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Using Backup Generators: Alternative Backup Power Options

Using Backup Generators: Alternative Backup Power Options

In addition to electric generators powered by fuel, homeowners and business owners may consider alternative backup power options.

  • Battery-stored backup power—Allows you to continue operating lights, refrigerators and other appliances, fans, and communications during a power outage. These systems can connect to renewable sources of energy, like solar panels and small-scale wind generators, to help the batteries stay charged during an emergency. You can also recharge many of these battery systems with diesel generators. The length of time you will be able to draw electricity from your batteries will depend on the size of your battery bank. Emergency mobile battery backup power systems can power cell phones and lights for a relatively short period of time (for example, 700−1,500 watt hours). Pre-wired solar-powered battery backup systems offer more power output for longer periods of time (example, 5,000−10,000 watt hours).
  • Solar power—Solar power can provide a portion of daily primary power as well as reliable backup power during an emergency. Solar panels, or solar modules, are typically installed on the roofs of homes or work facilities. These solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into direct current power, which is then converted by an inverter into alternating current power, or standard electrical current used in your home or office. Battery systems can recharge using solar power. As the solar panels generate energy during the day, any excess energy not used by the home or office can be stored for use at night, on rainy days, or during power outages.
  • Wind power—A small-scale wind electric system (such as residential or institutional) can help homeowners, small business owners, and public facilities generate their own energy for onsite use. A small wind turbine produces electricity from wind when moving air causes the turbine to rotate. Most small wind turbines look like a miniaturized version of the large, utility-scale, three-bladed turbines, but other models can vary widely in appearance. Wind electric systems are less widely used by the public than solar-powered systems because many municipalities do not include small wind systems in local zoning codes. This often makes permitting and installing the systems difficult and costly.
  • Fuel cells—Fuel cells are similar to batteries and can power cars, trucks, and buses, as well as portable devices such as cell phones and laptop computers. Fuel cell systems can also provide backup power to buildings and facilities. Today, fuel cells are often fueled with natural gas. They are relatively expensive. In 2005, the most widely deployed fuel cells cost about $4,500 per kW; by contrast, a diesel generator costs $800 to $1,500 per kW.
     

 

Disclaimer: Because every emergency is different, it is important for your safety that you follow the directives of your state and local emergency management authorities and local utilities. The information provided on DOE's website is intended for general informational purposes only and is not an endorsement of any particular material or service. Before engaging in any activities that could impact utility services such as electricity or natural gas, contact your local utility to ensure that the activities are done safely.

For additional emergency-planning resources, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website, ready.gov. State and local emergency management authorities and local utilities may also provide helpful guidance.