Grid-Tied, Off-Grid or Hybrid - Which Solar System is Right For You?

I, along with a lot of other people, feel it is absurd to think that it’s taken modern civilization this long to realize the potential of tapping into the sun for its renewable energy. However, the fact is that there is a boom happening in the world of solar energy today. Storms, natural disasters and global fears have caused many people to seek out ways to stay connected even when the grid goes down. You should read further and take a moment to learn the pros and cons of the solar options that are available, including residential and commercial properties, right now.

The Advantages of Grid-Tied Systems

As its name implies, a grid-tied system is tied to the electrical grid. The big benefit of a grid-tied system is the extremely low upfront cost of solar panels in today’s market. In terms of monthly costs, you are only charged based on net usage after the tally of energy taken in versus energy given out from your home’s solar panels are taken into account.

A second benefit of a grid-tied system is that you essentially have a backup power source available at all times. This is an advantage if you live in a cloudy climate, like I do, where you can go days, or weeks, without seeing the sun. If you work from home or need to have a constant and uninterrupted power connection a grid-tied system is the answer.

The Disadvantages of Grid-Tied Systems

The big disadvantage of a grid-tied system is that is it still connected to the main power grid. You might be surprised, as I was, to learn that grid-tied systems actually come with a safety feature built into a converter that is designed to protect utility workers that may be repairing power lines. As a result, homes using this system are susceptible to the same power losses as home that rely on traditional energy.

One thing that you can't overlook is that power quality can be compromised, at times. With the intermittent nature of a PV system, there is often a rapid change in voltage. Over time, this can wear out voltage regulators and cause voltage flicker. Not only can voltage flicker be annoying when lights flicker on and off, but it can be very disruptive to a computer and other devices that require a constant power source.

solar transformer photo Photo by ndrwfgg

The Advantages of Off-Grid Systems

Going off the grid is by far the best choice for you if you are motivated to seek solar energy for the purpose of keeping the lights on in the face of natural disasters and power outages. Unlike systems that are simply used as supplemental cost-saving initiatives, off-grid systems can run independently even when it seems as though the rest of the world is in the dark. This is an especially attractive option if you live in a remote area.

If you live in a city or area with an existing infrastructure, off-grid is much easier to install. There are constraints if you are on a traditional grid as you have to use existing infrastructure and poles. Or, when looking to put power exactly where you want, you will have to spend money to trench and set it all up. Simply put, if you are looking for the easiest installation process, off-grid is your bet.

The Disadvantages of Off-Grid Systems

The main thing that detracts from off-grid systems is the high price of the batteries that you need to keep things running. These batteries can cost as much as $500 per month when placed in a standard household with four people in it. Something that detracts from the benefits of going off the grid even more is the fact that the batteries used to run this type of system only last between five and 10 years on average.

System maintenance is also a problem as troubleshooting issues often cost a lot to money, not to mention time. When you have a traditional utility company, it will pay the employees to do all the hard work, and the company is on the hook for any major problems. If you install an off-grid system, you should factor maintenance and upkeep into your overall cost projects as these expenses can add up drastically.

solar hybrid photo

The Advantage of Hybrid Systems

Hybrid solar systems are a great happy medium because they are less expensive than off-grid solar systems while still supplying a backup in case of a power outage. This system allows you to take advantage of low utility rates with help from solar panels during peak hours instead of paying top rates. What really causes this method to hit it out of the park is the fact that you also have the option to temporarily store excess electricity received from solar panels inside batteries.

There is an interesting advantage to hybrid systems that you probably don't know about. With new inverters, you can take advantage of the changes in electricity rates throughout the day as utilities adjust prices based on consumption. You can easily program the system to use power from the electric company during off-peak hours. Or, better yet, you can store the excess electricity, then sell it back to the utility when you can be paid the highest price for every kWh.

The Disadvantages of Hybrid Systems

The main disadvantage of a hybrid system is that it requires the upfront costs of installing batteries to supplement solar panels during down periods on the grid. In addition, this method can end up being costlier if you live in an area that doesn't receive a lot of sunshine throughout the year. A lack of daily sunshine means the system will rely more heavily on the power of pricey batteries than it does on the natural and inexpensive energy of the sun.

If you use a lot of appliances, a hybrid system may not be right for you. With this system, you may be limited by how many appliances you can use at the same time, though this largely depends on the type of inverter you use. Most new inverters can handle the load, but it's something to consider.

A Final Word on Types of Solar Power

The type of solar setup that works for each person will depend largely on the motives and expectations involved. Of course, climate and annual sunshine totals also play roles in how effective or ineffective a solar energy system will be for your home. The new and exciting world of solar power holds a lot of potential for enjoying reduced energy costs and peace of mind. Take some time to evaluate your needs and begin making a plan for harnessing the natural power of the sun in a way that works best for your situation.

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