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What Is Backup Power and Why Is It Important?

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Power outages can range from a mild inconvenience to a life-or-death challenge–and unfortunately, they’re becoming more common and more severe. If you’re worried about the power grid’s reliability, a backup power system may be exactly what you need. 

You can design your system for various uses and budgets for everyone from the suburban homeowner to the remote mountain cabin resident. Let’s take a closer look.

apartments in city with lights and power on

What Is Backup Power?

If you’re like most people living in a traditional home or apartment, you’ll draw your power from the electrical grid that your local power company maintains and operates. This is your primary source of energy. 

But what happens when electrical systems aren’t working? Perhaps a wire has shorted out or you’ve overloaded the system. That’s where backup power comes in. Backup power generally refers to various electrical systems that keep the lights on when your primary power fails. They also power appliances and devices you might need during an outage. The energy sources you could use include battery backups, solar power, wind power, or portable or fixed generators. We’ll look closer at each of these options below.

How Does Backup Power Work?

Depending on the type of system you’re using, backup power can work in several ways. The most basic systems may require you to set up a generator or at least turn one on. Meanwhile, high-end and advanced backup power may kick on automatically, ensuring an uninterrupted power flow. 

Some backup power systems require you to add fuel periodically or have a set amount of stored battery power. Advanced systems can even produce their own energy using wind or solar.

→ Related: The Major Components of an Off-Grid Solar System

Who Uses Backup Power?

Backup power isn’t just for one type of person, business, or institution. A large and diverse group of power users need reliable backups to keep the juice flowing, even when their regular power systems are down. 

At the top of the list are the businesses or other organizations that simply can’t go without power, even briefly. These include telecom service providers who keep local communications running on electricity. There are also hospitals that rely on a steady supply of power to support everything from patient food preparation to emergency surgeries to life support machines. 

Any critical system should have backup power like electrical substations or factories, where power loss could seriously impact production or damage expensive machinery. Think also about organizations like the military, police, and fire departments. Without backup power, the people these groups serve would essentially be helpless until the electricity came back. 

Recreational users also need backup power on occasion. These include RVers, especially those who live in their rigs full-time, and liveaboard boaters, who also call their boats home. While power is generally not as urgent for RVers and boaters as for the previously mentioned groups, these folks still count on electricity. It powers their lights, helps them navigate, or even powers portable medical technology they might rely on. 

There’s also a large and growing demand for backup power for residential use. While the needs often aren’t as dire here, it can eliminate certain frustrations and expenses. Those who repeatedly deal with issues like spoiled food, inability to work, or potentially health-jeopardizing heat or cold appreciate the emergency power. Plus, with more of our leisure time spent with electronics, unreliable power can ruin a relaxing evening!

solar panels on home for backup power

Why Is Backup Power Important?

Backup power is a crucial resource for many reasons–from your comfort and convenience to your health.

Power Outages Can Be Frequent and Harmful

In 2020, the average American household didn’t have power for eight hours, double the time from just a few years ago. Many remember the massive 2003 power outage that struck much of the northeastern United States, and more recently, Texas dealt with persistent power issues in early 2021. 

Experts expect the situation to get worse. Climate change-related issues could dramatically increase heating and cooling needs. They could also strain the nation’s power infrastructure and generation capabilities. 

Uninterrupted Power Supply

While not every backup power system offers this benefit, many provide seamless power. It immediately kicks in if your central power system fails. This means you won’t be stuck in the dark or lose access to essential appliances or systems while you set up a generator. 

For medical devices, this can be a matter of life and death. It also prevents minor annoyances like resetting digital clocks or rebooting your internet routers.

Run Critical Appliances

Many can live without most of their electronics, but losing crucial appliances can be uncomfortable and frustrating at best and dangerous at worst. With a backup power system, you can keep your refrigerator and freezer running. No more unpleasant food spoilage and expensive costs of restocking it. 

In the winter, your furnace will keep you warm and fans and air conditioning will keep you cool in the summer. Those who rely on a water pump won’t worry about losing access to their well water either. Sump pumps will continue to function and help prevent indoor floods.

hands loading strawberries into a fridge

Stay Connected

Staying connected might mean scrolling social media while you wait for the power to return. Or being able to communicate with friends and relatives or call for help. In the best of situations, you can go about your normal life, making phone calls and browsing the internet whenever. In the worst, you can monitor severe weather or other events and keep in contact with loved ones.

Peace of Mind

A backup power system means you won’t be immediately inconvenienced or thrown into chaos based on the traditional power grid’s operating status. No more worrying about intense storms or supply and demand leading to electrical shortages. It’s not often you can do something so straightforward to eliminate stress regarding something we rely on so strongly.  

What Is the Best Backup Source for a Power Outage?

When putting together a backup power system, there are several options for generating electricity while your primary source of power is out. Consider your situation and the strengths and weaknesses of each when picking the best for you.

Battery Backup System

This developing technology powers some or all of your home’s electrical circuits through what’s essentially a giant battery. These systems are permanently installed into your home and are also potentially connected to the overall power grid. When not needed, they charge batteries, which can then be used when the power is out. 

A backup battery system can be expensive depending on how much energy storage you need. Since battery banks are usually used in conjunction with off-grid power generation systems, the battery bank often doesn’t have to supply all of the power all of the time. They are often sized to provide critical power during times when generation is not possible (i.e. during the night with solar systems) or to hold over critical systems while alternative generation is started.

Large home systems can cost several thousand dollars. But for many, it’s worth the cost. 

Martin Johnson pointing to his Battle Born Batteries power bank
Off-grid battery system by Off-Grid Living

Solar Generator

Solar power is becoming an increasingly popular form of backup power as systems become more affordable. They’re an excellent choice for entirely off-grid power setups, as they can continually generate power indefinitely as long as the sun shines. 

Solar generators work via a panel or array of panels that capture and convert the sun’s rays to electricity. The resulting electrical current generally passes through a charge controller before resting in battery banks for later use. 

→Find out Why LiFePO4 Makes the Best Solar Battery Storage

Depending on your power needs and frequency of use, solar systems can, unfortunately, range from moderately to extremely expensive. Keep in mind that in less sunny climates or shaded areas, you may need many panels and a huge space to set them up. 

Permanent or Fixed Generator

Generators are the most traditional form of backup power. They have a long history of keeping the lights on when the grid fails. You’ll install permanent or fixed generators outside your home and turn them on or off as needed when the power goes out. Unlike the fully sustainable solar systems we discussed, traditional fixed generators will need a fuel supply to operate. 

This may be a minor inconvenience for some. However, more remote generator setups may require difficult or frequent refueling. They often need high volumes of fuel storage on-site, too. 

Portable Generator

This is the most basic of your backup power system options but can also be the most budget-friendly. Most are familiar with small, portable, gasoline-powered generators, perhaps from camping or boating. Typically, these will offer lower generation capacity relative to permanent generators, solar generators, or battery backups. 

However, they can be an excellent option for those who occasionally lose power and don’t need extensive systems. These users will enjoy the easy operation and relatively small storage space for this basic backup power system.

green generator

How Much Backup Power Do You Need?

This is a question only you can truly answer. First, consider the application–are you just trying to keep the lights on or avoid your food spoiling at home? Are you living in an RV or on a boat? Or are you designing a system for mission-critical services like hospitals or telecom companies? 

The more crucial it is that these systems stay on, the more power you should have. That includes both generation capacity and storage capacity. 

When it comes to power usage, use simple math to find how much power you’ll need. Most electronic devices list their wattage somewhere, or you can find the information online. Add the total wattage of all the items you’ll want to use at the same time. Then multiply by the number of hours you expect to use the system and divide by 1000. This will give you a rough ballpark of the kilowatt-hours your system needs to store.  

Is It Worth Having a Backup Power System? 

A backup power system is a valuable tool, no matter who you are or what your power needs entail. Whether you want a whole-house, solar-powered battery backup system or a modest portable generator, you can find a system that works for you. 

Despite the preparation and cost, it’ll pay you back many times over while your neighbors remain in the dark! 

Want To Learn More About Electrical Systems and Lithium Batteries?

We know that building or upgrading an electrical system can be overwhelming, so we’re here to help. Our Reno, Nevada-based sales and customer service team is standing by at (855) 292-2831 to take your questions!

Also, join us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to learn more about how lithium battery systems can power your lifestyle, see how others have built their systems, and gain the confidence to get out there and stay out there.

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