Home Electrification Series: Part Two

Home Electrification Series: Part Two

Producing and storing your own clean energy

 Photo credit: iStock.com/marchmeena29

Photo credit: iStock.com/marchmeena29

Welcome back to our Home Electrification Series! If you have not had a chance to read the first blog of the series, we encourage you to do so. It will give you some information on the major issues associated with natural gas, how California is encouraging homeowners to switch to electric appliances, and some of the benefits and incentives of making such a switch. In this second part of our series, we will be discussing going solar and powering home electric appliances with renewable energy, and the related environmental benefits. We will also go over home storage solutions, and how batteries can help one optimize their electric bills and control their utility costs.

> Moving away from fossil fuels

Once gas appliances have been switched to electric appliances, what happens next? Although the home is now equipped with safer appliances and homeowners have reduced their gas bills, the addition of electric appliances and the increase in electricity demand for the home will also escalate homeowners’ electric bills. Indeed,  natural gas rates are not the only rates that have increased, the price of electricity has been rocketing. In addition, the electricity powering the appliances remains in large part from fossil fuels, which are harmful to the environment.

The table above highlights the 2021 and 2022 California energy mix. Although the energy coming from certain thermal and non-renewable sources has slightly decreased over one year, such as coal and natural gas, it continues to represent a large percentage of our state’s energy. It is important to note that nuclear energy and large hydropower are both listed as thermal, non-renewable sources in 2021, then listed as renewable sources in 2022 in order to reflect California policies changing focus from specific renewables technologies to broader GHG emission-based technologies. This explains the important increase in total renewable sources. Solar energy has experienced the largest renewable source increase with 2.84% year over year. This demonstrates solar energy’s capacity for growth and further development as well as its ability to be implemented at a faster pace than other renewable technologies. In addition, this shows the major role solar energy can play in moving towards 100% carbon-free energy sources powering our state.

> Going solar and producing clean energy

Therefore, going solar is the next step. When converting sunlight into energy, a solar system does not release greenhouse gasses and does not produce any harmful particulates in the air. The electric appliances are then powered by a clean energy source that helps limit the effects of climate change and directly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels

Going solar also allows one to know and be in control of what flows into their electric appliances. With a solar system, homeowners are able to power their electric appliances during the day directly and instantly by the renewable energy source on their roof. For homeowners who are home most of the day and run their appliances such as the dishwasher, washing machine, or pool pump during sunny hours, they will maximize their savings and the benefits of the solar system by limiting the export of excess energy back to the grid. This way, less energy from the grid is required in the evening when the solar system is no longer producing energy, and homeowners are less vulnerable to electricity rate increases.

However, a solar system will not produce energy and will not power the appliances after sunset. A solution is to use energy from the grid using the credits accumulated during the day. This is possible through Net Energy Metering (NEM), an agreement signed between a solar customer and the utility company that governs the value of the excess solar energy exported to the grid (“export rate”). Under NEM, solar customers are able to send back to the grid the excess solar energy generated during sunny hours, collect credits in exchange for that energy, and use these credits to offset consumption at night. 

Thankfully, there is another solution to further move away from fossil fuels, even at night, and become more independent from the grid. Pairing a solar system with a grid-tied battery system will allow homeowners to store the solar energy produced during the day and distribute it when needed throughout the day, including at night.

 Photo credit: iStock.com/Flashvector

Photo credit: iStock.com/Flashvector

> Generate and distribute clean energy

When a solar system is paired with a grid-tied battery, any excess energy produced during the day can be stored and consumed at a later time to avoid pulling energy from the grid. Doing so allows one to be in control of what energy powers the home’s electric appliances all day long: either the solar energy when it is being produced, the stored solar energy from the battery, or electricity from the grid when needed. Homeowners now have the ability to generate and distribute their own clean energy.  Here is how grid-tied batteries work with a solar system:

During the day when the solar panels are producing, homeowners have the option to consume the energy right away, or to charge the battery if they do not need the energy at that time. The  energy stored in the battery will be used later in the day, when the solar panels are no longer producing electricity and the home’s electricity demand increases. If the appliances do not need to be powered, and if the battery is fully charged, one can also send excess electricity back into the grid via NEM, and earn credits from the utility.

At night when the solar panels are not producing electricity, homeowners can pull electricity from the battery which was charged during the day with excess solar production. If the battery does not have enough energy stored, one also has the option to pull energy from the grid. In that case, they would either use credits collected during the day in exchange for the excess solar energy fed to the grid, or pay each kWh at the regular rate if they do not have any credits.

It is important to note that a grid-tied battery does not have a backup function and will not protect the home against power outages. Without additional equipment such as a system controller to recognize a power outage and disconnect the solar and battery system from the grid, and a backup subpanel where essential loads are isolated, the battery alone cannot supply the home appliances. However, with a grid-tied battery less equipment is required which means a more affordable storage solution: a grid-tied battery is about 35% less expensive than a backup battery system. Nonetheless, additional equipment to create a backup function can be added to a grid-tied battery at any time.

> Control costs and optimize electric bills

Storing and distributing solar energy with a grid-tied battery has many benefits; not only are homeowners able to become much less dependent on our carbonated grid  and reduce their carbon footprint, but they are also able to control their electricity costs and optimize their bills. 

Utilities have significantly and consistently increased their energy rates (i.e. the price of the kWh) over the years and homeowners have seen their electric bills reaching extreme amounts. Having a grid-tied battery paired with a solar system will offer freedom and flexibility to consume the energy produced by the solar panels when needed, and rely on the grid only when it makes sense for the home. This way, one can become self-sufficient, independent from the grid when desired, and manage their consumption by having control of their energy use. 

The grid-tied battery also helps one optimize their electric bills by avoiding Time-Of-Use (TOU) peak rates. Discharging the battery during times of high demand, when electricity is the most expensive, will help avoid high electric bills and limit the need to pull energy from the grid, thus reducing one’s electric bills and offering protection against recurring utility rate increases. As utility costs are likely to keep increasing in the future, solar and storage customers will keep increasing their savings in avoided costs.

 Photo credit: iStock.com/Ridofranz

Photo credit: iStock.com/Ridofranz

> Takeaways

When electric appliances are powered with a solar system paired with a grid-tied battery, homeowners gain control over their energy consumption and are able to manage it to reduce both their electricity costs and their dependence on the grid. Homes designed in such a way are able to take part in reducing our overall need for fossil fuels and helping create a net-zero future.

The last step of Home Electrification is to make the home fully resilient, independent, and comfortable when the grid goes down. As we have discussed, a grid-tied battery will not provide energy when the electric grid is down. Our next blog will cover how backup batteries work, their benefits, and how they can provide more resilience and independence to homeowners.