There’s a new normal in California: preemptive blackouts. These deliberate power outages are intended to prevent wildfires caused by downed power lines or vegetation contact during high winds. They affected millions and millions of people across the state of California in October alone.
This reality, combined with improved and more affordable solar batteries, has many Californians considering the energy independence (and heavily-reduced electric bills) offered by “solar-plus-storage” systems, which pair rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar panels with state-of-the-art batteries.
“The biggest problem right now with solar energy is that it doesn’t produce power when we need it most – late in the afternoon and into the night,” said Max Aram, CEO of online solar marketplace solar.com. “By pairing large batteries with solar PV, we can store the energy from the sun, produced during the day when we don’t use most of it, and discharge it into our homes or onto the grid at night when there is high demand.”
California leads the nation in the number of homes with solar systems, with over 230,000 and counting.
Yet most of these provide no benefit once the sun goes down or during prolonged power outages, as they lack the capacity to store energy for later use. But more attainable and effective solar batteries are now making it viable for homeowners to become resilient to outages and simultaneously slash their energy costs and environmental footprint.
“There have been some substantial incentive programs that have been created in the past few years that cover a portion of the cost of these battery systems,” said Aram, who co-founded solar.com in Los Angeles in 2014. “The California Public Utilities Commission recently announced a $100 million incentive for vulnerable households in high fire-threat districts that covers up to 98% of the cost of a battery backup in some cases.”
Solar-plus-storage systems are particularly beneficial in areas where utility companies employ “time-of-use” (TOU) rates, where they more highly value electricity production and consumption during peak demand times. With peak TOU rates nearing double those of off-peak hours, implementing solar batteries to store energy during the daytime and then using it during the afternoon and evening (peak demand periods) can produce major savings. Under order of the California Public Utilities Commission, the state’s three investor-owned utilities – Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric – will all apply TOU rates by next October, impacting 22.5 million residential customers.
While the process of getting multiple quotes from solar installers usually requires hours of tedious research, solar.com – which collects bids from a network of vetted installers on customers’ behalf and uses proprietary software to evaluate them – can save you not only time (and endless sales calls from solar companies), but money: an average of $2,800, according to Aram.
“We reduce the sales and marketing cost for our solar installation partners by delivering signed contracts to them – savings they pass on to our customers through lower-priced proposals,” he said. “We recently completed a study with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) which confirmed that our platform saves customers 10% on average on the cost of their solar PV system.”
There’s never been a better time to install solar-plus-storage, as the federal government’s current 30% solar tax credit dips to 26% in 2020. This credit has no maximum cap, meaning that installing a complete system now will have a major positive impact on both your tax liability and your utility bills for years to come.
–Paul Rogers, Custom Publishing Writer