Are Solar-Powered Batteries the Answer to Power Outages?

Article Highlights:

  • Wildfires
  • Planned Power Outages
  • Solar Batteries
  • Solar Tax Credit

Over the past few years, several wildfires have been blamed on power lines downed during periods of low humidity and gusty winds, which typically occur in the fall. The 2018 Camp Fire, sparked by downed power lines, was the deadliest in California history, claiming 85 lives and causing more than an estimated $16 billion in damages.

Wind events can last for days, and the loss of power for extended periods can result in spoiled food and other inconveniences for homeowners who lack other power sources. Planned power outages are already being implemented by some utility companies. They may become commonplace in the future, since gusty weather comes every year, and power companies must consider their financial liabilities if a downed line sparks a wildfire.

As a result, homeowners and businesses in fire-prone areas will need to be proactive in planning for these emergency power outages and decide whether they need to provide themselves alternate power sources during outages or ride out the powerless periods. Of course, alternative power sources come with a price tag, which will play into that decision.

Even if you do not live in a wildfire-prone area, you may be in an area that is susceptible to power outages and may want to consider alternative power sources during outages.

Businesses can, of course, write off the cost of providing themselves alternate power sources. Still, the tax law doesn’t allow homeowners to deduct the expenses of a generator or other outage-mitigation measures. However, one tax credit applies to homeowners who install solar power property, and that credit extends to batteries that are charged solely by solar power. (1)

Even if you only have a standard solar power system without a battery back-up, you will still lose power during an outage because of how most panels are connected to the electric grid. However, if you have a battery incorporated into your solar system, your home can run off the solar energy stored in your battery when there is a power outage.

Homeowners who already have a solar installation can add a storage battery and qualify for the solar credit for the cost of the battery. (1) Those who do not already have a solar system may want to consider the cost of installing a solar system with a battery.

Installing a solar system with a battery or adding a battery to an existing system may be a convenience item for some and worth the cost. However, the costs can be substantial, and a household’s energy needs may not justify the price of a solar system, much less the cost of a battery. Carefully consider your needs before deciding whether to invest in a solar system. Although it will not qualify for a solar credit, a battery system attached to the electric grid may be another option.

If you want to take full advantage of the solar tax credit, you need to act soon, as it is being phased out. Note that 2019 is the last year that the credit is equal to 30% of the cost of a solar system. The credit amount drops to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021, the final year of the credit. The credit is nonrefundable, which means it can only reduce your tax to zero, and any excess is carried over to the subsequent year. During periods of possible outages, keep your car’s gas tank filled, as service stations can’t pump gas without power. Keep some cash handy, since without power, your credit/debit cards will not work, and ATMs won’t be able to distribute cash. External batteries to charge cell phones will come in handy as well.

If you have questions related to how the solar credit might apply to your particular circumstances, please contact us.

(1) A battery attached to solar panels is qualified solar electric property if it’s charged only by solar energy. A software-management tool is an eligible solar electrical property where the software is necessary to monitor the charging and discharging of solar energy from a battery attached to solar panels. Earlier installations of qualifying property don’t affect the availability of the solar for qualifying property in later years. Thus, where a qualifying solar panel system was installed in Year 1, an additional solar credit could be claimed in Year 2 for the installation of a battery that was connected to the system and was qualified solar electric property. (IRS Letter Ruling 201809003)