Solar panels can leave consumers in the dark

Inverter backup systems provide peace of mind

When Kathy Weaver invested $35,000 into a home solar panel system two years ago, she assumed when hurricanes hit and the power company grid went down she would have power no matter what.

Much to her surprise, when the grid went down during both Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, her solar panels left her in the dark.

“In essence, I have a whole house generation system on top of my roof but I can’t access it even with my mains shut off,” Weaver told News 6.

Weaver said she wants access to the energy her rooftop panels are collecting during the day but when she called Florida Power & Light, a company representative said she needed a battery or generator backup system.

“It doesn’t make sense,”  Weaver said. “There’s got to be another way other than having batteries to be able to use the system.”

Solar energy systems are required to disconnect from a power company’s electrical grid when the power goes out.

Patrick Altier, of Ocala-based Solar Trek Inc., told News 6 anyone who purchases a solar panel system needs to make it clear that they want a power backup installed.

“There’s no transfer switch, there’s no battery system, so she (Weaver) is avoiding the kilowatt hours from the utility company," he said. 

Weaver said she likes the economic effect, averaging $10 to $49 a month for her home electric bill.

Weaver sells excess power to the power company at wholesale and the power company sells her the power she needs at retail.

What about that power outage issue? 

News 6 found three systems that complement existing solar systems: 

-Full home generators, such as those manufactured by Generac, are fueled by propane. They range from $1,995 to $9,000.

-Battery-charged inverters, which cost roughly $25,000 and can be eligble for a 30 percent tax deduction.

-Finally, a secure power supply or SPS.

The SPS inverter converts power from the existing solar panels, providing 2,000 watts from an independent outlet.

Richard Smith, of Superior Solar, said the system costs $275 installed and can handle everything from a refrigerator to a fan and computers “as long as the sun shines.”

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.