I begin my book The Battery Powered Home with a story based on actual events that illustrates the compounding factors leading to a family who left their home during an extended power outage- even though they had an energy storage system (ESS) installed previously that year. Here is the excerpt followed by the 3 compounding failures. The rest of my book explains how to prevent this from happening to you! I am also going to share something that isn't in the book that digs a little deeper into this anecdote.
Robert and Carol Beckett were sitting with their two young children in the dark. Through the living room window drapes, they could see the culprit of their power outage—the faint orange glow of a wildfire only 20 miles away. The winds were in their favor for the time being, and they were safe. It had been another 100-degree day in the Sacramento Valley, and without air conditioning, the house had reached an uncomfortable 90 degrees. But they dared not open the windows since the soot and smell of the wildfire would quickly enter the house.
Robert used his cell phone sparingly, turning it off when not in use, but Carol kept hers on for fire alerts.
The faucets still worked for now. Carol quickly opened the refrigerator only when necessary. She finally found the old handheld can opener since the electric one was useless. Robert lit candles and used his old camping lantern when walking around the house. There were a thousand different ways the Becketts would have liked to have begun their weekend, and this was not one of them. Then, an alert came through on Carol’s phone.
The power outage was estimated to last another four days.“How can this be?” Robert lamented. “We spent over $20,000 on these batteries, and here we are in the dark. I just don’t get it. That salesperson said we would be able to make it through a power outage, but we didn’t even make it a day.” Robert had a severe case of buyer’s remorse. He would call the installer first thing Monday morning since he couldn’t get anyone on the phone over the weekend.
“Pack it up. Grab all the food you can. We’ll find a motel.”
As the Becketts drove off, Robert looked at his house with resentment. He saw the night sky’s orange reflect off their rooftop solar array. “Piece of shit.”
Although the utility power had been out for about 24 hours, the Becketts had had power in their home until eight hours ago. Someone had sold them a battery system that was supposed to provide power during an outage so their lives could go on with minimal impact. Which they did until the Becketts prematurely emptied their battery. It wasn’t the battery’s fault. It wasn’t the solar array’s fault. In the end, it was the Becketts’ fault. But the solar company that sold the Becketts on disaster resilience had some responsibility to bear as well.
The 3-Point Sermon
I feel like I am preaching since often I talk about these three factors that contribute to a deeply discharged, perhaps unrecoverable, battery. I touch on two of them in the last paragraph.
The homeowners did not fully understand how their energy storage system worked.
The installation company did not properly set the homeowner's expectations of their new ESS.
Here is the third factor that I did not discuss in my book:
3. The battery manufacturer did not offer an easy way to recharge a fully discharged battery.
Let's briefly look at each of these failures as a solution.
Point 1: Lack of education and training
After talking to the customers and reading the follow-up service notes, it was apparent that they did not read the user guide that came with their system (RTFM). They did not understand the operating modes, charging and discharging behavior, or even how to read the state of charge of their $20,000 investment.
However, the most damning element that contributed to the deep discharge and subsequent system shutdown was the hot tub party they decided to have 2 days into a 7-day outage. Hot tubs are energy hogs and had the Beckett's known this perhaps they would have adjusted their loads a little differently.
Point 2: Lack of customer expectation management
The main point of contact with the homeowner/purchaser of the ESS is probably the salesperson. Unfortunately, most salespeople do not know much more about the product than the datasheet or a premade marketing-generated sales sheet with salesy sounding talking points. It was also apparent that this company, regardless of who was responsible for customer education, failed.
Point 3: Limited product features
There were 2 main issues associated with this particular ESS that allowed the deep discharge of the batteries. First, this model did not offer generator support. This is a point of contention in our industry- combining a green energy solution with a dirty gas-guzzling generator. Although there are many considerations for this extra piece of equipment- HOA approval, fuel supply, ESS compatibility, etc., it just makes sense to have a backup power supply in case your solar cannot produce enough energy to fill your batteries- poopy weather, wildfire soot, etc.
The second issue was the ESS manufacturer only allowed their own qualified service people to recharge the lithium-ion battery bank. The installers and homeowners were not allowed to do this, for fear of overcharging the batteries and subsequently damaging them. So, you had to wait for one of the ESS manufacturer's service people to fly out to your site to charge the batteries. Not convenient. Not sustainable. Not tolerable by anyone who has to sit in the dark watching their freezer full of venison and elk meat expire.
So there you have it! To find out how to prevent these three things from happening to you, please click on
this link and grab your copy of The Battery Powered Home: Foolproof Grid Tied Lithium Storage.
Thank you for reading!