There's an old joke about two hikers who meet a bear. The first sits down and starts putting on his running shoes. The other says, “What are you doing, you can’t outrun a bear!” and the first says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.”
It’s no joke when temperatures are below freezing, and you suddenly lose the ability to keep your home warm. The obvious moral of the story is “be prepared”, but there’s more to it than that. Neither of the hikers expected to be rescued. Their survival depended entirely upon their own efforts. The same lesson can be applied to other disasters. When hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, desperate people waited weeks for help. For many, help came too late. Like the hiker without tennis shoes, and many residents of New Orleans, most of us will not be adequately prepared for a large-scale emergency.
A large-scale emergency might be the result of a natural disaster, or perhaps an act of terrorism, and emergencies often occur with no warning. When it happens, you’ll have to make do with the system you have, not the one you wish you had. In addition to storing food and water, a small photovoltaic (PV) system can make the difference between life and death. The electricity generated by the system will make it possible to preserve and prepare food and medicine, boil water for drinking, and provide warmth. The energy is renewed each day that the sun shines, and batteries store power for use at other times.
While it is tempting to choose easy and inexpensive solutions to protect family and property, these are often inadequate or ineffective. Some choose gasoline generators to serve in the event of an electrical grid failure, but fail to keep a fresh supply of gasoline on hand. Unfortunately, gasoline may not be available locally when it’s needed the most, and it’s not practical to store a supply large enough to get you through a long-term emergency. Some choose natural gas-powered generators, but they would be useless if an earthquake or act of terrorism were to damage pipelines. While it is impossible to guard against all possible disasters, the most reliable source of electricity in the long term is that which you generate yourself with roof-mounted solar panels.
Although the cost of a solar PV system is high, you only need one big enough to meet your emergency needs, not your average daily non-emergency needs. Costs may be somewhat offset by taking advantage of federal, state, and local tax breaks. You can add to the system over time, increasing functionality and therefore your comfort level in the event of a power outage. Doing the work yourself is one way to get the most system for the money.