Thinking about backup power

The New York Times reports that post-Sandy “a chimpanzee could sell generators by the truckload.” From their story on the disaster-preparedness economy:

Ms. Giangeruso, who notes that last year, after the “Snowtober storm” on Halloween, her house was powerless for six days. “If we are talking in the neighborhood of $6,000, it is worth every dollar. If I could get it right now, I’d write a check,” she says. “The wives in this area don’t want jewelry for Christmas. They want generators.”

I was curious why this article didn’t mention renewables as a backup at all. Unlike generators, they can be used in non-emergency times to offset some of your utility costs. They also don’t require you to have a large tank (or pipe) of fossil fuel on-site at all times in case of power outage.

On Amazon, you can know purchase a 255 watt solar panel for $334. A 75 ah heavy duty battery will cost you $200. If I’m doing my math correctly, two of these batteries could run an efficient refrigerator for almost two days. You’d never have to worry about your mobile phone (a modern lifeline) running dry.

Given my household’s usage, just four solar panels would offset 30% of our annual electricity usage. A very rough ballpark estimate puts the installed cost, with batteries, at $4,000. Using current electricity prices, that system would have a 23 year payback without rebates, and 8 years with Xcel and federal rebates. Peace of mind during extended outages (however rare) should also add some value.

Depending on your willingness to accept risk, $4,000 or so for such a system might make sense. Does it make sense for a utility? Many mobile data/phone providers are starting to back up their towers with batteries specifically in response to emergency outages. New Jersey also apparently has 200,000 solar panels installed on utility poles throughout the state. Certainly large installations like this could have a climate benefit, but do they make a dent when it comes to emergency power? It seems liked they would have to be paired with distributed battery storage and some way to curtail per-unit usage in an affected area (no plasma screens during emergencies).

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/CelloMom-On-Cars/100002921118166 CelloMom On Cars

    Generators:  UGH. Noisy, smelly, inefficient, potentially dangerous (carbon monoxide; part of the “inefficient”). Contributing to even more carbon emissions.  And did I mention inefficient? Yes, let us please do whatever it takes to prevent each home being outfitted with a backup generator. Better ones (gas-powered) are about $10,000 installed.  Underground power lines:  $1million per mile.  So where there are more than 100 homes per mile, it’s cheaper to put the power lines underground.  More efficient, too.