Solar Battery vs. Whole Home Generator—Which is Right for Me?
There is no shortage of reasons why Arizona homeowners are looking to gain greater energy independence. From preventing power outages, to reducing reliance on the grid, avoiding peak demand charging. to just simply having control of your own energy whether fully off-grid or grid-tied with behind-the-meter power generation.
For backup power in times of a power outage, many homeowners right here in the greater Phoenix area need access to life-saving electronic medical equipment or consistent refrigeration for medications. Some homeowners prefer to keep a backup power option to run necessary safety equipment or home essentials, like a well pump or security system, and some homeowners don’t want to say goodbye to all the food in their freezer every time the power goes out. Whatever your reason for needing an independent backup solution for your home electricity. you likely find yourself at the crossroads of choosing between a whole-home generator vs a solar battery backup system. Each type of system has its pros and cons—here is what the solar installation experts at SouthFace Solar want you to know about choosing between battery-assisted solar power or a generator.
Powered Backup Generators
If you’ve ever heard a low hum coming from a neighbor’s house when the power goes out, you were likely hearing the hum of a backup generator. These are combustion-based generators that provide electricity by burning a fossil fuel like natural gas or propane. Backup generators can be designed to turn on automatically when an outage is detected, or manually turned on when needed. The cost of backup generator installation depends on how large your home is and what kind of appliances you would like to keep operational during an outage.
The Benefits of a Whole-Home Backup Generator:
- On-demand backup power
- Lower installation costs compared to other backup options
- Can utilize an existing gas line
- Can be added to a home with or without solar
While backup generators are a popular choice for backup power, there are some drawbacks to using this type of system. They can be particularly noisy (if you related to hearing the low hum, you understand!), they require regular maintenance and will incur gas costs, even if you don’t need to use them, and they burn fossil fuels that create harmful carbon emissions.
Solar Battery Backup
Solar battery backup. also known as solar battery storage, is a battery that can store and disperse the renewable electricity generated by solar panels. You may have heard about solar battery products like the Tesla solar battery, Tesla Powerwall. A solar battery system is best combined with a new or existing system of solar PV panels and an inverter, and can be designed to operate in conjunction with the electrical grid or independent of the grid. These are called on-grid and off-grid systems, respectively. Batteries can also be used without solar but will need to be charged by an energy source like from the electricity grid.
Home solar battery storage ensures that your home uses as much of the renewable electricity coming from your solar panels as possible, and can be used during times of low solar output (like at night), during an outage, or to avoid times where electricity is more expensive (like time-of-use/peak demand charing programs).
The Benefits of Solar Battery Backup
- Automatically detects power outages
- Used to balance peak demand charges
- Qualifies for solar tax credit incentives
- Further decreases your carbon footprint when paired with solar
- Quiet operation
- Low maintenance
What’s the drawback? If you pair solar with a solar battery, you’ll have power as long as the sun is shining but what happens if you need that backup power during a cloudy week? Depending on your backup power requirements, a generator may be the better option. Also, solar battery will always vary, depending on the size of your system and what kind of solar panel battery storage system best meets the needs of you and your home. While solar battery storage system costs are higher than a backup generator, battery storage can also qualify for valuable solar incentives like tax credit savings and be used for offsetting peak demand rates.
Choosing What’s Right for You
So, which option is going to be best for your home? If you have no plans to install solar in the future and are only looking to keep your essential appliances up and running during an emergency situation, a backup generator may be the most appropriate option.
If you are looking to keep the lights on during an outage, reduce the peak electricity charges from time-of-use rates, or already have an existing solar PV system, a solar battery backup system will likely be the best option for your home.
Can a home with solar panels use a generator?
One of the biggest misconceptions about solar panels is that they’ll keep your house running when utility power goes out. However, contrary to popular belief, solar panels actually can’t send electricity to your house when the grid is out.
Why? Well, it’s a safety thing. Grid-tied solar panels send electricity to utility lines, and if they aren’t shut off during a power outage, they would continue to send electricity, posing a threat to utility workers fixing the lines. That means, in order to prevent any harm, your solar panels go out when the grid does.
So if you want your lights to stay on when the rest of your neighborhood goes dark, you need a backup plan. The good news is, homes with solar panels can be connected to gas-powered generators, but how it works can be a bit tricky.
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How do gas-powered generators work?
Before we get into how generators and solar work together, let’s go over some basics about whole-home backup generators. Often referred to as ‘standby generators’, these large generators are able to backup entire homes for extended periods of time. Some popular standby generator manufacturers include Generac, Kohler, and Cummins.
The generator’s automatic transfer switch, or ATS, is able to detect a power outage and then immediately switches your home’s power source from the grid to the generator. There are multiple types of whole-home generators that run on different types of fossil fuels, including natural gas, gasoline, diesel, and propane.
Do solar panels and generators work together?
Here’s the deal. even if you have a standby generator hooked up to your home, your solar panels aren’t going to turn on when the grid is down. Unfortunately, you cannot run your home with both solar power and generator power at the same time.
In other words, the generator and the solar panels cannot operate parallel to one another.
Like we said earlier, solar panels send feedback to the grid, creating a dangerous scenario for utility repair workers. Similarly, if the panels remained on, they would send feedback to the generator and thereby cause damage to the generator, the solar system, or both. Plus, the energy generators produce isn’t powerful enough to boot up most solar inverters anyway.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have a standby generator if you have solar, or that you can’t get solar if you already have a standby generator installed. There are many homes that have both solar panels and generators, especially when it comes to off-grid systems.
The panels and generator just need to be wired properly so that the two won’t interfere with one another. Your solar installer or a certified electrician will be able to help you figure out the best (and safest) way to do this.
Is a standby generator or solar battery system better for you?
Instead of buying a generator, you can install a solar battery to provide backup power to your home in the event of an outage. Whether a generator or a solar battery is best for you really depends on the reasons why you want to install a backup system in the first place.
A standby generator is best if you live somewhere that regularly experiences multi-day power outages and you want to be able to power your entire home, as generators offer more power than a solar battery can. Generators also tend to be cheaper than a solar battery storage system.
If you’re looking to have access to emergency backup power for a day or two that can power your most important loads (like your fridge, lights, and wall outlets to charge electronic devices), and you also want to reduce your day-to-day reliance on the utility, then a solar battery is a better choice.
Another benefit to solar batteries is that you can use them daily to maximize the amount of solar energy your home uses. Plus, a battery can keep your solar panels running when the grid is down. something a generator cannot do.
You can maximize your home’s resilience against power outages by installing both a solar battery and a standby generator. Much like with solar panels, a generator and battery cannot power your home at the same time. When the power goes out, the solar battery will power your home first until it is depleted. Then the generator will kick in.
Below, solar expert William White discusses pairing solar generators and batteries with solar systems.
Do you really even need backup power with your solar panels?
For most homeowners, installing backup power with your solar panels probably isn’t necessary. It costs thousands of dollars and most places in the U.S. have a fairly stable utility grid.
It’s a different story for those who do live somewhere with unreliable access to grid power. If your area experiences regular blackouts due to extreme weather events, or if you live in a more rural area, then backup power isn’t such a bad idea. You can choose either a standby generator or a solar battery, but which one is better really depends on how you want to use your backup source.
Even though a battery or a generator doesn’t always make sense for a home, installing solar panels is a different story. In most parts of the country, installing solar panels has a substantial financial benefit for homeowners and lets you run your home on clean, renewable energy.
You can use our solar panel calculator to understand what kind of savings a solar system can provide you, and what installation solar companies are offering in your area.
Find out if installing battery storage is worth it where you live
- Solar panels do not work during power outages, so homeowners need a backup power supply if they want to run their home without the utility.
- Gas generators are the most popular form of backup power and can be installed at a home that has solar panels.
- Even if you have a standby generator, your solar panels will remain off during a power outage.
- If you want your solar panels to stay on during a power outage, you need to install a solar battery, which adds considerable costs to a solar installation.
- You can install both a solar battery and a solar generator with your solar panels if you want to maximize the amount of backup power available to you.
Written Content Manager
Catherine is the Written Content Manager at SolarReviews. She has been researching and writing about the residential solar industry for four years. Her work has appeared in Solar Today Magazine and Solar Builder Magazine, and has been cited by publications like Forbes and Bloomberg.
Generac introduces off-grid portable solar panel
The 100 W panel is made for pairing with the company’s portable battery power stations.
The GS100 panel and GB1000 battery bank.
Generac Power Systems unveiled the GS100, a 100 W solar panel designed to be paired with the company’s off-grid portable power stations.
Each 100 W panel is designed with a tri-fold configuration with built-in kickstands for easy set-up and portability. The units are waterproof, dust proof, and chemical resistant, said Generac. The 100 W panel is currently priced at 299.00 MSRP.
“Pairing our portable power station with the new GS100 Solar Panel provides an ideal energy solution for off-grid camping, adventuring, or any activity that requires true energy independence, as it fully recharges with only the sun,” said Kyle Raabe, president of consumer power, Generac.
- Peak Charging Watts (/- 5 W): 100 W
- Operating Voltage: 20.1 V
- Open Circuit Voltage: 24.2 V
- IP Rating: IP67
- Unit Dimensions (folded): 15.5 in x 24.5 in x 1.5 in
- Unit dimensions (unfolded): 24.5 in x 46.8 in x 0.5 in
- Unit Weight: 9.7 lbs
- Shipping Weight: 11.9 lbs
The panel is compatible with the GB1000 and GB2000 portable power stations and is packaged with a cable for connecting with Generac devices. Up to four panels can be connected in parallel, offering up to 400 W of solar charging power.
The GB1000 power bank can charge from 0% to 80% in 2.1 hours from a wall output and supports charging from solar, car outputs, and generators. It features AC and 12V DC outlets, USB ports and a 15W wireless charging pad for use with compatible devices.
Generac also introduced charge enhancers for its two portable battery power stations, including 200 W and 450 W options. The 200 W option can increase charge times by 25%, while the 450 W option, compatible with the GB2000, offers 50% faster charge times, said Generac. The charge enhancers are priced at 99.50 to 139.00 MSRP.
Solar business activity
Generac, known for its residential backup generator offerings, is increasingly entering the solar market with new products and services.
In January, it announced the introduction of a residential electric vehicle charger. The 48A / 11.5kW Generac EV charger is a Level 2 home charger, which Generac said is capable of charging a car battery in as little as four to six hours, depending on the car battery’s capacity and charge need. The unit’s J1772 connector is out-of-the-box compatible with nearly all EVs on the market today. The charger’s NEMA-4 enclosure makes the unit rated for both indoor and outdoor residential installation.
In August 2022, Generac announced its Grid Services division entered an agreement with Arizona Public Service (APS), to deliver additional grid capacity from residential battery storage systems. APS serves 1.3 million homes and businesses across the state. Demand management and response is particularly important in Arizona, where extreme heat leads to air conditioning usage, thereby leading to high peak demand. Distributed battery energy storage is hailed for its ability to more efficiently distribute power, leading to a reduced need for reserve generation and transmission resources.
Generac will dispatch its scalable PWRcell batteries, which range from 3 battery modules for up to 9 kWh of capacity and 4.5 kW output, to a 6-module configuration providing up to 18 kWh of capacity and 9 kW output. Under the partnership, Generac will aggregate residential energy from PWRcell batteries over a five-year term starting in January 2023. The aggregated energy will support both system-wide capacity via demand response events, as well as locational capacity on target system feeders. The network of batteries may also be able to provide additional services to the grid when otherwise available.
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New England Clean Energy Is An Authorized Distributor for Generac, including the Powercell Whole Home Battery System in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island
Solar power, using the Generac PWRcell Battery System captures and stores electricity from solar panels and keeps your whole home powered by the sun, even when the grid goes down!
PWRcell (pronounced Powercell) gives you backup during power outages and allows you to control your energy usage anytime to reduce utility costs. Here in New England, the number one reason to add a battery to your solar system is for backup power when the grid goes down. And stored power can also get you through anytime sunshine is not available, including nighttime or poor weather.
Generac Whole House Solar Battery
Generac is the only battery that can provide backup power for your entire home with just one battery. As the largest whole-home backup generator manufacturer in the world, Generac is bigger than the competition, delivers more amps, and manages your power consumption better. You’ll be able to run larger loads including your water well, furnace, air conditioner, or sump pump. Other battery systems simply cannot provide the full features of the Generac Powercell.
Other battery systems generally require you to choose the circuits you want to power from the battery during a blackout by putting them on a “sub-panel”. Unfortunately, that means during a power outage anything not on your sub-panel goes out too! With Generac’s PWRcell that is not the case.
We have in-depth knowledge of the Generac Whole Home System and can help you decide if it is right for you! Please contact us at our Massachusetts headquarters or at our offices in New Hampshire or Rhode Island to learn more!
Smarter recharging and monitoring
Generac PWRcell is an intelligent energy storage system.
Their smarter control system manages whether your power comes from the array or from storage. Other batteries may force you to run on 100% battery even when there’s bright sunshine outside in the days after an outage or weather event. So you won’t use battery storage when your array could keep the lights on all by itself.
PWRcell comes with the PWRview (pronounced Powerview) software system that lets you see your actual power usage in real time and change how your battery is functioning. Keep tabs on your energy consumption, monitor your battery usage, and track your savings!
You can avoid peak rates, lower energy bills and gain more independence from the grid. Set it for zero export in anticipation of a possible power outage. Or change to self-supply mode so you send less of your solar’s power back to the grid.
Solar Backup Power: Generac PWRcell Review
As more business and homeowners turn to solar for their energy, many solar companies are investing in new ways to optimize system performance, further decrease consumer reliance on the grid, and provide reliable backup options during increasing instances of grid outages.
One of the most common and in-demand system upgrades is the installation of a solar battery. Due to the variety of backup power products, as we’ve covered in weeks past, figuring out the best battery for your home or business can present a challenge.
This week, we take a look at Generac’s PWRcell.
What is Generac?
An established leader in the backup power space, Generac recently unveiled its new line of backup batteries. Designed to accompany clean energy systems, these batteries store and distribute household energy generated by solar.
As is common with most home battery systems, the PWRcell pairs with a new or existing solar panel system. With a FOCUS on power, Generac describes the PWRcell as “the most powerful residential battery on the market.” Other key features include:
- One of the largest energy storage capacities of any similar product on the market
- Stores energy during peak hours for use while the sun is down, saving customers money on utility bills
- Sells excess energy back to the utility grid
- PWRview app easily allows monitoring of battery production, energy consumption, and energy savings
- Enables pairing with an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) which seamlessly transitions home to backup power during an outage
- Smart Management Modules (SMMs) automatically manage power distribution during an outage, ensuring critical loads maintain power
- A modular design that allows expansion of storage capacity as power needs shift
The biggest benefit of the Generac PWRcell is its size. Not only the raw power– but its scalable system which allows flexibility in its design. PWRcell’s system is modular, meaning that one can add or reduce multiple battery products to a storage setup as energy needs shift.
The PWRcell 17, the largest and most commonly installed battery of the Generac models, boasts the superior usable capacity to both its biggest competitors (the Tesla Powerwall and Enphase Encharge) at over 17 kWh. For scale, a typical A/C unit draws roughly 3 kW per hour of use.
So, if your decision comes down to which single battery will provide the greatest amount of backup power during an outage, look no further than the PWRcell.
Offered along with a PWRcell are the Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) and Smart Management Modules (SMMs). The ATS enables smooth and automatic transitions from grid power to the PWRcell’s backup reserve during an outage, preventing the need for manual transfers which can jeopardize the safety of a home. While Generac plans to soon allow for direct generator integration, it remains unavailable with current products.
Generac’s SMMs are uniquely advantageous because during an installation, customers don’t have to separate critical from non-critical loads. This means the PWRcell automatically knows when to stop sending power to certain appliances based on the level of power remaining in the battery and the energy level being drawn by specific appliances.
While the PWRcell’s intelligence automatically manages home energy to optimize efficiency and performance, you can monitor the performance of your battery on the PWRview app with real-time data. This allows you to:
- Easily keep tabs on energy consumption
- Track savings and energy expenses with history and forecasting tools
- Lower energy bills and avoid peak rates
- Gain greater independence from the grid
When considering the performance and reliability of a backup battery system, important metrics to note include the power, warranty, and capacity of a battery. The power and capacity of the PWRcell are well-touted, and as discussed, most sources confirm it as the most powerful battery of its kind on the market.
The warranty of a PWRcell 17 battery is valid for either 10 years or the amount of time it takes to cycle the specified amount of energy through the battery below. Most similar products have a 10-year warranty which guarantees a certain number of recharges, as opposed to Generac’s guaranteed energy yield.
How long will a full charge last?
- While having a backup battery system greatly lowers your reliance on the utility grid, no single battery will yield complete off-grid power for a home. Most single batteries will provide several hours’ worth of power. A PWRcell is large enough to serve as a temporary backup for a home during an outage. To be truly “off-grid,” though possible, would require the installation of multiple PWRcell batteries (typically 2 or 3, depending on the home).
The Bottom Line
If you prioritize power and capacity, then look no further than the PWRcell. Since power and capacity go hand in hand, the PWRcell yields the best of both. It’s ATS and SMMs provide effortless reliability to accompany this power, making the PWRcell an excellent backup option.