It happens nearly every winter: the winds are howling, the snow is flying, and suddenly the power goes out. For a moment there’s just the unnatural silence of a cottage that has gone to sleep.
If you’re lucky, you hear the roar of the generator kicking on. Or maybe you reach for a flashlight and your coat and trudge out to the garage to fire up the generator yourself, hoping that you remembered to fuel it and trying to recall the last time you had it serviced.
Fed up with the noise and hassle, more and more homeowners are embracing a much quieter alternative by installing a battery backup system.
“Battery storage has come such a long way in recent years,” says Francois Byrne, owner of Hybrid Power Solutions. “It’s light years ahead of where it used to be.”
Francois is an engineer who has been working with battery systems his entire career – the question of how to store energy fascinated him while he was still in university, and eventually led him to found Hybrid Power Solutions.
“Batteries are cheaper, longer-lasting, and more efficient than they’ve ever been before,” he says. “They’re powering everything from chainsaws to pickup trucks. It only makes sense to use them to power your house or cottage as well.”
There are a number of different options available, and every system can be scaled to meet the homeowner’s needs. At the heart of the home-based system is the Power Tower, a controller that connects the batteries to the home’s electrical system.
The batteries are lithium-ion, which are long-lasting, stable, and fume free: unlike lead-acid batteries, which can only be installed in a vented environment, lithium-ion batteries can be installed anywhere. So, the Power Tower can sit in the garage, the mechanical room, or anywhere else that’s convenient.
It can even be installed in an unheated outbuilding. “Our batteries have a built-in heater, so they can easily handle temperatures of minus thirty without loss of power,” says Francois.
The number of batteries involved depends entirely on the home: the greater your power needs, the more batteries are installed. “If you just need to keep the heat on so the pipes don’t freeze, we can do that,” he says. “If you want to power the whole house during an outage, we can do that too. It’s really easy to scale the system.”
As long as the hydro grid is operational, the batteries are kept topped up. There’s no maintenance at all – no oil changes, no replacing filters, no checking to see that everything is fueled up. “They just sit there, ready to be used when you need them.”
Cottage owners find the system to be particularly useful, since it can eliminate the worry of pipes freezing or other damage occurring during winter storms. “The batteries work whether you’re there or not,” says Francois. He adds that a remote sensing system can send you alerts when the power goes out, and also keep you informed about the battery status.
For an even more comprehensive system, pair the battery backup with a series of solar panels.
With an array of panels on the roof (or in the yard, on the boathouse, or anywhere else they’ll get maximum sun exposure), power is being generated whenever the sun is shining. In a typical installation, on a sunny day the panels generate more power than the home is using. That excess power can be used to charge the battery backup.
Solar panels are also a great option for homes that are on the hydro grid – whether they have a battery backup system or not. On sunny days, the excess power from the panels is sold back to the hydro utility, generating a credit that can be used to offset the costs of buying power at night or on cloudy days.
“At today’s hydro rates, a typical system is paid for in 8 to 12 years,” says Francois. The panels and various other components are warrantied for 20 to 25 years, meaning homeowners get to enjoy years of free electricity.
For mobile users or for outbuildings, Francois recommends the Batt Pack Energy. This suitcase-sized unit is perfect for mobile job sites, bunkies, or anywhere else where portable generators might be used.
It provides 4,000 W of continuous power and 8,000 W of surge power, which is perfect for contractors and job sites where power tools are constantly being turned on and off, each one needing a surge of energy. And, of course, it operates completely silently.
Charging it back up is simply a matter of plugging it in to the hydro grid, or connecting it to an optional portable solar panel.
“No matter where you are or what you’re doing, there’s really a battery power system for every need,” says Francois.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN