One of the best things about having solar panels is that you can produce electricity yourself rather than being reliant on your energy supplier. It stands to reason that when you don’t take any electricity from your energy supplier, you would not be affected by a blackout.
So, do solar panels work during a power outage?
Usually, no. There are various safety measures in place that turn your system off during a power outage. However, there are ways to still use your self-generated electricity during a power outage.
The blog below first looks at how and why solar panels turn off during power cuts, how solar batteries can work when the power is off, how you can cope with power outages… And how Solar Together can help!
Will my solar panels work in a power cut?
The simple answer is no, they won’t.
Unless you specifically set your panels up to stay on safely, they’re designed to switch off automatically in response to power cuts. You won’t be able to use them to power your home or even select appliances in your home. Your house will have no access to power just like all the other homes affected.
Why don’t my solar panels work during a power cut?
At first glance, it might not seem clear why you can’t run your panels: surely generating your own energy in a blackout situation would be one of the biggest benefits of having them installed? And since you’re generating the energy on your own property for things on your own property, wouldn’t it be trivial for it to at least power something like your fridge?
In actual fact, a solar panel system is designed to switch off in the event of a power cut. That's because there are likely to be engineers working on the grid nearby. If that's the case, then there's a real risk of electrocution because of the electricity generated. That’s particularly true if there are lots of people with solar panels in the neighbourhood. So, when the power goes out, your solar panels’ inverter will automatically switch off.
How to make solar panels work in a power outage
It is possible for solar panels to work during an outage. But if they do, it’s not by accident: instead, you have to set them up in such a way that they will. They will work, so long as…
Your panels aren’t grid-tied. If you live in some kind of cabin or farmhouse that isn’t connected to the national grid, then your home will carry on drawing power as normal, whether that’s from solar, wind, a diesel generator or something else.
Or, you have a solar battery with backup power functionality. If you have certain add-ons installed alongside your panels then you may be able to carry on using them. Most solar systems these days come with a battery, which stores power that you don’t use or export to the grid. A battery set up in the correct way can be used to power your home for a brief time.
Whereas the inverter would turn your system off, your solar battery may come with a relay that disconnects it from the grid in the event of a blackout. This is referred to as ‘islanding’: an island of power with no connection to the wider grid. It’s like going off-grid until the relay is switched on again. This allows you to use power without it being dangerous for anybody working on the grid nearby. There are a few caveats, though:
- Solar batteries are not islanding as a standard. You will need to request your battery to be set up in a way that makes this possible, there may be additional costs to this.
- Solar batteries aren’t huge. Most on the market today can store somewhere between 3-7kWh; the average household uses about 10kWh per day.
- Solar batteries have a maximum power output. As well as being limited in total energy stored, solar batteries are limited in how much energy they can give out at once. Most batteries on the market have a continuous output of around 5,000W.
- To put this in perspective, the average electric oven draws between 2,000 and 5,000 watts. An hour or so of your oven on a high setting would likely deplete your 5kW stored.
This means that the technology has to evolve a little more before you can reliably use solar during a blackout. However, a battery may still be useful when being used to power a single essential appliance, for example, a medicine fridge or CPAP machine.
3 ways to cope with power outages
Nobody likes power outages. But with a little preparation, you can make them less annoying to deal with.
1. Keep warm any way you can
There are multiple ways to keep warm without having the heating on. While it would be no fun to live your whole life without heating, you can keep warm in the short term with thick clothes, exercise, using any hot water still in your boiler, sitting in the car, or going somewhere to get a hot drink.
If you regularly get blackouts, or you just like keeping warm, consider stocking up on hand warmers to keep the worst of the cold at bay.
2. Buy a backup generator
If power outages are a regular occurrence where you live, then you could benefit from installing a diesel generator. These, of course, aren’t great for the environment – but they would be useful in a pinch. It’s possible to get a generator that can power your whole house, although it’ll be expensive to buy and to run. They usually require a bespoke solution that should match your personal requirements.
3. Install a solar battery with backup power functionality
Depending on the kind of battery you have installed, your solar system could be some help during an outage—and better than nothing. The trouble is, installation can be expensive, especially if you want added extras like a battery.
Contact Solar Together
That's why we created Solar Together.
Solar Together is a group-buying scheme that can help you significantly reduce the cost of having solar panels installed. We work in conjunction with local authorities, grouping residents together from across the country, giving you exclusive access to a discount price on PV systems.
We vet suppliers for the quality of their service so that you don't have to. Beyond that, we even offer optional add-ons like battery storage and EV charge point installation and insurance-backed guarantees for customer protection.
We understand why that might sound too good to be true. So, why not learn more through our Blog?