Mitchell Samuelian isn’t taking any more chances.

The Paso Robles, California, resident recalls the summer of 2021, when there were five power outages, each lasting longer than 24 hours. That’s when he decided to generate his own electricity.

Samuelian is the CEO of Tonian Renewables, providing design, operations, and maintenance services for large-scale solar projects. He leaned on his professional expertise to design a 30 kW solar system with battery storage and a backup generator, making his property 100 percent independent of the grid.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

Shortly after completing the project in late 2022, destructive rains lashed the Golden State. Nearly 10 days of heavy rainfall and strong winds washed out roads and knocked down powerlines. Samuelian, away on a business trip, watched the destruction unfold from afar. When he flew in, he discovered he couldn’t access his home. Neighbors were evacuating by boat because the road was under water. His wife, however, was home safe. Their 5,000-square-foot home was drawing from the Tesla Powerwall that stores the electricity the solar panels generate. Plus, they had the assurance of a 24 kW Generac generator.

The system proved out.

“We were actually isolated from the grid for three full days,” Samuelian says.

A growing need for backup power

As California’s utility operators strain to provide reliable power amid frequent extreme weather events, more homeowners and businesses are turning to backup generators to ride out disruptions. According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the number of backup units increased 22 percent from 2020 to 2021. The Bay Area Management District saw a similar spike of 34 percent.

The desire for a resilient power source, however, comes with something of a Catch-22. While generators are a power-outage solution, they can also be a climate-change problem. Most standby generators are fueled by diesel, which produces emissions that contribute to our climate crisis. That’s why specifiers should consider a cleaner alternative, such as propane. Propane standby generators, such as the Generac unit in Samuelian’s system, emit significantly less particulate matter and NOx emissions compared with their diesel counterparts.

But generators on their own can only go so far. That’s the draw of systems that use a combination of clean-power sources in conjunction with standby power. Samuelian’s system works like this: Solar panels supply his home’s electrical demand, which is around 7 kW, while also storing surplus power in the Tesla Powerwall. (On a recent sunny day, the solar panel system was operating at 128 percent.) When the sun isn’t shining, or when there is a utility disruption, the Tesla Powerwall is the home’s primary source of electricity. When battery storage drains down, the backup generator kicks on.

With a 500-gallon propane tank fueling the generator, Samuelian estimates his home could go several months without electricity from the grid. His gas stove and gas furnace also help reduce electrical demand.

“Five hundred gallons can get you a long way,” he adds.

Mitchell Samuelian’s Paso Robles, California, property has a private well. He installed separate solar panels and battery storage to power the pump, ensuring his home has running water during emergencies.

Covering their bases

There was another concern Samuelian had to factor into the equation: A private well supplies his home’s potable water and fire protection. To ensure his household would have running water during an outage, he installed a 2 kW solar panel to maintain the well pump and booster pump for the fire protection system. The generator has an auto transfer switch to power both the home and the well simultaneously.

At 30 kW, the solar panel system is larger than your average residential system — it’s as big as you can get before the utility provider would need to do an interconnection study. Samuelian oversized it to account for a guesthouse he’s building on the property.

You won’t find the solar panels on the roof. The system, from Erthos, is mounted flush against the ground. Samuelian, who is an angel investor in the company, says the earth-mount install eliminates the need for costly racking, absorbs heat from the ground to maintain more consistent temperatures, and protects from high winds.

While his hybrid system will no doubt get his household through more storms to come, Samuelian admits his annual energy bill was the main motivation for it. He was paying Pacific Power around $16,000 a year. He estimates that the solar and battery storage system will knock his annual electricity rates down to $120.