On a snow-covered suburban street in Houston, Texas, all the houses in view are dark except for one.
It belongs to Robert Soldat, whose home is equipped with solar panels and a battery. His backup battery has delivered nearly 46 hours of energy this week, according to a mobile app that tracks its output, powering his lights, refrigerator and space heater.
“I honestly can’t imagine how unpleasant this would have been without a battery,” Soldat said.
Other Texans are getting the idea. Even as the Texas power outage fiasco continues into a fourth day, online traffic to the websites of rooftop solar companies is surging as homeowners seek independence from the vicissitudes of electricity grids during freak weather events.
EnergySage, which helps solar shoppers compare products and quotes from installation companies, said that traffic to its website from Texas is up 200% this week compared to the rest of February. The number of registrations on its site had increased 274%, and readership of its blog posts on battery storage has spiked 1200%.
It’s typical for interest in power self-sufficiency to spike in the wake of power outages and grid mishaps. In October 2019, after a spate of rolling blackouts in California in the wake of crippling wildfires, traffic to Sunrun’s website similarly spiked. Interest in rooftop solar similarly repeated itself after other grid problems caused by a record-setting number of wildfires in 2020.
“This isn’t uncommon to see during extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires,” said Nick Liberati, a spokesman for EnergySage.
To truly ensure a home still has power in the event of a blackout, solar panels aren’t enough — they need to be accompanied by a battery, according to SolarEnergyWorld. Most solar panels are grid-connected, meaning they send electricity directly to the grid and will shut down for safety purposes in the event of a blackout. Homeowners are credited for the amount of electricity their solar panels contribute to the grid.
If a home is equipped with a battery, however, then electricity can be stored up and discharged inside the home in case of emergencies. But there is a downside: cost. One popular battery, the 13.5-kilowatt-hour Tesla Powerwall, has a list price of $6,500, while installation costs can add $4,500, according to EnergySage.
Solar panels produce less electricity in the winter because of reduced daylight hours and occasional heavy snow accumulation. But their efficiency isn’t greatly affected by the cold temperatures — in fact, efficiency begins to decline when temperatures rise above 77 degrees Fahrenheit — and they can continue to absorb some sunlight even when covered with snow.