Power Down

Recently a large Torrey Pine on Via Alta fell onto a power line and many houses on Crest Road lost power for about 20 hours. What can you do to have backup power to heat your home and your water, and to keep essentials such as your refrigerator, garage door opener, and security systems running during an outage? The two main types of power backup are battery storage and gas or propane-powered generators, and with these you can choose what to keep running.


If you have rooftop solar, batteries can store all that sun-generated free energy so that it is available for you to use every evening or when it is rainy. In addition, they are also a great source of short-term backup energy in case of a power failure. A popular option is a Tesla Powerwall, or similar batteries from LG or Panasonic. They cost about $12,000 each, plus installation. One Powerwall supplies enough electricity for some appliances in power outages, but multiple batteries are needed for full home power backup.


Another new option for storage is “bidirectional charging” from your electric car or truck. More and more electric vehicles can use their battery to power your home. The “vehicle to load” or “vehicle to grid” options allow you to plug into an outlet on your vehicle to power essential appliances, or to power your whole house via a DC to AC inverter and a grid disconnect switch. Vehicle batteries typically have much more capacity than a Powerwall, but you have to leave your car plugged in to use that power.

After a tree fell on power lines in March, Via Alta was totally closed and a large number of Hillside residents were without power or internet for more than a day. Photo by Rosanne Holliday.

Generators can also be used for backup. Backup generators cost in the range of $4,000-5,000 plus installation, and these can power basic essentials such as heating, hot water and your refrigerator. Smaller, less expensive generators can provide power for one or two appliances.


Having natural gas in your home is NOT a source of backup power. Your gas water heater or gas furnace will not work without electricity. Some gas cooktops can be started with a match, but not all. Your electric vent for your stove will not work, so your indoor air quality will suffer. Propane camping stoves or charcoal BBQs provide an outdoor cooking option.


Be prepared and evaluate the best option for you to provide backup in the case of a power outage. As we learned from the recent storms and past wildfires and heat waves, nature can turn off the power at any time.