One of the most frustrating questions to encounter when talking to homeowners about the merits of going solar is, “what happens when the power goes out?” This question, which is often phrased more as a statement with an inflection at the end – “the system works when the power goes out?” – can kill a deal and is a terrible limitation of most grid-tied solar systems. When the grid goes down most inverters disconnect in order to avoid sending potentially deadly electricity into the power lines while somebody is working on them.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, people are asking themselves what they can do to lessen their reliance on centralized systems for their electricity, heat and transportation needs. As climate change brings the potential for more intense and frequent extreme weather events, the desire for alternative energy options is becoming more prevalent. Few experts doubt that the energy regime of the future will bear little resemblance to our current system, but what technologies are available and economically viable today?