Thursday, March 31, 2011

Japan's Nuke Crisis: Time for Solar Backup?

Should Californians be alarmed?

After sending an email out to prospects last week I got a call from a man I pitched about 16 months ago. He said he is quite interested in adding not only grid-tied solar power to his home in East San Diego County. He was particularly rattled about the nuclear crisis ongoing in Japan and the fact that members of his family have some serious health issues requiring ample electricity availability.

Granted, the possibility of an 8.9 earthquake is not likely here but possible. Also, inland San Diego County is susceptible to devastating brush fires in the fall so this person's concerns are not so far fetched.

California leads the U.S. with some 77,000 grid-tied residential and commercial photovoltaic (PV) systems and San Diego Gas & Electric's territory leads both Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison in total installations despite the fact SDG&E has much fewer customers than either of the other two utilities. Recommending most of these PV system owners add backup systems is maybe "crying wolf" but those living in outlying areas might want to take a look. Also, it helps that panels are already installed so adding batteries and appropriate inverter won't be as much of a capital outlay as installing an entire system.

Mind you, standard fuel-powered generators are the first line of defense against power outages but that solution is only as good as how long the fuel lasts during an extended power outage.

If a customer of either of the Big 3 above has big power bills, a grid-tie system is a very good deal today. Panel prices continue to be rock-bottom low and there is still a CA Solar Initiative rebate and a federal tax credit to help defray installation costs. For those thinking about installing a grid-tie system with backup, consider where you actually live. Those residing in a city likely will get power restored more quickly than people in the back country. A conventional gas-powered generator could be a logical backup for, say, a week-long outage. Granted, this has not happened in the 32 years I've lived in San Diego so the backup option is hardly necessary unless...

Solar power as a long-term backup strategy is the most reliable one can have. The question one needs to ask is how much of a load is enough to sustain a household daily for weeks, possibly months, at a time. This translates into how big an off-grid inverter needs to be and how many batteries are needed for required backup.

For those living in San Diego County, feel free to contact this blogger about solar backup solutions. For those around the U.S. here are some links for further information:


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