VERIFY: Can solar users access panels when power grid is out?

We get the truth from energy experts.

It's been the topic of multiple headlines across the web, a question of whether solar panel users can access their panels when the power grid is out.

Some sites even claim that the owners are unable to use their solar power because of state regulations prohibiting them.

To verify the true answer, WTSP's Jason Puckett spoke to representatives from Duke Energy, TECO and FPL as well as Brett Emes, the owner of SEM power.

Emes said the claim is just wrong.

"That's totally untrue," he said. "The only thing that blocks a homeowner from generating power during an outage is grid equipment."

According to Emes, who installs solar systems across the region, most solar systems are set up to use the grid as their outlet. Panels constantly generate power from sunlight only when they have somewhere for that power to go. Typically that power flows back into the grid and users receive a credit towards their usage.

When the grid goes down, however, the solar systems are signaled to shut down until the grid comes back up. Not only would there be no outlet for the generated power, the electricity flowing back into the system could backfeed lines that power employees are working on.

"When the grid is operating," Emes said, "The grid is like a big battery. The solar panels can send power back to the grid when needed to and pull power back when needed to."

TECO, Duke Energy and FPL all agreed. They clarified that solar panel users can run their systems off grid but would need extra equipment to do so.

TECO sent the following statement:

Any issues or “restrictions” would be related to technology, not regulatory. If a customer’s solar system is connected to the power grid, it requires power from the grid to be operable. Inverters shut down when the power grid goes down.

If the array has batteries, it can operate while the grid is down when isolated.

Duke Energy sent the following:

The National  Electric Code and IEEE Standards require Distributed Generators to disconnect from the grid during outages, not Duke Energy. Private solar without battery storage relies on the power grid 24/7 to operate properly. When the grid is not available they must disconnect for safety and power quality reasons. Private solar generators, just like our customers with emergency diesel generators can design their systems to meet national codes and self-serve their energy needs during grid outages.

We verify this claim as FALSE.

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