The Commercial One-Two No-Lights-Out Punch: Solar with Natural Gas Generator
Many businesses already have natural gas connections for heating or backup generators. Not only are whole cities piped-in at once, it has also been a popular alternative source of energy for over a century. Natural gas is great for providing heat and powering a local electric generator, however another major advantage is that it doesn’t go out with the municipal power lines and usually isn’t at risk during a storm. This is especially important for businesses that may otherwise be ‘stranded’ when bad weather strikes during the work day. When paired with solar and battery storage, a building’s critical loads can stay operational with the combined power of both the sun and natural gas, both saving on fuel and allowing the company to stay open and continue making money.
The equipment and planning you’ll need will depend on where your business is physically located, what kind of industry you’re in, and what your primary goal is when a disaster does occur.
Preparing Your Business for Power Outages
What kind of plan does your business have for bad weather and power outages? It is the job of managers and business owners to not only have an accessible fire-escape but also know what to do in the event of tornados, snow-ins, and power outages during the work day. You need to know where your light will be coming from, if Internet connection should still be available and how much work you can theoretically get done while the storm blows over and the grid is repaired. You also need to know if and when to send people home for the day.
While it may be unpleasant to think about, don’t forget the possibility that employees may become stranded in your building. With a supply of flashlights, blankets, and energy bars stashed in a closet, you can be somewhat prepared for a short duration outage. With laptops and charged external batteries, you can get a little work done. With internal power generation, you can even stay open for business, with employees enjoying the same level of comfort as normal.
The One-Two Punch of a Blackout-Free Business
Except in cases where the building itself is in danger, it is possible to stay operational during a short duration power outage. The lights might not even flicker as the city power comes back on and the system transfers back to normal operation. If you already have natural gas, you are in the perfect position to run a generator and keep the lights on during an outage. With the addition of solar panels and batteries, you can generate a very useful amount of free power during the day while natural gas provides a ready source of power 24/7. With two virtually uninterruptable power sources, it will become extremely unlikely that your building will ever experience another blackout, meaning that you can keep your equipment and productivity operational, and even keep your venue’s doors open to customers when the rest of the area is dark with the damaged grid.
The Sun Keeps Shining
The reason this system works so well is that it’s nearly impossible to stop either solar power or natural gas from flowing the way it always has, and even more unlikely to lose both. If you have solar panels, they will produce power when the sun is out because that’s how solar panels and the sun work. With a hybrid grid tied solar system, you don’t need operational grid power to collect energy from solar and then run it through your business building during an outage. When the grid is operational the system is offsetting energy consumption and paying for itself in avoided utility costs.
Natural Gas is Weather-Proof
Natural gas, on the other hand, is supplied in a line to your building, but the line is buried underground rather than suspended above the ground on high wooden poles. This means that the natural gas you already have cannot be hit by a storm or local disaster the same way. A truck hitting a ‘telephone’ pole can’t bring down your natural gas connection and neither can a strike of lighting. This means that even in the worst weather conditions where people’s power from the grid is most certainly going out, you could be sitting cozy in your office with your team safe and sound inside still working without potentially incurring a large loss, and because the solar and batteries power the base load, natural gas consumption can be significantly reduced during the outage event.
Setting Up Your Micro-grid
To get your completely blackout-proof system started, the first thing you’ll want to do is build a micro-grid. A micro-grid is essentially the term for operating your building temporarily off-grid using multiple backup power types rather than relying on the grid. This is mostly an alternate wiring configuration in which the building’s critical loads disconnect from the main grid and begin powering the lights and outlets with the power available from your alternate sources. This entire process can be automatic.
Hooking Solar to the Microgrid
If you hook up solar panels to a micro-grid, during the day the panels will back-feed the building’s utility service, directly lowering utility bills via net-metering. Of course, you also want a plan for when the sun isn’t available because of evening or clouds.
To handle your need for power storage as well as a way to use clean power when the sun is not out, you’ll need a bank of batteries. During normal operation, the solar keeps the batteries topped up and ready. Surplus energy then directly lowers the electric bill.
Setting Up Your Natural Gas Generator
Now we’ll discuss the benefits of also setting up a natural gas generator for your business in addition to solar panels. As we mentioned earlier, natural gas is virtually impossible to interrupt because of the underground lines. However, rather than simply setting up a natural gas stove in the break room (though you can and this would not get in the way of your power contingency plans), our focus here will be on a natural gas generator in combination with solar power.
Generators run on a lot of different fuel types depending on the model you choose and natural gas is by far one of the cleanest available. Natural gas generators give you a fantastic backup to the power grid and can assist with the variable generating capacity of the sun during an outage. With a generator combined with a solar/battery storage system, the generator only gets turned on and loaded when more power is needed than the solar/battery can supply, therefore using less gas than you’d otherwise need during an outage. If your solar/battery system is large enough, it may only need to run at night or during cloudy weather.
Another interesting benefit of installing a natural gas line is your opportunity to lower your electricity burden by splitting energy sources between appliances that can run on gas and those that must be electric, allowing you to create a more economical micro-grid. A stove in the break room, for instance, can be powered by natural gas but so too can hot water. For heating purposes while islanded from the grid, nothing beats natural gas in cost and efficiency. In the cold months, you can also be certain that your power supplies won’t be too badly sapped by keeping the building warm if you have a dual-fuel or backup furnace that runs on natural gas instead of electricity. The solar/battery system can provide the necessary power for the furnace controls and blowers.
The Sustainable Black-Out Proof Solution
There’s no denying that the business world in response to public demand has started to rapidly change the way we see and interact with power. There are a lot of backup plans to protect from power outages including large propane or diesel backup generators as you might find in a factory or hospital. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more sustainable business continuity solution than combining a solar-powered micro-grid with an un-interruptible supply of natural gas. Between solar generation and batteries and natural gas in a backup generator and HVAC furnace, your business is now significantly hardened against any kind of power-based problems and extra eco-friendly to boot. In addition, there are multiple Federal tax incentives for the renewable portion of your backup power system.
To discuss outage-proofing your business, contact us today! mtvSolar specializes in automated backup systems consisting of solar, batteries and generators, and has installed more of them in our local area than any other contractor.