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Should You Add Batteries to Your Solar?

Fast food order takers ask “Do you want fries with that?” every time you order a burger and now solar installers are asking all their customers if they want batteries with their solar. Add-ons are all the rage so if you have solar or are planning to install solar soon, you need to decide if you should add those batteries. 

One thing that might sway your battery decision is power outages. Many people don’t realize it, but a standard grid-tied solar power system will not provide any power if there is no utility power. The only exception to this is that SMA inverters can provide you with one power outlet that will operate small appliances when the sun is out. This is handy if the sun is out and you need to charge your cell phone, but if it’s cloudy or night time, you are out of luck.   

So if you have a lot of power outages in your area, batteries might be a good idea. Even if you don’t have a lot of power outages, but having one would cause a serious problem because you require an oxygen concentrator or you like to keep a side of beef in your freezer, you might think about those batteries. What equipment you need depends on what solar equipment you have or are getting but the parts for a battery back-up system to run small things like an oxygen concentrator or freezer might only run a few thousand dollars. A Do-it-yourselfer with some electrical experience can install a simple system fairly easily.

If you are thinking in terms of disaster preparedness and want to be able to run your air conditioning, electric hot water heater and swimming pool pump during the zombie apocalypse, the battery system will be far more expensive and complex. You can still install it yourself, but the parts might run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how extravagant you want to live during long term power outages. For some people, it is worth the peace of mind.

Back-up power aside, there might be other reasons to say yes to the batteries. Changes in electric rates are a big reason why batteries are becoming more popular. Time of use rates are becoming mandatory for some electric customers and this may decrease their solar savings. Solar produces the most power around noon when the electricity is cheap and then electricity is more expensive at 8pm when the sun has gone down. A battery system can store the electricity generated during the “off-peak” cheap times so you can use it during the “peak” expensive time which will save you a lot of money. 

Another shift in electric rates has been that many electric companies are no longer offering true net metering. It used to be that for every kilowatt hour (kwh) that your solar fed to the grid, you would get one kwh back later. When this was the case, you could treat the grid like your own personal battery, feeding it power when you had excess and getting the power back when you needed it for free. Now the electric companies are starting to charge you $.02 to $.05 to give you that kwh back and it might make more sense to get the batteries to hold that excess kwh for you.

There are also some electric companies now offering a better electric rate for customer who install batteries. This means that you will pay less per kwh just because you installed the batteries plus you get all the other benefits of back-up power and other savings on the time or use and net metering charges. For even more incentive, places in California have rebates available to help pay for the batteries. With all that going on, the batteries suddenly make a lot of sense. 

So, while you might say no to the french fries because you are watching your weight, consider the battery question more carefully. It may be a little bit more money out of pocket up front but it might be worth it. Contact the experts at to find out what the electric rates and other battery incentives are in your area so you can make an informed decision. 

Author: Harold Tan

I believe clean, renewable energy is key to the evolution of society as a whole. Solar powers our planet, why not harness it to power humanity? Let's power our homes, our work, and our vehicles with solar energy. It begins with raising awareness and encouraging those around us to go green.

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  1. If considering batteries primarily for backup during power outages I suggest a generator would likely do as good a job and at a considerably lower cost.

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  2. Generators are noisy. A 55KW battery pack will cost the same as a 12KW generator or less and have no fuel cost. Maintenance can be done in 1 hour or less once a month. Any battery equalizing can be programmed to occur once a month automatically.

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