Solar companies see surge in demand for battery storage with PG&E power shutoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- There is growing demand for a device designed to keep power on during PG&E shutoffs.

Local solar energy companies report a surge in interest surrounding solar panels and power banks.

When the grid goes down during a power shutoff, so do solar systems. Unless a homeowner has additional technology, they'll be out of luck and light.

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San Francisco-based Sunrun has Brightbox- a device that reserves energy for later use. It's charged by a connected solar system.

"In the morning, what happens is their solar system will start recharging their battery," Sunrun Senior Field Sales manager Chris Sears told ABC7 News. "So, the next day, if that power outage continues, they'll be able to power through the next night as well."

Most solar companies offer something similar. These power banks are now in high demand, since PG&E's power shutoffs are expected to be the new normal.

"We actually had several hundred homes that were able to power through all these events," Sears explained. "And keep their lights, and televisions, and refrigerators on."

Sears told ABC7 News solar alone goes down with the grid as a safety precaution.

"It's done to prevent that energy from being sent back to the grid and electrocuting a worker."

About the Brightbox storage system, Sears said he's be inundated with calls from consumers.

"Locally, we've had more interest about Brightbox, our battery storage system, as we work through these outages," he explained.

Sears said the amount of reserved power depends on the customer and their energy usage.

"We back up the primary sources in their home," Sears said. "So they'll be able to keep their refrigerator going, keep their lights on, keep the TV going for the kids, and really power through the outage."

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Sears said the outages show that customers are vulnerable to the grid they're connected to. He said the solar energy industry is trying to remedy that.

When asked about the process of getting solar panel systems installed, Sears explained, "That all depends on the area they live in. Some building departments in cities take longer than others."

He said the process is different across the South Bay, as he described the City of San Jose as being "very pro-solar."

Sears said Sunrun has worked with San Jose Clean Energy to implement projects. With the help, Sears said installation could take between 30 to 90 days.

Under a different provider, resident Dennis Taylor said he and his wife opted for battery storage about a year and a half ago.

"We were offered the option," he described. "Since we're up here in a kind of remote area up on the hillside, and we have more frequent power failures, we thought it would be a good idea to have the battery storage to provide our needs during those power failures."

They live in a remote area in the East Foothills of San Jose. The recent power shutoffs should've left the Taylor's in the dark. He was impacted in two power shutoffs.

"Last time we made it all the way through the night. The lights, and the refrigerator and the freezer and everything were on all night until the sun came out in the morning and then the solar came back on," Taylor described.

"So, we were 24 hours off the grid basically. It was very good."

The 31 solar panels atop Taylor's roof are starting to be the norm for many neighbors. Some sat in the dark, while Taylor reveled in reserved energy.

He said his system gives him peace of mind.

"This way, I don't have to drive down to the valley as often," he said. "I can stay up here and not be concerned that things are going to spoil in the refrigerator, or that it's going to get too cold."

"On average, throughout the year, our system takes care of our electric bill just about entirely," Taylor added. "We pay for the gas of course, and maybe just a little bit for electric if I use a lot of power tools and so on."

He continued, "More people are installing it all the time. I think it's the look of the future to stay off the grid when necessary."

For the latest stories about PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoff go here.
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