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Get to Know the Grid: How it Works (or Doesn’t)

electrical grids and power outages

Understanding Grid Failures, Power Outages, Electricity Price Spikes and More

If recent headlines have demonstrated anything, it’s that increasing numbers of homeowners are uncertain about where their electricity comes from and how they can afford it. Each new season introduces dangerous weather patterns that force more power outages and more people to lose faith in the reliability of their energy supply. It’s one thing to weather a storm, but it’s another to live with rolling blackouts and surges to residential electricity bills. Time and again homeowners are stranded by electric companies and left vulnerable and powerless to a series of unfortunate and unpredictable events.

However, there’s a way out of the electric company’s grip on your energy bills. Solar power and a backup battery give you complete control of your energy and independence from the increasingly vulnerable and expensive electricity grid. A complete solar installation means that you’ll be prepared for both regular and generational extreme weather events — even when the electric company isn’t.

Read along as we explain the inner-workings (or not-workings) of today’s electrical grid.

Go Off the Grid

Making Sense of the Mess

Climate change is requiring more power for heating and cooling. More electric cars are hitting the road. Meanwhile, the demand for residential electricity is increasing as more people continue working from home. The already fragile electric grid faces even more strain in the future, and utility-powered energy options lack the necessary balance on the grid. Fossil fuels are costly and disappearing rapidly, solar is dependent on sunlight and wind generation needs, well, wind, which means there are challenges with each source of energy. However, renewable energies like solar present more resilient alternatives to fossil fuels and regularly occurring blackouts. Between outdated, unreliable energy infrastructures, steep electricity generation rates (and getting steeper) and dangerous superstorms, the average American homeowner faces a number of challenges ahead when it comes to protecting and powering his or her home. This might be the best time for home solar power.

How the grid works with your solar panel installation

electrical grid explained

Issues with Infrastructure

Ever-expanding electrical networks, increased demand on outdated grids, more pull of electricity required to power homes, appliances and cars — our demand for energy in the coming years is only going to intensify. As the planet warms, extreme weather events and superstorms are only increasing in intensity and frequency. It’s like the climate is trying to tell us something. That’s why adding more solar power to the mix of energy infrastructure is a good idea. Renewable energy sources offer more flexibility to our electricity grids at a time when our grids need it most. That goes without saying, it’s a time when energy customers need a break from electricity costs the most. It’s no wonder home solar is becoming a more popular choice in 2021 and beyond.

Read our comprehensive Guide to Going Solar in 2021.

Rising Electricity Costs

Just about every state is experiencing increased strains on outdated and ill-prepared grids, which is why it’s no wonder that electricity costs are rising rapidly. The U.S. Energy Information Agency tells us that in 2021, residential electricity costs are projected to rise between 1.2% and 2.8%. That increase in cost continues a streak of climbing residential electricity prices over the last decade. Meanwhile, the cost of going solar is lower than ever.

rising cost of electricity over the years

If you choose to stick with the grid and the utility company that controls it, you’re more than likely going to foot the bill the rest of your life — at whatever rate the electric company decides to charge. As fossil fuels become less available and extreme weather further threatens the stability of electricity infrastructure, switching to home solar might be the best way to break free before it’s too late.

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So About that Winter Superstorm in Texas. What Happened?

For starters, the power outages affected millions of homeowners who were left shivering without lights, gas and, in some cases, water. What followed were significant concerns and questions about how the energy infrastructure in Texas can bring together new renewable energies, existing renewable sources and fossil fuels. The burden of the blame is largely on infrastructure investment than the energy sources themselves.

Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, told Scientific American that the problems with the grid in Texas reinforced the “importance of critical investment in our nation’s grid infrastructure.”

Let’s shed some light on the issue that left so many Texans in the dark.

The Power Outages.

This past February, the winter storms in Texas brought temperatures in the state to as low as -11 degrees Fahrenheit; making it the second coldest week in history. Gas pipelines were frozen or burst and power lines knocked out for millions of Texans. To say the state came to a screeching halt would be an understatement. Widespread blackouts and unprepared energy infrastructure rocked Texas for days and, in some places, weeks following the storm’s first freeze. Data sourced from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) revealed some staggering facts.

Reported at length by PV Tech, the power shortfall was “primarily caused by a stark drop in thermal generation, with up to 31GW of capacity out of action on the morning of Tuesday 16 February. Meanwhile wind, which has borne the brunt of attacks in the media, was responsible for a shortfall of around 2GW. Solar, meanwhile, produced greater quantities of power than was expected.”

Further analysis presented by the Solar Energy Industries Alliance (SEIA) demonstrates that, “in the three days following 13 February, thermal power plant output was down 25% while renewables output was down just 1%.”

The Expensive Bills.

As if the widespread outages were not enough, electricity prices went through the roof after the power grid’s near-catastrophic collapse.  The consequences played out before our eyes as Texas metropolitan areas were plunged into darkness and residential electricity prices surged to unbelievable heights. The reliance on and demand for natural gas exposed a major vulnerability: the distribution methods of natural gas to homes experienced extensive damages to pipelines and facilities from the extreme weather conditions. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that during the same time period as the winter storms in Texas, natural gas made up about 35 percent of the power generation mix in the U.S. lower 48 states, with other fuels providing 65 percent.

A story by Quartz explains how the lack of infrastructure investment impacted the wholesale electricity price surges across the state of Texas, “At times, the gap between demand and supply widened to about 30 gigawatts (just under half the state’s peak demand) as Texas grid operators scrambled to avoid damaging equipment that could have left the state in the dark for months. That shortfall sent electricity prices soaring 10,000%.”

For many Texans whose energy bills are normally in the neighborhood of $100, the post-winter storm price tags are simply too much. But why? Energy expert, Dr. Dave Tuttle of UT-Austin, told reporters at KXAN that understanding the difference and fluctuation between the wholesale and retail markets will help to better understand the prices, “Providers, like Austin Energy for example, buy energy from the ERCOT market, then provide it to their customers at a rate stabilized by financial “hedges” and long-term contracts — to prevent customers from being exposed to the volatility of the wholesale market.” reads the report.

The investigation into price hikes continues by saying, “People are able to ‘shop the market’ and choose their electric provider. In those cases, customers’ specific plans are the key to their bill: fixed rate plans provide a similar stability, while variable rate plans are more closely tied to the up’s and down’s of the wholesale market.”

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The Next Steps.

The Texas polar vortex, generational winter storm or any other appropriate name has led to significant criticism of the power supply management and distribution by utility companies and grid operators in Texas like ERCOT.

Bills and blackouts have many Texas residents looking for an independent, self-reliant alternative: home solar power.

Grid_Independence

Free Yourself from the Grid and the Electric Company

There’s good reason to believe that solar panels and backup batteries are the next wave in energy independence and reliability. Your energy is entirely within your control. You produce it. You use it. Then, you repeat it — no utility company necessary. Even your extra energy is stored for later use.

Freedom from the grid and a full range of control of your energy, means that you won’t be left in the dark and cold should another winter storm sweep in. You’re also protected from rising rates, rolling blackouts and unexpected maintenance outages, each year.

Backup Against Blackouts with Solar Batteries

If you live in an area prone to natural disaster, a backup battery is just what you need to free your reliance on the grid and costly gas-powered generators. A solar battery can keep your home powered when the rest of your block loses power, even under normal situations like routine outages.

This is especially important when homes that operate essential equipment cannot have interruption of medical equipment, risk to small children or even homes in extreme climates that need heat and AC to keep occupants comfortable.

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Tesla Powerwall
Tesla Powerwall 2:

Powerwall is a battery that stores energy, detects outages and automatically becomes your home’s energy source when the grid goes down.

Unlike gasoline generators, Powerwall keeps your lights on and phones charged without upkeep, fuel or noise. Pair with solar and recharge with sunlight to keep your appliances running for days.

Read: Is the Tesla Powerwall worth it?

 

 

 

Enphase Encharge
Enphase Encharge 10:

The Encharge 10™ all-in-one AC-coupled storage system is made up of three base Encharge 3™ storage units; providing a total usable energy capacity of 10.1kWh and twelve embedded grid-forming microinverters.

Connect multiple Encharge 10 storage systems to maximize backup potential for whole home backup.

Read: Is the Enphase Encharge solar battery right for you?

 

 

 

Solar Offers Resilient, Reliable and Affordable Energy

 

Home Solar Panel Installation

Whether it’s a winter vortex in Texas, massive hurricanes in Florida or rampant wildfires in California, natural extreme weather disasters are causing more states to address the growing need for more resilient and more cost-effective energy options.

In response, most states have generous solar incentives for homeowners to save on their switch to solar energy. These include the federal solar tax credit, state-wide net metering, and local and utility incentives.

Read more about the different solar incentives out there.

Of course the environment loves clean, renewable solar power, but it’s equally as fantastic for the everyday homeowner in terms of savings and energy independence.

Unlike rising electricity costs from the traditional electricity grid, your future energy costs with a rooftop solar installation powering your home are predictable and future-proofs your home’s energy.

With federal incentives, local incentives and statewide rebate programs contributing toward your solar installation, owning your energy through solar is more affordable than ever.

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Find out how much you can save with Sunpro Solar