Have a Back Up Plan with Solar Panels

Story & Photos By Justin Owens

In the quiet historic island neighborhood of Denver Court, you wouldn’t even notice the 10 solar panels provided for a solar energy company on top of Cheryl Watson’s garage roof if you were driving by. As much money as they are saving, their purpose is more than just lowering her electric bill. This unique system actually is comprised of a backup power center located inside her garage, with eight batteries in a neat and lockable cabinet.

This system has been designed to provide power to Watson’s kitchen circuits in the event of a power outage.

“Especially for long outages like we have after hurricanes, I would really like to have a ceiling fan, my refrigerator, radio/TV, and maybe some outlets along the kitchen counter to use, without the hassle of a gas-powered generator,” she said to me at the 2010 Home & Garden Show. After a few months of planning and decisions, she now has everything she had hoped for.

This system was an adventure for us and different than our regular “grid-tied” solar power systems.

A “grid-tied” system comprises generally of the solar panels, an inverter which changes the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the solar panels to alternating current (AC) electricity (which is what our homes use), and the connection to the power grid. These systems are the most common due to their lower costs, but if the grid power goes down, so go your lights.

The Watson house PV (solar electric) system is what we call a “grid-tied with battery backup” system. This system works pretty much the same way as a “grid-tied” system, but the difference is in an additional power center and an isolated breaker panel. In this instance, the isolated panel provided the circuits for the kitchen appliances Watson had requested.

During normal operation, the solar panels provide power to all of the home’s energy needs. During an outage, the power center keeps all of the electricity produced by the solar panels confined to the sub-panel. During the day, the solar panels work continuously to charge the batteries and power the loads. At night, the loads draw power from the batteries. Then it starts all over again the next day, up until grid-power resumes and the system automatically goes back to normal operations.

It is similar to that of a backup generator, but without the noise, smell, maintenance and worry about fuel supply. These systems also qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit and are an option when considering any backup/standby generator.

Renewable energy has been picking up along the Texas Gulf Coast, and there is no better place for it than in Galveston. With our abundance of sunshine and breezy waterfronts, islanders have the opportunity to harvest our renewable resources and use them to our advantage.

Justin Owens is an island resident and founder of Gulf Coast Renewable Resources, Galveston County’s premier renewable energy and rainwater harvesting company. Founded in May of 2008, they now provide services for school districts, non-profit organizations, commercial institutes and homeowners. For more information, please visit their website at www.GulfCoastRenewableResources.com.

Leave a Reply