Beating Blackouts: 4 Levels Of Home Battery Backup

Home battery blackout capabilities

If you have solar panels and are keen on getting a home battery for blackout protection, make sure you get the right one – and it’s correctly installed.

Blackouts in the suburbs of Australia’s major cities are reasonably rare and short-lived – mostly. A recent exception to the rule was/is in South Australia where severe weather has been creating havoc with electricity supplies. Severe weather events are expected to become more frequent and have greater impacts as a consequence of climate change and increasing population1.

It’s understandable some households with solar power systems are thinking more about getting a home battery to protect against blackout situations. But looking at various comments on media coverage regarding SA’s blackouts indicates some home battery owners were shocked to discover their energy storage systems were of no use during the event.

Solar Battery Blackout Capabilities

Seeing the confusion in the past over home backup, SolarQuotes founder Finn Peacock2 put together descriptions of the various levels of battery capabilities. Briefly, the four levels are:

  • Level 0 – No backup capabilities whatsoever. In a blackout, you’ll be in the same boat as your neighbours.
  • Level 1 – Some backup, but with reduced battery capabilities.
  • Level 2 – Provides backup with full functionality; but the battery system can’t charge from rooftop solar panels during the blackout event.
  • Level 3 – Full battery functionality, and you can charge your batteries from your solar panels while the mains grid is out of action.

Not understanding or being aware of the differences are among the top mistakes when buying a home battery.

But even with an energy storage solution capable of “Level 3” backup, care should be taken in how it’s implemented and used. What’s known as “whole of house” backup can be problematic if you’re not aware a blackout has occurred and using electricity per normal; draining the battery faster than you otherwise might.

In the scenario of a blackout that starts during the day – and if it’s a day where conditions for solar energy generation haven’t been great – a household could find itself also in the dark at night. This is why it can be wise to only have the backup powering important circuits.

As home energy storage is a big financial outlay and a purchase you’ll be living with for a long time, it’s important to know exactly what capabilities a battery has in a blackout situation and that the prospective supplier/installer understands your requirements. This should all be in writing as part of a contract.

Learn more about the 4 levels of home battery backup and what you should be asking for, plus other important advice on buying a home battery. Additionally, SQ’s popular solar battery comparison page identifies home energy storage solutions that are “off-grid capable”.

If you’re looking for installers who understand battery installation and can help you keep the lights (and other appliances) on during a blackout event, SQ can help with solar/battery quotes.

Footnotes

  1. More of us = more people impacted.
  2. The photo used in this article shows Finn’s house during a blackout event a few years ago – the lights are still on thanks to a battery system with off-grid capabilities.
About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Gary Harris says

    Hi Michael,
    With going off grid, ie roof panels with sufficient battery storage. Do you know if the power companies will still charge a supply fee for having the lines out front. I have emailed my local politicians and power supply company and they say they will get back to me. Unfortunately they never reply. I have the roof panels and considering getting battery storage. It may not be much use if I still have to pay a supply fee that I will not use.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Hi Gary, Ronald here.

      While Councils can charge higher rates for “improved” land, there’s no charge for having power available in the area and not being connected that I am aware of. As a lot of privatization has gone on in the electricity sector it would be difficult to force property owners to give money to a private company in return for the unwanted opportunity to buy something from them. That said, I do recommend remaining connected to the grid so you can benefit from sending your surplus power into the grid.

  2. Trevor Rowe says

    I have a SolarEdge system consisting of 19 Q cell panels, with optimisers installed in June 2021.
    I would like suggestions for a battery system which would allow future use of an electric vehicle, which may include vehicle to home or grid capability.
    What are your thoughts about this idea? Also, as your recent article discusses, charging of the battery during a blackout.

  3. George Kaplan says

    It’s not just more of us = more impacted, there’s also more people opting for previously uninhabited\uninhabitable (flood\bushfire) areas then whining about climate change when completely predictable disaster strikes.

    If councils regulated development according to Australia’s climate i.e. no building low properties in flood areas, no building burnable houses in bushfire areas, there would be less issues, but developers like cheap land, politicians like generous developer donations, and most people dislike spending tonnes of money on building a new home.

    My own council has zoned several area for residential development that I personally saw go underwater earlier this year. When they’re built on, flooded out, and their new owners complain about climate change, they’ll get no sympathy from me because those areas are flood plains and locals have known that for decades!!! Note council maps do recognise some of the flood area is flood prone, but not all, and that’s not likely to dissuade developers!

  4. Bruce Challoner says

    I have solar system installed and thinking of battery backup, especially if electricity prices soars. I presently have a UPS in place for a few hours of backup for my internet. What happens to the UPS if I get batteries for my solar with a power failure? Does the UPS become obsolete under these circumstances?

    • Peter Pfennig says

      I have battery backup for my solar system and ended up having it power the whole house in a blackout, figuring at the time id just make sure not to use the Air con. However, on the few occasions we’ve had a blackout in the area I’ve encountered an unexpected problem.
      Unless I catch the slight flicker of lights, I can’t tell that I have an outage at all.

      While it hasn’t been a problem so far, I guess I really should have had some key power runs excluded…

      • I have a UPS that beeps during a power outage, when my Powerwall system is feeding my whole house. (I opted to do the whole house). It must get a slightly different quality of power and sends an alarm out, its weird but useful to detect an outage.

  5. Martin Turner says

    During the recent 2-3 day blackout here in South Australia Tesla were instructed by the authorities to knobble the ability of Tesla Powerwall owners with a suitably configured system to charge from solar during the blackout.

    I ended up running for 2 days on the Powerwall and then switching to a generator to power the house through the last day of the blackout.

    The argument given was that all systems were switched off to avoid destabilizing the grid after the SA-Victoria link went down. The question has to be asked…why prevent Powerwall owners charging their batteries from their PV system when both systems are isolated from the grid and they’re not feeding anything into same?

    • Was that only the Powerwall owners that are connected to the special “local grid” setup or whatever its called? I opted out of that when setting up, I think they offer better feed in rates etc.
      I too am interested in an answer to your question, I worry about Tesla and their ability to shut me down if they so choose. I recently learned they have a 3g connection built into the system so I cant just disconnect the wifi to block them if I was paranoid enough to wish to do so.

      • Martin Turner says

        All Powerwalls configured to charge from PV during a grid blackout and connected to Tesla were disallowed from doing so.

        My system is on a three phase power supply. The house is on one phase and the battery is on the same phase. My PV system has Enphase microinverters and during a black out the battery should continue to charge from the 1/3 of the microinverters that are connected to the same phase as the battery.

        My understanding is that a Powerwall is linked to Tesla via wifi but there is a 3G system built into the PW which is a fall back for comms if the wifi goes down (which it did during the blackout).

  6. Why is wind generation not included with solar panels??

    • Ronald Brakels says

      People in towns and cities generally can’t install micro wind turbines and in rural areas they’re not a cost effective option compared to adding more solar and batteries. As solar and batteries will continue to fall in price, I don’t see this changing any time soon.

  7. We are looking at adding batteries, but concerned by the ACCC recall for the LG battery. Any idea whether it is a unique issue for LG or will affect other brands using similar engineering.

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