Rooftop Solar And Energy Storage Units Could Help During Emergency Blackouts

By Alison St John for KPBS Org

More than 2,000 people were still without power Wednesday in San Diego County’s backcountry, due to the Valley Fire. Thousands more San Diego Gas and Electric customers experienced power blackouts last week due to grid overloads because of the record-breaking heat spell.

With the threat of blackouts, many people now have questions about whether it’s worth getting solar panels and energy storage batteries.

Benjamin Airth is a senior policy manager at the San Diego-based Center for Sustainable Energy. He said San Diego has among the highest number of rooftop solar installations in the U.S., due to high electricity costs and plenty of sunshine. Airth said San Diego has over 100,000 solar installations but only about 7,000 battery units installed.

Solar panels can take the stress off the grid at a time of peak usage by feeding power back into the grid, but they will not keep the lights on during a blackout. For that, homeowners would need to invest in solar storage units or batteries. Airth said solar companies these days usually offer a package with both solar panels and a battery. But the cost of energy storage systems remains high at between $8,000 and $14,000.

Federal tax breaks for solar purchases have fallen this year from 30% to 26% but that is still significant, Airth said, especially when combined with California’s state incentive programs.

Airth added there are 85 to 100% subsidies for low-income homeowners who live in a high fire-threat district. Evidence of receiving blackout warnings can increase eligibility.

Airth said there is great potential for rooftop solar and micro-grids that power a whole block of buildings, which could take some of the load off the grid in the future. That would be especially helpful, he said, at a time when the state is transitioning to more sustainable energy sources that occasionally leave the grid with not enough energy to meet demand.

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