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Given that solar panels can generate their own power, it's not immediately obvious why they won't work during a blackout. Only solar panels that are part of a system that is completely removed from the main grid (off-grid) will work during an outage.
Why don't solar panels work during an outage?
There are two main reasons why solar panel systems cease functioning during a blackout. One has to do with your equipment and the other has to do with the safety of power workers.
From a technical standpoint, the electricity generated by your solar panels isn't constant and varies depending on things like time of day, shade and so forth. Similarly, your power needs aren't constant, and will change as you switch appliances on and off.
With the grid active and working, this isn't a problem. The energy from your solar panels combines with energy from the reservoir of the power grid to supply a steady level of power to suit your needs. With the grid off, this isn't possible, so your solar panels shut off automatically to avoid delivering too much or too little power and damaging the electronics in your house.
Less complicated, but no less important, is the fact that often when the grid goes down it will require some form of inspection or maintenance. All the power flowing into the grid must be cut off to lower the risk of electrocution for any workers involved with its repair.
So, how can I keep the power on?
There are several options for keeping the power on, depending on how much you need and where you need it. Make sure your system can be disconnected from the grid before activating back-up power, for the reasons outlined above.
- Back-up generator. If your needs are modest, a small fuel or oil generator can provide enough power to keep the lights on or other appliances running until power is restored.
- Dedicated battery. This is a small battery that is hooked up to a single circuit to keep it running, for example your fridge.
- Back-up battery. This can be a single battery or a bank of batteries that are charged by your solar panels. When the power goes out, they can be set to power potentially your entire house, at least until they run out of charge.
Just remember that while back-up batteries are tempting, power outages in Australia are fairly rare and a good battery can set you back between $5,000 and $20,000.
What if I'm off-grid?
For off-grid systems that aren't connected to the main power network, you will most likely already have batteries installed as part of your set-up. In case of a power outage on the network, you won't be affected, and your solar panels and battery back-up will continue to function as normal.
Solar Run is a solar retailer who can help you install solar on your rooftop.
- Get quotes for solar panels and battery storage
- Clean Energy Council approved retailer
- NSW, VIC, SA, QLD and ACT
Note: Solar service not available in the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia.
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