt the tires right off your vehicle.
In situations like this, procedure can literally be a matter of life and death. So if one of these workers needs to know that the line they are working on is dead, then they need to KNOW that this line isn’t going to kill them.
Solar panels connected to the grid are shut off during a blackout in order to protect any workers from back-fed power.
Yes, your panels may be able to produce the obvious lack of power – for yourself and maybe a little for your neighbor. But, generally speaking, what is lacking isn’t the capacity to generate power, but the lines/route to transfer that power.
From what I have observed, most people obtain solar panels because of their environmental convictions or a general desire to save money. Very few panel owners approach it with a blackout in mind.
However, if this is your personal goal, I can certainly understand your perspective. Global variables are growing increasingly hostile towards the grid, with some thinking it’s not a matter of if, but when the power goes down. And let’s be honest, being prepared doesn’t make you a ‘nut’, it makes you responsible.
Tools To Help
For those of you who are connected to the electric grid and would like a little extra insurance, there are plenty of back-up generators, as well as batteries, than can keep you out of the dark.
With our home being ‘unplugged’ from the electric utility, we depend on our back-up generator to get us through the cloudy days. As of the time of this writing, our Generac has 971.7 hours on it (think little engine that could!)
For the record, **I am not a spokesperson for Generac, nor do I receive any kind of commission by mentioning their product. But… since when do you have to get paid to say something nice about a product – especially when it has proven itself?!
We also have a small, gas powered generator as a back-up to our back-up generator. It’s good to be redundant.
There are also numerous less costly ways to insure yourself against blackouts. Amazon has a plethora of items available that fit almost any situation. Simply do a search for solar generator and check things out.
** As of the time of this writing