Palm Beach FL - Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma knocked out electricity to millions of Floridians, as well as people in Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas last week. At the outage peak on Sept. 11, 7.8 million utility customers were in the dark.
What about those with solar systems on their homes? Were they also without power?
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Yes. The vast majority of solar systems are what’s known as “grid-tied.” If the power goes out, the photo-voltaic system automatically disconnects. If the grid has no power, the solar system has no power, experts say.
Even if the sun is shining, the panels will not generate power.
Alissa Jean Schafer, solar communications and policy manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, explained in a recent blog that the standard, grid-connected solar system cannot necessarily be counted on to replace the power grid if you are without power after a storm.
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“If the grid goes down, your solar panels are ‘down’ as well, not providing any electricity to you. If you’re not sure what kind you have, they are probably connected to the grid,” Schafer wrote.
“The biggest reason for this shutdown is safety. As soon as possible after the grid goes down in a hurricane or tropical storm, power companies get to work trying to bring it back on, that means hundreds, or even thousands, of workers and emergency response teams are performing hands on work on power lines in affected areas. If residential solar panel systems are connected to the grid and generating power, this poses an electric shock risk to any worker. Incorrectly connected generators pose the same risk and come with warnings not to connect to the grid,” Schafer said.
If you have a rare off-grid system, complete with a battery back-up, then it would work, Schafer said.
Of course, even when the grid is working fine, solar systems only produce power when the sun is shining.