With so many important electrical loads in homes these days having a reliable source of emergency power is becoming more critical. Refrigerators, freezers, sump, sewer, and well pumps, cordless phones, home medical devices, alarm systems, and many other important devices all need electricity to operate. Solar electricity can be a great alternative to a generator to power these devices in the event of a power outage. Solar power is clean, quiet, and requires very little maintenance. In fact, a solar back-up system can actually make you money when the power is on. As long as the sun is shining, your solar panels can be putting electricity back on the grid, reducing your electric bill.
Solar electric technology can be expensive. In some instances, like a remote, off-grid home or cabin, the choice to go solar is obvious. In a home that is already connected to the commercial power grid there are more things to consider. A cleaner environment, the security of emergency power, partial or full independence from the power company, the novelty of generating electricity from the sun, and other factors make the case for installing a solar system. Thanks to changes in the market the economics of solar power have improved greatly in the last few years.
Taking the current federal tax credit into account, a solar electric system can pay for itself in as little as 8 years. In a way, a solar electric system can be seen as an insurance policy against higher utility rates. We have seen some customers, who don’t want to invest in the stock market or real estate at the present time, decide that investing in a solar electric system is their best option. If we know anything about electric rates we know they will rise.
Solar systems are very modular in nature. We can literally build one any size, from 1 solar panel to over a hundred. It all depends on the needs, space, and budget of the customer. The average home in Virginia uses about 1,100 kWh per year. To zero out this size bill most homes would need about a 9 or 10 kW system. A turn-key price for a system this size is often around $18,000. Adding battery back-up to a grid-tied system to supply emergency power during utility outages will often roughly double the cost of the system. Going completely off the grid is usually the most expensive option. A complete system for a large off-grid home might cost up to $30,000 or $40,000. Complex off grid systems with lots of automation, monitoring, and back-up generators can cost even more. Despite the cost, in many situations it is less than having the utility company run lines to your location; and you avoid the monthly power bill.
If you’re considering a gasoline generator for your RV, consider instead a solar electric system to keep your batteries charged and allow for the use of all your appliances except the air conditioner. Your camping neighbors will thank you for not disrupting their camping experience with generator exhaust and noise. Most camper systems are priced fairly competitively with a quality generator.