The solar expertise at Namasté Solar is one of the core ingredients that sets our company apart. Our industry experts are passionate about the technology, design, installation, and policy behind what makes solar energy tick.
Seth Tanis, Technical Sales and Design, is our company expert on solar battery backup. We chatted with Seth to “nerd out” about battery storage’s complex technology and how it can provide you with more energy independence.
The responses below were edited for clarity.
Namasté Solar solar installer Kevin Sewell wires up a Lumin demand management system to pair with two Sonnen EcoLinx storage for a customer's solar battery backup system.
What is solar battery backup?
Batteries are the missing link to making your solar system work around the clock.
Most people's habits involve getting up to do your morning routine and then leave for the day. While you're gone all day, your solar system is powering the base loads of your home and net metering the excess production. You're pushing solar energy back to the utility through a net meter and you're getting credit from the utility. When you come home in the evening to start cooking dinner, doing laundry, and running the A/C, the solar is ramping down for the night and you are using those credits and purchasing power back from the utility. Putting batteries in the equation allows you to save your solar energy and use it when you want to instead of sending it to the utility for a credit.
Batteries can also be useful for when you experience power outages. During these instances, grid-tied solar systems without batteries are designed to shut down during grid outages to keep utility workers safe while servicing the powerlines. A solar battery backup can keep essential items online, such as your fridge, freezer, lights, and internet.
How long do solar batteries last?
The life expectancy of a solar battery system is based on several variables. Different manufacturers have various warranties associated with them. The deeper you regularly discharge a battery, the shorter the life cycle. Manufacturer “A” may offer 10 years, 10,000 cycles, 70% original capacity. Manufacturer “B” could offer 10 years, unlimited cycles and 70% of original capacity. Manufacturer “C” may offer “X” KWH of aggregate throughput power and a tiered table that drops off relative to the % of capacity. Often, the warranties are associated with the number of charge cycles – how many times you charge and discharge your battery – weighed against how much aggregate through-put power of kilowatt hours goes through the battery. If you have a lot of solar panels, a small battery, and a house that uses a lot of power, you could potentially charge and discharge your battery two or three times in one day. If you have a house that uses energy conservatively and a huge battery bank, you're only going to be sipping off the top of that energy supply. You're not going to be heavily using the battery and you're going to get more mileage out of it.
A Namasté Solar solar battery backup installation.
Has there been an increased interest in solar backup battery due to the pandemic?
We’ve seen an uptick in inquiries coming down the pipeline. People are concerned about having backup power and grid resiliency when the utility goes down. I think the pandemonium around the grocery stores during this COVID outbreak has been a big one –people are realizing how fragile our infrastructure actually is, including utilities. The paradigm is also shifting because more people are working from home. Power outages are no longer negotiable during the daytime. People are spending more time in their homes, and the reality is that we'll probably be spending more time in our homes going forward. We'll always want our homes to be as comfortable and secure as possible, and energy independence plays a role in that.
How long have solar batteries been around?
From the consumer standpoint, solar with battery backup is a new thing. From the solar standpoint, batteries have been around for decades. We’re beyond whether batteries work – we know they work. They have their place and we know what they can do. At this point, it's about how they integrate with the solar industry and tying batteries to existing solar panel systems. The challenge is taking the “new thing” and scaling it up for the masses.
What are you looking for when someone is interested in solar battery backup?
There are four key things that we look at. On the design side of things, I immediately zero in on how the house is built electrically, like where we're going to electrically tie in our equipment and how it's going to integrate into the home. We're looking at all their load centers (devices such as electrical panels that take electricity from the utility source and dispenses it throughout a home or building to support dependable electrical circulation) in the house. I want to know details about everything that uses electricity: hot tubs, electric baseboard heat, electric water heaters, car chargers, all these big, high-draw energy loads. We also look at the physical space and where we're going to put the battery. And of course, I work with our solar designers to see what we are planning for their new solar system and how that will integrate with batteries.
Do you think solar battery backup is the next evolution of solar?
Absolutely. It’s that missing link we’ve been waiting for and the future of the industry. Some people are still surprised when they find out their grid-tied solar panels won’t work when the power goes out. As a safety component, without solar battery backup, solar systems are designed to shut down during grid outages to keep utility workers safe while they’re servicing downed transmission lines. Interactive solar inverters need the grid to operate. If they don't have any voltage, then they don't work. Safely installed batteries are how you can use renewable energy 24/7.
The conversations have also changed so much in the last three years. Like other new technology battery technology has improved substantially and continues to change rapidly. Consumers are becoming more interested and educated on batteries. They're asking the right questions and they're doing their homework. When you have a more educated customer base, it makes it much easier to have conversations about what batteries can and cannot do for you, how we're going to integrate them in your house, and the value you're getting.