When you’re considering going solar, there’s a lot of new information to absorb. How does solar work? What is net metering? What incentives are available? And, increasingly, do I need batteries? One of our most important jobs as a solar energy installer is to educate our customers throughout the process of going solar, whether that’s through one-on-one conversations or online materials. Some of the questions mentioned above are covered in our FAQs and other blog posts, but today we’ll focus on batteries and a few other types of equipment that customers often install alongside their solar.
We’ll start with batteries, or energy storage systems. Most solar installations don’t need batteries in order to work; if you’re connected to the utility grid, your solar PV system will operate whenever the utility grid is operating. Energy is generated from the solar PV system during the day and any excess energy not used onsite flows onto the utility grid. Any energy you need in excess of what’s generated by solar is provided to your building by the utility. However, when the utility grid goes down, like during a strong storm, grid-tied PV systems are designed to also shut down. This is a safety feature to ensure that no energy can be sent onto utility lines where workers are trying to restore power. If you have a battery storage system, however, you can supply your home with energy during the outage, and your solar can recharge that battery as you use the already stored energy.
So you don’t need batteries in order for a PV system to operate, but without batteries you won’t be able to have any power from your solar during an outage. Some solar companies will claim that you need a battery and try to sell one to every customer. At EFS, we take a different approach. Battery backup can be a good solution for some customers, but it may not make sense for everyone.
Battery backup can serve a few purposes, but the two most common are (1) providing backup power during brownouts and blackouts and (2) providing financial benefits by powering your home during higher priced utility-peak times, or dispatching energy to the utility grid at times of high demand. However, in most of the areas that we serve here in the Midwest, utilities do not yet provide much incentive for the latter. These kinds of programs are likely coming in the near future and in some areas are already offered to non-solar customers.
So we’ll focus on the first – backup power. We talk to a lot of rural customers who experience frequent or long outages, and having battery backup can provide them with more security in their ability to power essential devices. Additionally, for customers in any utility area, having battery backup may be important to them regardless of outage frequency, even if it is just to provide some extra peace of mind.
One other common misconception about battery storage is that you can backup your whole home for a low cost. While whole home backup is possible, standard battery backup solutions are geared towards providing backup power to critical loads. At EFS Energy, we work with customers to identify the most important devices they want to power during an outage. We optimize their energy storage system to meet these needs and ensure the customer has a good understanding of expected battery performance during an outage.
But how much does battery backup cost? For critical load backup power, batteries typically start at around $15,000 to $18,000. This would power many things outside of heavier load appliances like HVAC units, electric dryers, etc. Though this cost can be a bit high for some, for many the peace of mind it can provide is priceless.
The bottom line: batteries are a good option now, but an even better one in the near future. Currently, they can power your essential loads during an outage and allow you to continue utilizing your solar when the utility grid is down. The future of batteries is even brighter; prices continue to come down, while energy storage capacity increases, making whole home or longer duration backup more accessible. And as utility policies continue to evolve, battery owners are increasingly able to take advantage of compensation mechanisms in exchange for providing automated services, like dispatching power to the utility grid at critical times.
Batteries are a great option to consider if you’re seeking backup power and want to make forward-looking investments. Installing a battery alongside your solar energy system can provide cost savings on electrical work, but you can also purchase a standalone battery or add one to your existing system.
While the price of energy storage has decreased rapidly over the last decade, sometimes the cost of solar + battery storage can still come in a bit high for some budgets. For customers that are looking for a backup option but want a slightly less expensive upfront cost, we often recommend a generator. While generators differ a bit from our typical renewable energy offerings, it can make sense to install them when you’re already having electrical work done for solar PV.
Generators typically cost around $12,000 to $15,000 to power critical loads in your home. Depending on your energy usage, a 22kW or 24kW generator has the potential to be close to a whole home backup. This brings them in a bit under the cost of most batteries, but it is important to know that at this point (July 2022), they are on about a 30 week back order.
Another popular add-on that has garnered a lot of interest lately is electric vehicle (EV) chargers. As electric vehicles become increasingly popular, many people are interested in installing EV fast chargers in their home or for their building. This is another component that we are happy to quote and install, and can complement solar PV quite nicely. Producing energy from sunlight can help offset increased energy usage from charging a vehicle at home, and many people want to power their vehicles with cleaner energy.
For homes and businesses, we usually install Level 2 chargers, which can be installed in most homes without significant electrical upgrades. Level 2 chargers can typically charge your car fully overnight, and many have smart features like charge scheduling, remote management, and more. Level 2 charger installation typically costs between $3,500 and $6,000, depending on your site and whether you install it alongside solar or as a standalone project.
In Ameren Missouri territory, business customers can qualify for EV charger incentives, and in Illinois, private and public organizations and companies can receive rebates for charging stations. Illinois projects in underserved and environmental justice communities may qualify for additional rebates.
Batteries, generators and EV chargers can all be installed separately from solar, but there can be great opportunities to combine several of these together. For customers looking for backup power options or planning for electric vehicles, ask us about your options when you get a solar quote with EFS Energy!