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Backup Generator vs Battery Storage for Power Outages

Comparing a backup generator and battery storage for backup power options during a power outage or blackout.
PublishedJuly 27, 2021
UpdatedMay 17, 2024
AuthorCory O'Brien HeadshotCory O'BrienSenior Director - Growth MarketingEditorRyan Barnett HeadshotRyan BarnettSVP, Policy & New Market Development
In this article
More Frequent Power Outages Increase the Need for Backup Power
Backup Generator vs. Solar Batteries
How Solar Panels Operate During a Power Outage
The Overall Advantages of Solar Batteries for Your Solar Panels
Key Takeaways

The United States has more power outages than any other developed country, and that number is likely to increase in the future as extreme weather events become more common. Most of these outages occur during extreme temperatures, tropical storms, hurricanes, and wildfires. As a way to deal with more frequent power outages, Americans have begun pursuing various backup power options for their home.

Backup generators and solar battery storage are the two main energy technologies that homeowners consider for their backup power needs. While both options can help during a power outage, we think that solar plus energy storage is a preferable alternative because it is low maintenance, operates quietly, and provides additional benefits.

This article details why a residential solar panel system paired with energy storage is better for your home compared to a home standby generator.

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More Frequent Power Outages Increase the Need for Backup Power

Power outages across the U.S. are a serious issue. On average, they cost the country more than $20 billion per year, and most of them are caused by weather-related events.

Winter storms with high winds cause falling trees and telephone poles that can result in downed power lines. Also, the ice and snow that amasses during storms can weigh down trees and cause them to fall onto power lines.

Summer has its own problems, as increases in electricity use to power air conditioners frequently cause brownouts and temporary outages. The electricity grid literally can’t keep up with people just wanting to keep their homes cool when it’s hot outside.

Additionally, the summer brings increased chances of a major hurricane, tropical cyclones, heavy rains, and wildfires, all of which can cause short-term power outages and long-term harm to the electricity infrastructure. Even after the main storm has passed, the ensuing storm surge can continue to cause issues with electricity delivery for multiple days.

However, the weather is not the only issue, as aging grid infrastructure is another major cause of increased power outages. Some sections of the U.S. power grid date back to the onset of electricity. This means they are no longer strong enough to survive severe weather or sustain the increased demand for electricity from a growing population.

Replacing the aging infrastructure can help the grid withstand harsh weather. However, upgrading the grid to make it more productive and resilient won't happen overnight. Thus, homeowners are opting for onsite power solutions such as battery storage and backup generators so they have power available during blackouts.

Considering the realities of climate change, we can expect to experience a persistent increase in weather-related power outages unless we curb the root causes of global warming. As a result, the need for an alternative power supply during outages will continue to gain traction in the coming years.

Backup Generator vs. Solar Batteries

Backup generators have long been a common power option during blackouts. However, we want to share four specific reasons why solar battery storage is better than home generators when your power goes out.

1. Backup Generators Aren't Reliable

Yes, a generator will keep your appliances running in the event of an outage. But that comes at a cost, including the cost of maintenance and fuel.

You have to continually maintain your generator to keep its warranty valid, which normally lasts for five to ten years. Generators often require yearly maintenance and regular testing to ensure they are in good working order and ready to produce electricity when the need arises. If you don’t maintain them properly, they might not work when you need them most.

Even if you do everything possible to take care of your generator, sometimes you may not have access to fuel if an unexpected event occurs. For example, in 2012, New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) turned off the natural gas supply after Hurricane Sandy. Tens of thousands of people were left in the dark at this time, including those who needed natural gas for their backup generators.

Diesel generators have similar issues, as severe weather conditions may also make it difficult for you to leave your home to get fuel for the tank if you run out.

In addition, generators may not be as effective during winter, especially when they are likely to be impacted by low temperatures. Many generators lose their ability to start and operate properly when temperatures drop below freezing. Thus, generators might not be the best solution to power outages if your area regularly sees extremely low temperatures.

Fortunately, solar battery storage requires minimal maintenance and no fuel to generate power, works in freezing temperatures, and most come with a 10-year warranty, compared to a 5-year standard for gas generators. Plus, if the grid goes down, your battery storage can ensure you have enough electricity to power your home without worrying about fuel refills or when a damaged gas line will be fixed.

See how much you can save by going solar with Palmetto

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2. Backup Generators Create Pollution

They’re Dirty

Backup generators run on fossil fuels that pollute the environment. During operation, generators release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which contributes to climate change.

On the other hand, solar panels with battery energy storage systems are a reliable source of clean energy that doesn't hurt the environment.

They’re Smelly

Generators are notorious for polluting the air. Natural gas and diesel fumes are obnoxious to your nose and harmful to your lungs, and they also contain a high amount of carbon monoxide which your nose can’t detect.

Once battery storage is installed, smelly gases become a thing of the past, as battery power is safer and more eco-friendly.

They’re Noisy

Any time a generator is running, it makes noises that most people find annoying over time. Sure, you might only run that generator when you need backup power, but that additional noise won’t help a stressful situation like a power outage.

Solar battery power is a noiseless solution that ensures you have access to a power supply when you need it, without any additional stress.

3. Backup Generators are Expensive

Every time a generator runs, it needs fuel to generate the much-needed electricity. That, of course, requires the purchase of fuel, which in the long run will have an impact on your budget if power outages are common in your area.

With battery storage in place, you don't need to budget for any fuel, since solar systems can automatically recharge your batteries when they’re not powering the home.

4. Backup Generators Have Limited Uses

A backup generator is only valuable when generating electricity during power outages. Yes, you might like the idea of having a generator around in case you lose power, but it’s a costly acquisition that doesn’t provide any additional benefits in your day-to-day life. You will only use the generator when you absolutely need it, and you’ll enjoy no additional benefits when it's not in use.

Alternatively, a solar panel system and battery storage will generate electricity all the time, even when power outages are not a concern, so you get a better return on your investment. If you generate more than you need in a day, you can send the extra power to your battery storage, so you can access this energy during a cloudy day, at night, during power outages, and other times your solar panels aren't generating electricity.

Once your batteries are charged up, you can also use the extra electricity your solar panel system generates to offset your utility bill if you're participating in a net metering program.

A chart comparing the benefits of solar battery storage and backup generators.

How Solar Panels Operate During a Power Outage

In general, solar panel systems aren't designed to work during a power outage. They automatically shut down in the event of a blackout to stop them from sending electricity to the electricity grid. The solar inverter is responsible for the automatic shut-off, which helps protect utility workers sent to restore power.

However, if your battery storage system includes islanding–the ability to disconnect your home from the grid–you can still create power.

How Solar Panels Operate When You Have Battery Storage

Having battery storage installed helps you survive a power outage with little to no disruption in your daily activity. With enough energy storage capacity, you can keep your home running for multiple hours, or even days at a time with no change in routine.

In general, the excess electricity generated by your solar panel system during everyday use is diverted to your energy storage to be used when your panels can't generate power.

That’s because many solar power systems with backup battery storage can be set up to have islanding capability. Islanding is made possible by a solar inverter that ensures your solar battery storage receives electrical power from your solar panel system and supplies that power to meet your home's daily needs.

Islanding is like an automatic transfer switch that removes your home from the grid and relies instead on self-generated electricity. That means your system can disconnect from the grid during a power outage and your home will still have power.

Not all solar panel systems with batteries have inverters that allow for islanding, so it’s important to make sure your installer designs your system with this need in mind if you want to have battery backup power available during a grid blackout.

How Solar Panels Operate When You Have a Backup Generator

Home backup generators are designed to detect outages when they happen. They have a switch that disconnects your home from the utility grid and connects to the generator as needed. If you have a power outage, your solar panels will stop producing electricity, and your gas-powered backup generator will take over the production of your electricity needs.

Generac is one of the most popular brands of emergency generators. A Generac generator is designed to supply you with electricity the moment there is a blackout, and you can choose from a wide variety of Generac home generators to meet your needs.

While backup generators like a Generac whole house generator will ensure you don't stay in the dark and your appliances keep running, you will be using fossil fuel to power your home, instead of the clean, renewable energy from solar panels. If you're an advocate of clean energy for a better tomorrow, then you might find gas-powered backup power generators a bit unfriendly.

If you don’t invest in a full solar-plus-storage system, a solar power generator can be a good option for keeping important appliances like a refrigerator running in case of an emergency. Like a portable generator, a solar backup generator is a smaller battery that can keep your appliances running temporarily during a blackout, but it won't charge from your solar panel system when the grid is down.

How Solar Panels Operate If You Don't Have Any Backup

If you don't have a backup option and a power outage occurs, the inverter automatically shuts off your system and stops sending electricity to the grid. By law, all inverters are actually required to be able to “anti-island” and not allow your solar panels to push electricity into your home during an outage. This protects the people fixing the outage, but your panels won’t work until the grid is repaired.

The Overall Advantages of Solar Batteries for Your Solar Panels

From ensuring you have a reliable power supply to helping you maximize the benefits of your panels, solar power batteries are indeed worth the investment, and are one of the best energy storage options available.

Provides You with Reliable Power All the Time

Once electricity is stored in your battery system, you can use it at any time (including at night) without limitation. That is not the case when you're using a generator as a backup. If there is no fuel or gas, you can't use a generator.

Allows You to Maximize Your Generation

A solar battery system ensures no electricity generated by your solar panel system goes to waste. Excess energy is stored for later use, and you can access it at no extra cost.

Helps You Achieve the Full Benefits of Your Panels

Once installed, solar panel battery storage ensures you get the most out of your solar energy system. Your home can tap into all of the electricity your solar panel system generates, whether there’s a power outage, it’s nighttime, or a rainy day. If you want to spend less on your utility bills, a solar-plus-storage system might be the perfect solution.

Key Takeaways

Power outages in the U.S. are on the rise because of climate change and the aging grid. While backup generators are a common solution for emergency power, unfortunately, they don't provide a long-term solution as they are costly in the long run. In contrast, solar battery storage helps you enjoy the perks of your solar panels all year long.

Working with Palmetto ensures you have the right electricity options in place for your home. Connect with a Palmetto Solar Advisor to discuss your solar energy options, as well as solar service and maintenance for the life of your system.

Get started with a free savings estimate, and we will examine your specific situation and provide helpful guidance to ensure your solar energy system matches your home energy needs.

See what solar can do for you:

My electric bill is $290/mo
About the AuthorCory O'Brien HeadshotCory O'BrienSenior Director - Growth Marketing

Cory brings over 8 years of solar expertise to Palmetto, and enjoys sharing that knowledge with others looking to improve their carbon footprint. A dog lover residing in Asheville, NC with his wife, Cory graduated from UCSB. If you run into him, ask him about the company he founded to rate and review beer!

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