Can you store energy from solar panels?

by Andrew Meyer
May 3, 2016
Home Battery

Our sun is a powerhouse. Literally. In just 75 minutes, the sunlight that touches the Earth could power the world’s electricity for a year. Solar power is clean, free, and available every. Single. Day. A lot of households and businesses are waking up to the fact that solar energy is an amazing resource, and installing solar panels to capture the sun’s rays, and generate the electricity they need to power everything from lightbulbs to air conditioners. And everything is awesome. Until the hours pass, evening comes… and the sun goes down.

The major glitch in using solar power is that it’s not consistent. In fact, it’s reliably inconsistent. We know that at the end of each day, the sun is going to check out, taking our ability to generate electricity from solar panels along with it. But what if you could use solar power at night? What if it was possible to store energy from solar panels so that it could be used even when the sun wasn’t shining? We have great news for you: It is.

Can you store energy from solar panels? YES.

The simplest and best way for homeowners to solve solar power’s energy glitch is to install a solar battery--a battery that stores energy from solar panels during the day, so you can still use solar generated electricity at night. It really is that simple. Solar batteries are charged each day with electricity generated by solar panels (or, alternately, they can be charged with electricity straight from the grid.) These daylight hours are usually times that households need electricity the least; households are lit with natural light (thanks to the sun… again) and many people are out of the house. During these hours, unstored electricity generated by solar panels either goes unused, or leaks back into the power grid. With a solar battery, this energy is waiting to welcome you home to a fully-charged house, ready for whatever you have planned for the evening.

With solar batteries, you get to keep the electricity your solar panels generated. You also get to maintain the value of that electricity. Just ask Elon Musk.

Elon Musk: Using Home Batteries to Maintain the Value of Solar Power

It’s time for households with rooftop solar to take their energy systems to the next level with home batteries. They’ll have to if they want to protect the value of the energy generated from their solar panels, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla Motors recently unveiled a new home battery model called Powerwall, that charges using electricity generated from solar panels. According to Musk, every home with solar panels needs a home battery.

“Without a home battery, excess solar energy is often sold to the power company and purchased back in the evening [at a higher price],” Musk argues “The mismatch adds demand on power plants and increases carbon emissions.”

If this sounds like a lose-lose situation, that’s because it is. Houses with solar who don’t also have energy storage like home batteries have no way to use the excess electricity generated during the day when the sun is shining and solar energy is in abundance. When households have solar energy they can’t use, it goes back into the power grid. often, power companies pay households for giving back the extra power generated by solar, but not as much as they charge for the same amount of electricity later in the day, when people actually need it. Without a home battery, solar customers end up paying extra for the electricity they generated themselves, just like paying the power company to store the energy for them so they can use it later. Instead of giving more money to the power companies, why not just store it yourself? With a home battery, solar households have this opportunity.

Instead of selling electricity back to the grid, home battery owners get to keep their energy, and use it whenever they need it. This eases the workload of power plants, decreasing carbon emissions, and saves money for households with solar at the same time. Taking this into consideration, it’s hard to argue against Elon Musk when he says that all solar panel owners need a home battery. Without a home battery to store excess electricity, solar owners continue to throw money, and energy, at the power companies. Home batteries keep electricity and money in the hands of the consumer.

Resilience: Energy When You Need it the Most

Residential solar batteries store energy so you have it when you need it. That might mean the evenings when the sun goes down, but it could also mean power security when the grid goes down. A source of backup electricity in the case of a power outage is called power resilience.. And it’s awesome.

Resilience is toughness. The ability to recover quickly after taking a hit. When it comes to energy, resilience means the capacity of a power source to sustain a disaster, on a large or small scale. Resilience means that you are protected from the unexpected blackouts that result from the increasingly unruly weather. It means you don’t have to worry about losing heat when it’s freezing, or air conditioning when the heat is unbearable. Resilient power is essential and life-sustaining, and key for preparing new homes and businesses for what the future has in store.

The power grid, as it stands, is pretty vulnerable. Weather related events cause about 70% of all power outages, including the weight of ice storms, heavy winds, and lightning strikes. Severe weather can hit anytime, anywhere, and climate experts have predicted that the unpredictable nature of nature will continue, with precipitation levels fluctuating greatly over the next decade and beyond. This isn’t great news for the grid.

Natural disasters pose a direct threat to electrical lines, but the power demanded by homes and businesses during severe weather put heavy strain on the grid itself. The high demand of electricity to power air conditioning during heat waves, for example, has overloaded the grid and caused widespread shortages, especially in the last few decades as homes depend more and more on high levels of electricity. This is where the catch-22 comes into light: the more we rely on electricity, the greater strain we put on the grid, the higher likelihood of grid failure. But weather, and the growing need for power, aren’t the only threats staring down the utility companies.

In Ted Koppel’s recently released book, Lights Out, he details the possibility and likelihood of a cyber attack on the power grid. Though utility companies work to protect the grid from outside influence, it’s certainly not impenetrable. While doing research for his book, Ted Koppel caught mention of power grid vulnerability from various government officials, and reports that even the President himself included power grid failure when speaking about cybersecurity.

Speculation about power grid vulnerability was made tangible, however, by Felix Lindner, a German IT security guru who conducted a simulation of power grid infiltration in 2013. Germany’s fortunate it was only a simulation. Lindner’s experimental probing gained access to Ettlingen’s control room, and could have “switched off everything: power, water and gas” for a town of 40,000 people in southern Germany. The simulation gave new reality to the sensitivity of the power infrastructure, and the reality of its vulnerabilities.

Growing demand, unforeseen disaster, and even attack could render the electrical grid useless at any point. Thinking about the potentially devastating effects of a long-term power outage makes it crystal clear why resilience should be a top priority.

So, how can you secure resilient power? That’s where solar batteries come in.

The 2-Step Road to Power Resilience

To make sure your home has resilient power, you really only need to follow two steps:

1 Secure a power source independent of the power grid, and

2 Store that power in a home battery.

Home energy storage isn’t just a great idea, it’s also a life-sustaining one. The sun is offering free, clean power on a daily basis. Who could turn that down?

If you have more questions about home energy storage like solar batteries, Swell can help. We love talking about batteries (we’re nerds, we know.) Start up a conversation on our chat window below, or click here for a free quote.