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How Solar Power Helps With Disaster Resilience

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The words "Disaster Resilience" over an image of a wildfire below the electricity grid, representing the importance of disaster resilience in emergency scenarios like hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, and wildfires, and increasing emergency preparedness with solar panels.
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Over the last few decades, climate change has led to a severe increase in natural disasters like hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, and wildfires. This has caused many homes and businesses around the world to lose power for hours, days, and even weeks. Brownouts and blackouts limit public access to electricity during extreme weather conditions, leading many people to turn to solar power for disaster resilience.

By getting solar installed with battery storage, you can immediately increase your property’s disaster resilience and ensure your energy system is able to continuously produce usable renewable electricity throughout local outages.

With a battery-backed solar energy system, you can instantly pivot away from grid energy and run life-sustaining appliances throughout natural disasters like medical devices, refrigerators, HVAC systems, lights, and more — all with solar power.

As a clean energy alternative to traditional gas generators, solar power and storage systems allow you to install peace of mind with smart emergency preparedness. Below, we’ll explore the importance of disaster resilience before detailing exactly how solar generators work in emergency scenarios so you can be generating electricity in times of need.

What Is Disaster Resilience?

By definition, disaster resilience is the capacity of any system to anticipate, withstand, respond to, and recover from disruptions in ordinary operations. In terms of access to electricity, disaster resilience can be applied at both small and large-scale levels, with homeowners and utility energy providers investing in emergency preparedness.

Essentially, disaster resilience is not the practice of trying to prevent the worst-case scenario, but rather preparing those affected to bounce back from catastrophes and maintain essential operations moving forward. Looking into long-term solutions, disaster resilience refers to the ability of people and communities to survive, adapt, and grow in the aftermath of a major event.

Is Global Warming Creating More Natural Disasters?

Yes. Global warming and climate change have led to more natural disasters in the last few decades than ever in recorded history.

According to a study by researchers at Stanford University, between 1980 and 2016, there were 437 weather-related disasters in the United States. Not only was this double the number of disasters recorded from 1950 through 1979, but the study also found that these 437 events cost an estimated $1.5 trillion in damages over 36 years.

Likewise, a separate 2022 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that there have been more than 1,000 worldwide natural disasters since 2010. Compared with fewer than 500 disasters between 1980 and 2009, the rate of weather-related catastrophes and the risk of power outages is accelerating.

Although some of the world’s citizens will continue to debate the effects of global warming, there is now an overwhelming amount of evidence that recent increases in droughts, hurricanes, and extreme temperatures point directly back to climate change.

According to the United States Global Change Research Program, climate change and global warming have already caused dramatic changes in our environment, and may lead to catastrophic effects if left unchecked. The report also highlights the fact that global warming is not just an environmental issue but also one of economic and public health.

As a result of the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, renewable energy has become a topic of interest for governments, regulators, and private companies. As natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfires are becoming more frequent and more devastating, building resilient infrastructures is becoming more urgent. With continued access to independently operated electricity systems, solar power can provide an essential part of disaster resiliency at every level.

Creating Emergency Preparedness with Solar Panels

If you’d like to increase your emergency preparedness, installing solar panels is one of the best ways to create your own power source, away from grid-supplied electricity. By essentially installing your own personal clean energy rooftop power plant, the amount of electricity you can create and use is only limited by the size of your system’s components and the availability of local sunlight.

To start on the right track to risk reduction, those installing solar panels for disaster resilience will typically maintain a full or nearly full battery reserve if extreme weather conditions are expected. By prioritizing new solar electricity to be stored inside of a battery, system owners can be prepared for a grid blackout or utility demand charges related to natural disasters.

Installing Solar Panels for Home Disaster Resilience

Much more than just a way to reduce your electricity bills and carbon footprint, home solar systems are now being installed frequently for their crucial role in personal disaster resilience. Waterproof and resilient to hail, heavy winds, and ice storms, modern solar panel systems are built and installed to be durable, with emergency preparedness in mind.

What Is Solar Islanding?

Although a traditional grid-tied solar panel installation will not be able to generate new power during a blackout, adding battery backup storage allows system owners to operate completely independently.

Solar islanding is the process in which a home can move “off of the grid” and exclusively run its appliances and electrical features with residential solar power produced onsite. By creating its own closed electrical “island” a solar and storage system can function as a “microgrid” that is completely separate from, and unaffected by local brownouts or blackouts.

Depending on the equipment you’ve installed, solar islanding can either be manually or automatically engaged so that your home will pivot from grid power to your personal energy system. With smart inverter controls, disaster-resilient solar panel systems can seamlessly disconnect and reconnect to grid power based on the safety, availability, and cost of local electricity.

Ongoing Access to Emergency Power

As the main benefit of solar islanding, electric storage batteries allow you to continue using your solar panels even if the grid goes down. Throughout a blackout, any excess solar power generated by your system that is not used immediately in the home will go into the battery bank instead of being sent into the grid.

Despite rapidly falling prices in the last decade, typical solar batteries still cost homeowners between $10,000 and $20,000. Knowing this, most solar battery storage systems are purchased to provide only enough power to keep emergency appliances running during a blackout, so that investment costs can remain low during installation with a reasonably sized system. With that being said, if you have the capital for multiple solar batteries, you can charge and store as many as you would like to always have access to emergency power.

Reduced Grid Energy Consumption

In both emergencies and ongoing instances of typical consumption, rooftop solar microgrids also allow homeowners to significantly increase their energy independence with reduced use of grid power. Both overnight or throughout extended cloudy conditions, solar system owners can switch to the energy reserve in their batteries to avoid purchasing power from the utility.

With more control over your energy costs, battery backups are even more valuable for homeowners in areas that do not compensate solar energy producers at retail rates for electricity sent into the grid. By pivoting away from utility power, battery owners can also navigate around time of use (TOU) billing structures to keep their energy expenses as low as possible.

Likewise, reducing grid power consumption with a battery-backed solar system mitigates electrical use from unknown resources. As most utilities have an energy portfolio that contains coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels, maximizing the use of solar energy with a battery can help limit the greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint associated with a home’s power consumption.

In an emergency scenario, any effort to reduce grid energy consumption will directly benefit both you and your community. As lines become repaired and more homes in the neighborhood attempt to access power after a blackout, remaining on your solar island can help limit the overall strain on the local power grid. This may also help you avoid utility rate hikes associated with increased power demand from the emergency fallout.

Solar Panels vs Gas Generators for Disaster Resilience

When disaster strikes, many people turn to gas generators for their home’s power. Gas generators are an excellent solution for temporary power needs, however, they require fuel, can be very noisy, and may emit harmful gasses when in use. If you're looking for a more sustainable way to keep your home running during emergencies, solar panels and solar battery storage may be the right choice.

Solar panels are an excellent investment because they provide long-term energy independence without relying on fossil fuels or noisy generators. Here are four key reasons why solar panels are better than gas generators:

#1 No Maintenance. Generators require fuel, which needs to be replenished during emergencies. Not only does this involve actively refilling gas tanks and performing regular maintenance checks, but it also requires trips to the gas station to purchase more fuel during ongoing blackouts. (And fuel can run out during extended disasters when refill delivery is difficult.)

Solar panel and battery systems do not have any moving parts and require little to no maintenance throughout many years of operation.

#2 Cost-Effective. When ensuring that you have enough fuel to make it through a natural disaster, the costs associated with generator power tend to add up very quickly. Even though battery-backed solar systems can be costly upfront, there are no ongoing costs associated with new power generation.

Knowing that solar panels can be expected to last for 25 years or more, and that there are tax credits and other incentives that can help lower the cost, an investment in solar energy can dramatically reduce the long-term costs associated with emergency preparedness.

#3 Clean, Silent Power. When the electricity goes out in a crowded city, most people are used to hearing the hum of gas generators powering local homes and businesses. As a virtually silent form of energy generation, solar and storage systems eliminate many of the aggravating noises associated with traditional generator power.

At the same time, solar energy is completely emission-free, while gas generators emit smelly and potentially dangerous fumes during the electricity production process. Not only does this contribute to global warming, which makes disasters more common, but it also presents dangers to local human health. Anything we can do to reduce the impacts of burning fossil fuels is a net positive for all of humanity.

#4 Resilient, Energy independence. Above all, solar and storage systems enhance energy independence in ways that gas generators simply cannot. Once installed, a solar panel and battery system has everything it needs to generate and distribute electricity without any extra costs, maintenance, or consideration necessary.

Even better, most modern solar energy installations are equipped with app-powered monitoring and functionality so that system owners can completely control their energy production, storage, and distribution from their smart devices. Although gas generators are certainly powerful and capable appliances, smart controls and unlimited access to solar power simply makes personal electrical microgrids a better choice for disaster resilience in the 2020s.

Be Prepared and Go Solar Today

For disaster preparedness, solar power can instantly help homeowners increase their energy security and peace of mind with ongoing access to renewable electric power.

With the rate and intensity of natural disasters increasing all over the world, solar power can keep homes electrified for multiple days and weeks on end, without the need for loud and odor-emitting gas generators. In both disaster resilience and continuous use, solar energy is a safe and reliable way to increase your home’s energy independence with fewer ongoing costs, maintenance demands, and carbon emissions than traditional gas generators.

If you're interested in going solar to increase your home’s emergency preparedness, Palmetto is here to help. To explore your options, feel free to use our Free Solar Design and Savings Estimate Tool to see the cost of a solar power system and learn how much you could save by going solar.

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