Shifting Away From the Unstable Power Grid with Solar Panels and Batteries

Do you find your power reliable?

Today, it’s so easy for many of us to take electricity for granted. But, did you know that the United States experiences more power outages than any other developed nation? As a country, our critical functions face detrimental downtime because we do not hold a fail-proof source of power. Along with increasing electricity rates and the negative environmental impacts we see from our grid system, it’s no surprise that many people are starting to shift away from traditional sources of power and looking for more reliable output for their homes and businesses.

According to findings from a study conducted by researchers from issues.org, a forum for discussing public policy related to science, engineering, and medicine, “the average U.S. customer loses power for 214 minutes per year. That compares to 70 in the United Kingdom, 53 in France, 29 in the Netherlands, 6 in Japan, and 2 minutes per year in Singapore. These outage durations tell only part of the story. In Japan, the average customer loses power once every 20 years. It is once every 9 months in the United States, excluding hurricanes and other strong
storms.”

In this post, we’ll discover the contributing factors to the rise of power-grid issues across the U.S. and the increasing need for backup power and solar energy.

How Does the Power Grid Work?

Before we understand what causes the unreliability of our current grid system here in the United States, it’s beneficial that we obtain a basic understanding of how our power grid operates as there are multiple steps in the energy transfer process.

The number of power plants throughout our country go into the hundreds. The power plants connect to transformers. These transformers are in charge of enhancing the voltage and transmitting electricity. These transformers are connected using high-voltage transmission lines that carry the electricity for miles and miles (around 450,000 miles) across the
country.

The next step is the neighborhood transformer. After the electricity travels the many miles to the neighborhood transformer, it transmits to the smaller, lower, voltage lines. The energy is then distributed throughout the specific area in safe amounts through the power poles and lines similar to the ones you see in your current neighborhood.

What are the Reasons Behind Power Grid Failure?

While America’s energy grid is powerful and fairly impressive, its problems are on the rise, making alternative energy and backup power even more necessary for residential and business success. The most common types of problems for power grids across the United States are:

  1. Failing Infrastructure
    As equipment ages, it becomes increasingly more unreliable, making the need for system renovations and upgrades. If these necessary renovations aren’t completed, the result is ongoing power outages. These grids also need to be updated accordingly to be integrated with renewable power sources like homes with solar panels but are still connected to the grid.

  2. Natural Disasters
    Severe storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes can cause significant damage and grid disruption. And when you add mother nature to the already aging infrastructure, the result is considerable downtime for homes and businesses.

  3. Power Grid Hackers
    The increasing threat of hackers capable of gaining access to our grid structure and causing a disruption of power is another factor affecting our grid system’s stability. According to a study by Symantec, a U.S. security firm, hackers were able to obtain control of the power interfaces of various power company’s, that engineers use to send instructions to equipment like circuit breakers. This gives them the ability to stop the flow of electricity into our homes and businesses. Intruders gaining access to grid operations is a significant threat that can lead to blackouts on American soil.

  4. Human Error
    Human error incidents are the last factor contributing to power outages. Human error stems from lack of training of power system technicians and staff, hindering their abilities to handle outages and take control of proper maintenance procedures. These interruptions in our supply are simply no longer just an inconvenience. As the frequency and duration of these outages continue, the costs and disadvantages grow. Information systems and social services like police, emergency response services, communication services, etc, rely
    on electricity to function at minimally acceptable levels.

Is Going Solar a Smart Solution to Combating the Instability of the Power Grid?

The short answer is yes, but that’s only if your installation is done correctly. The installation of backup batteries for excess energy storage and more intelligent set-ups like solar panels can protect us from power outages going forward and save businesses a lot of money.

The technology behind going solar with a backup battery requires installing a sufficient battery (or batteries) along with your solar panels. This allows you to store the excess electricity your system generates for you to use later when you need it.

Grid-Tied vs. Off-Grid Solar 

The primary difference between grid-tied and off-grid solar lies in storing the energy your solar system produces. Grid-tied systems send the electricity to the power grid, and in return, your utility company credits your account for the unused power. Off-grid systems have no access to the power grid and require the backup batteries mentioned above for storing your excess energy.

Off-grid solar systems are usually more expensive than the grid-tied systems because the batteries they need are costly. It is recommended to invest in a generator for your off-grid system just in case you need power when it’s nighttime or when the weather isn’t ideal.

Regardless of what you decide, shifting away from the unreliable power grid in our country and taking control of where your power comes from is a smart choice. As a consumer, you will not only achieve significant financial savings, but you’ll also obtain a much-needed level of security and consistency that will keep your power up and running when you need it most.

Written by Kimberly Kennedy
Content Marketing Manager for Sun Energy California.
SunEnergyCa.com