Precautionary electricity blackouts are now a standard of Golden State living. Designed to help prevent wildfires, the outages also prevent your freezer from freezing, your lights from lighting, and your air conditioner from cooling. In response, citizens across California are taking power-generation into their own hands—and those hands are full of options.
Residential solar power has grown more affordable in the past decade. As a result, California is home to one million solar roofs, and solar installers report that as many as 40 percent of their customers want to pair their system with a reserve battery. It’s not just Californians with solar panels who are looking into backup energy sources. Generac, the leading brand in home generators, recently reported that California sales were three times higher than a year ago.
There’s a reserve-energy appliance for just about everyone and every budget—from ultra-modern, wall-mounted intelligent battery systems to portable rumblers that will power a lone refrigerator. It’s important to understand the differences between the types of residential reserve power. Generators run on fuel, namely diesel, propane, or natural gas. Batteries run on electricity stored in your home, often from solar energy. The size and type of generator or battery a home might need depends on energy use, the frequency with which the consumer wants to tap that backup, and what they intend to keep running during an outage.
Generators are less expensive than batteries, but they are louder and require fuel, and they will likely need more maintenance. Batteries have a much higher up-front price and over time will lose their ability to retain maximum power, but they’re quiet and environmentally friendly, and in some cases they allow for a federal tax credit. Installed devices require permitting, and you’ll need the green light from your local utility company to set up a home battery system. None of the options we look at here will be able to power a medium-size home full-time, all the time. But all of them can save your frozen favorites—at least for a few hours.
Base cost: $12,029 plus installation
The Sonnen Eco 5kWh is the high-end power-storage system distinguished by its phosphate-based battery. Unlike the more common nickel-manganese-cobalt batteries used by competitors, phosphate is not flammable. When paired with a solar system, this indoor-only battery can power a typical house for days, not hours.
Base cost: $1,699
Orison bills itself as the first self-installable home battery system, which is a big selling point, as battery installation can run into the five figures. In fact, both battery versions—the wall-mounted and the standing tower—plug right into your home’s basic electrical outlet. Owners control the battery via a mobile app, using either solar energy or power from the electrical grid when rates are low. Though the Orison unit can power only one individual circuit of a home when the grid is down, larger and more complex batteries can be hardwired into multiple circuits. At press time, there were waiting lists for both models of the Orison.
Base cost: $5,000 plus installation
The LG RESU (Residential Energy Storage Unit) models are designed to store excess energy from a home’s preexisting solar panels for use during power outages. LG backup batteries are either wall-mounted or ground-mounted, and unlike a Sonnen Eco, they can operate indoors or outdoors. Like other backup batteries, the LG RESU10H can be combined with additional RESU models to increase storage capacity.
Base cost: $6,500 plus supporting hardware and installation
Like its automotive cousin, the Tesla Powerwall is sleek and sophisticated. It’s designed to function with or without solar panels, while home batteries primarily work with a solar system. For example, two Powerwall batteries can power a 2,000-square-foot home with solar panels for seven days. Those same two Powerwalls in that same home without solar would provide energy for less than 24 hours.
Base cost: $5,149 plus installation
Large generators like the Generac Guardian connect to a home’s existing natural gas fuel supply and require professional installation. This unit can power high-energy-use items like air conditioners and major appliances to work without overloading the system. A generator of this size needs to be installed at least 18 inches away from a home; check your local planning code. The 22 kW Guardian is the middle of the line from the popular Generac brand. Other options from the Wisconsin-based company include 7.5 kW generators from $2,000 and massive 150 kW versions for $30,000.
Base cost: $939
Weighing in at just under 29 pounds, the handheld Honda can power a small appliance or a few lights for about seven hours on a little over half a gallon of unleaded gasoline. For those seeking enough juice for microwaved meals, watching DVDs, or charging a cell phone—and little else—during a power outage, a small portable generator like this will work just fine.
Beth Spotswood is Alta’s digital editor.