The solar-and-battery system at the home of Patrick Altier’s client is a model for resilient energy planning.
At the home north of Ocala, Florida, Solar Trek installed enough solar photovoltaic panels and battery energy storage to power the whole home, including multiple air conditioners and a charging station for two Teslas. But while the batteries are enough to power the home for about three days, Altier’s client wanted an extra insurance policy: a propane standby generator.
“The generator is that safety net” for when the sun isn’t shining, says Altier, owner and president of the central Florida company that installs solar electric systems and generators. “Let’s say there’s a storm and it hangs around longer than we anticipated. I can use that generator to charge the batteries or run the house. We’ve got several customers that fall into that group where they are concerned about long-term power.”
With battery energy storage systems becoming more popular as a way to convert clean solar power to protection against grid outages, Altier and Solar Trek have become adept at discussing the pros and cons of batteries and standby generators fueled by propane or natural gas. And in recent years, new inverter technology has enabled systems that combine the best features of both.
Advantages of generators and batteries
When Altier’s sales teams sit down with customers to talk about emergency power, the first question they ask is whether they want to be prepared for a short-term storm or a long-term grid event. To make it through a storm, a standby generator is a great choice, Altier says. For the same power output, a generator is about a quarter of the cost of an equivalent battery system.
If the customer wants to be able to operate for long periods off the grid, a solar-and-battery system might be a better choice. Solar Trek can install a system that islands the home from the grid, and the solar panels can recharge the battery when the sun is shining
Installing a system that combines both batteries and a generator used to be rare, but it became more realistic about four years ago, when Altier started working with Chilicon Power. Chilicon’s solar inverter and communications gateway allow power from the solar panels to feed through the generator to reduce the generator’s fuel consumption by up to 50 percent. A generator could also be used to recharge the battery system when weather doesn’t allow the solar to operate.
That’s the setup at Altier’s own home, which has a solar photovoltaic system with Chilicon inverters and a Generac propane standby generator. “If there’s a hurricane, I can make it in my house for about 11 or 12 days on the generator,” he says — or longer if the propane tank is refilled. Visit propane.com to learn more about how combining propane systems with renewable energy can make your projects both more resilient and more affordable.