As above-100 temperatures put stress on the Texas electricity grid this summer, many Texans are scouting for ways to prevent outages at their homes in case of a power failure.
Several generator and solar technologies can help keep the power on at home during emergencies or rolling blackouts, and some equipment is available at the local hardware store and can provide electricity right away. But generators and solar panels don’t come cheap. Costs range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.
Given the consequences of a widespread outage, for many people, the investment is worth it. The concern became acute after millions of people lost power for days in February 2021, and more than 240 people died as a result of the winter storm.
“When you run out of power or power goes out a couple of times and you lose $600 dollars worth of food, or you have oxygen machines, it’s kind of worth the investment, who knows when power is going to go out?” said Welmon Mays, a district general manager for North Texas-based Elliot’s Hardware.
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Mays with Elliot’s Hardware, said he saw a significant increase in the number of people asking for portable generators at retail storefronts after the winter storm in 2021.
Before the storm, Mays said two to three people per week who would ask staff about portable generators.
“Now you’re seeing seven or eight people coming in a week, once they’ve heard on the news that there could be possible power outages,” Mays said. “So you see them coming in looking at them to prepare just in case it does happen.”
Fuel-powered portable generators can provide electricity to keep the air conditioner on for about four to five hours, depending on the size of the fuel tank and the wattage requirements for appliances, Mays said. These generators should not be used indoors or in closed spaces.
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Backup generators are larger, more expensive options that are installed into a home’s electric system. These typically have bigger fuel tanks and can power appliances like air conditioners and ovens for longer periods of time. Some backup generators can be powered by natural gas.
Prices can range in the hundreds of dollars for portable generators, depending on the brand. Backup generators can range from several thousand dollars to more than $10,000, Mays said, adding that homeowners also need to pay for installation. Maintenance costs for both types of generators are minimal, he said.
Although he thinks portable and backup generators could be worthwhile investments, Mays agreed that they are limited by the amount of fuel that someone is able to supply to power the machines during emergencies.
The benefit of turning to a solar system for back-up is that the panels will generate electricity throughout the year, not just during a grid emergency. The downside is the cost of a system that can provide power during a grid outage.
The Texas Comptroller’s office estimates that about 210,000 Texas homes use solar power.