How to Prepare for “The Big One” Earthquake With a Home Battery

by Andrew Meyer
December 30, 2015

If you live in California, you know exactly what we’re talking about. “The Big One.”

The hypothetical but inevitable earthquake that will someday bring Southern California to its knees. The Big One references, specifically, an earthquake along the San Andreas fault that will affect anyone within a 50-100 mile radius. That means areas like Palm Springs, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are in for some serious damage.

Thinking about a huge force of nature like an earthquake (especially one of a magnitude of 8 or greater, as is predicted) can leave Californians feeling helpless. Well, you’re not. There are a few simple, concrete ways that you can prepare for the Big One, and protect yourself from the loss of power that follows disasters like earthquakes. Home batteries, specifically when used alongside solar panels, can provide backup power and blackout protection in the case of an earthquake like the Big One. Solar home batteries can power your house, even if the grid is ripped to shreds. Here’s how your home can prepare for the Big One, or any other disasters that could leave you without the electricity you need.

The Last Big One

The San Andreas fault shook California to its core during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, resulting in the death of over 3,000 people, and the destruction of 80% of the city of San Francisco. Though the Richter Scale wouldn’t arrive on the scene for another three decades, it’s estimated that the 1906 earthquake hit around 7.8, a devastating level. The earthquake ranks as one of the most significant of all time, with quaking felt from Oregon, to Los Angeles, to Nevada.

The earthquake lasted for less than a minute, but the immediate impact was disastrous. The San Francisco military responded as quickly as possible, but the damage had already been done. The last Big One destroyed architecture, roads, and lives for miles, and ignited several fires around the city that burned for days, adding to the initial devastation of the earthquake.

With thousands of homes destroyed in the earthquake, half of San Francisco’s population of 400,000 was left homeless by the last Big One. Survivors slept in tents and city parks, waiting in lines for food, and cooking in the streets. The citizens of San Francisco were completely unprepared for the possibility of an earthquake of this magnitude. They also didn’t have the tools and technology that we have today that can prevent the level of devastation San Franciscans endured in the early 1900’s. Solar power, when used in conjunction with energy storage in the form of home batteries, can provide power to an earthquake-devastated city. You can start preparing for the next Big One right now, and you should, especially since scientists are not at all sure when it will hit.

The Next Big One

Though scientists have not yet developed technology that can predict earthquakes with any precision, researchers caution that the next Big One is not just a prediction, but a real possibility. Most information points to an earthquake of a magnitude of 8 or greater on the Richter Scale, likely centering around southern California. The San Andreas Fault passes through Los Angeles’ three main transportation, power, and utility corridors, putting all three of these essential resources in danger. Looking back at the destruction in 1906 can give us a good idea of the scope of devastation that an earthquake like the next Big One can cause, but the huge changes in modern lifestyle and technology frame a major disaster a little bit differently.

We rely on energy more than ever before. Modern life is sculpted around the use of electricity for basic needs like refrigeration and heat, but also for internet connection and communication, as well as electric car motors and other household appliances. A prolonged power outage could start as an inconvenience, but would rapidly grow into a potentially fatal situation. Households connected to the traditional power grid are pretty much always running the risk of blackouts, but in the case of an earthquake, especially a Big One, prolonged outages are an inevitability.

The power grid is completely unprepared for any sort of disaster, especially an earthquake. Though our country’s utilities are an invaluable resource, the systems still rely on 1970s era technology. Updating utility systems means interrupting service, so it’s rarely done. Our current power infrastructure simply wasn’t designed to stand up to environmental threats. The electrical grid is particularly weak because its network is spread out over many installations that are miles apart. An infrastructure like that is difficult to protect. In the case that the power grid did go down, the consequences would take the form of a disastrous domino effect. In basic terms, electricity keeps all our other systems running. If this single system were to fail, and the rest will follow.

The potential effect of a major earthquake looks even worse when we talk in terms of power grid failure. It makes going off the grid and breaking free from the dependence on the grid more and more appealing. Fortunately, freedom from the grid is a very real and simple option, one that many Californians have already taken. The best way to prepare yourself and your home from blackouts from the Big One is by installing a solar home battery.

Home Batteries Prepare You for the Big One

With electricity from solar panels and a home battery, your home has complete blackout protection. With back-up power from a home battery, you never have to worry about the power going out. Ever. Here’s how it works:

The first thing you need to do to truly get off-grid is to find a power source independent from your power company.

You can tap into other renewable energy sources (like wind or water, for example) but solar panels are attractive because of their long life and minimal maintenance required. Once installed, solar panels usually last over 25 years, generating electricity directly from sunlight. Awesome, right? And completely off-grid.

Most households install photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of their house, where nothing can block them from the sun. When the sun hits the panel, cells made up of silicon semiconductors collect the energy, creating an electrical direct current. This direct current, when passed through an inverter, is converted into an alternating current, which is what your home uses. This alternating current is what gets you off-grid. But solar panels can’t give you off-grid independence alone. The next step? A home battery.

In order to truly get off-grid, you need a way to store the electricity your solar panels generate during the day, so you can use it at night. Home batteries do just that. A home battery is like a power reservoir. Water reservoirs continuously provide water to overcome the intermittency of natural water flows. Home batteries ensure continuous power to an off-grid home, overcoming the intermittency of natural solar flows. With a home battery, your house can have off-grid energy, even when the sun isn’t shining.

Most home batteries on the market today are wall-mounted, indoor or outdoor systems with quiet, unobtrusive operation. Unlike gas-powered generators, they don’t need to be moved into place for operation, or refueled. With solar home batteries, there are no noxious fumes or obnoxious noise. You won’t even notice it’s there. But you’ll definitely be thankful for the back-up power you have in the case of a disaster like the Big One.

With solar panels and solar energy storage, you can protect your home from the devastating consequences of a long-term power outage. Even in the case that an earthquake like the Big One takes out California’s power grid, your home would still have all the electricity you would normally have, giving you the ability to heat and cool your home, refrigerate and cook food, and send and receive important information during a time when others are facing serious crisis.

Home Batteries for Vulnerable Communities

When power outages hit, they hit residents of affordable housing communities especially hard. Storing reliable energy sources in energy storage systems like home batteries could protect our country’s most vulnerable populations from devastating power failures. The best part? Back-up power is essentially free. The up-front cost of solar installation, coupled with energy storage systems like a home batteries can be high, but this technology provides building cost savings that rival photovoltaic systems alone, or other energy-efficiency efforts. The revenue generated by electricity bill savings, in addition to selling solar energy back to the grid, can pay off the initial cost of installation well within the lifetime of the equipment. If you think about it in these terms, the benefit of having back-up power through energy storage is basically free.

As soon as solar panel systems and energy storage systems like home batteries are installed in any housing unit, low-income or otherwise, both the savings and the power resiliency benefits are instant. While it may take some time for the money saved by reduced bills to add up to the same amount as the cost of installing this technology, housing units get to enjoy the security of blackout protection from day one. This means, there’s no reason for low-income and vulnerable populations to continue running the risk of long-term power failures that could result from a big earthquake.

The Big One is inevitable, but devastating power outages don't have to be. Protect your home now.

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