What You Need to Know Before Buying a Home Battery

By - Alex Hay
15.12.22 03:10 PM

Solar makes sense for most single family homes across America. Project Sunroof from Google showed that over 85% of homes are eligible for rooftop solar. The cost of buying your electricity, in the form of kilowatt hours (kWhs), has gone up 20% for the average homeowner since 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is why homeowners are flocking to install solar panels on their homes. They have a roof that can save money with solar. However, of all the home solar installations done in 2022, only about 28% included a battery storage component. This lack of storage is not due to a lack of interest. Surveys routinely reveal that over 80% of solar homeowners are interested in backup battery storage. So what is the problem? This question has been on the minds of solar executives everywhere. All the evidence available supports the fact that solar plus storage will improve America’s grid security and benefit homeowners, yet people just aren’t buying. There are a few key reasons for this. First, the prices are still too high for a residential battery installation. Second, the technology is developing, and isn’t quite as cost efficient as stand alone solar panels. The third and final reason is a lack of infrastructure, from the way American homes have been built and current electric code to policy and incentives. However, with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, pricing is now better than ever and will continue to improve. Is that enough to overlook the other current limiting factors? Hopefully this brief summary of the benefits and challenges of storage can help homeowners decide for themselves.

A huge amount of the cost for a home solar array with a battery right now is the installation. There is so much work that needs to be done to the typical electrical infrastructure of an average home, and so much red tape to get through with permitting and interconnection. Utility companies make it difficult to navigate the process and find ways to charge homeowners and installers more to discourage homeowners from solar and battery adoption. The new stand alone tax credit in the Inflation Reduction Act is a step in the right direction, now batteries qualify on their own for an extended 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC). However, this needs to come with change at a local level. State and local governments need to clear the way for easier access to permits, a less painful and more standardized approach to interconnection, and changes in building code that would make it easier for homes to add solar and storage to them. Right now, even though many local utilities, Homeowners Associations (HOAs), and Authority Having Jurisdictions (AHJs) are finding ways to impede homeowners from installing solar and batteries, the market continues to expand. 

Homeowners who decide on a battery right now are limited by the available technology. No one wants to pay exorbitant prices for home storage unless they are getting value. A typically 10kWh battery can only power four circuits reliably, so a typical homeowner has to decide what the four most important circuits to back up are. And within this list of four, the larger appliances and power consumers, like the AC and heat, need more power than one battery can handle. This leaves homeowners trying to decide if they want to buy more than one battery, and quickly seeing the cost of installation rise. Another big limitation is the way our homes are built, and the policies governing how our homes interact with utilities. American homes need a lot of additional electrical work to be able to separate from the grid during outages, which drives up the time of the installation and the materials needed, which in turn increases costs. The utility companies and local permit offices all work differently, and can really bog down the time to installation with unnecessary red tape. 

Homeowners who are looking into battery storage and backup along with their home solar need to weigh these options and determine if now is the right time for them. So before diving into a contract, homeowners need to make sure they find the right installation partner. A good solar installer will take the time to understand the homeowner’s goals, and help him or her weigh the pros and cons of adding energy storage against the top priorities. Hopefully this will change in the future, and adding battery backup to a home solar array is closer to 100% than 10%. But until then, homeowners need to find an installation partner that is going to put their needs first, and not try to upsell anything that may not fit with their goals. That’s not to say that homeowners who currently have solar and storage aren’t loving it, many homeowners that have solar and storage right now don’t have to throw away the food in the refrigerator or go without lights and internet during outages. It just means that with the current policies in place and technology limitations, it becomes a more difficult decision than just installing solar panels. Policy and technology will hopefully soon make all solar and storage installations a no-brainer. 

There are changes in the Inflation Reduction Act that will help with adoption, but it may not be enough to increase from 28% of solar installations to closer to 80% or 90%. To get real adoption, where American homeowners can reliably and affordably install solar and batteries, new standards need to be set for solar access. America needs a standardized approach that limits the control of regional, monopoly utility companies and old school permit offices that are slow to change on their own. This will make installation times easier and faster, saving homeowners thousands and leaving more time for installation companies to install. It will cut down on time waste and overhead for solar companies, which will allow these companies to put more resources towards attending to the needs of their previously installed customers. Cost of solar and storage could fall as much as 30% with these types of changes. Right now, solar and home storage is the right call for the average homeowner who wants to be self-sufficient and protect their energy future from ever-increasing energy prices. However, if the homeowner's top priority is to save money, it may only make sense to install solar panels and wait on the storage. If real change is made at a national level, the industry will see storage catch up to home solar installations. America will experience more grid reliance, while homeowners experience more wealth in the form of energy savings and property value increases. Change can also happen at a local level, with towns and permit offices adopting already proven solar permit standards

Alex Hay