Off- Grid or OnGrid: Which Way To Go?

09 April of 2009 by

osakasolar Off  Grid or OnGrid: Which Way To Go?

Nowthat it’s springtime more people are thinking of adding solar power fortheir homes and businesses. The federal solar investment tax creditalong with more local and state incentives help with these decisions.Having sold residential and commercial systems since 2002, a portion ofmy customers have asked about going totally off-grid. During thecontrived "energy crisis" here in California in 2000-01, many wanted togo off-grid to get back at the utilities who, as it turned out, werecomplicit in creating the shortage.
But now let us reason together.
Onlyin those remote areas where the regional electrical grid has not yetreached would I recommend solar (or wind) power. Solar panels are areliable source for power but a battery bank is required for storingelectricity. Batteries degrade a lot faster than panels and most peoplewould not want to maintain a battery bank if they didn’t need to butthe technology is there, if necessary. Another issue disfavoringoff-grid solar is that many incentives only cover grid-tied systems.(See "Solar Incentives by State" in Related Links)
Net meteringis a cool thing for ratepayers using solar power. If for instance afamily uses 700 kilowatt hours in a month and the rooftop PV systemproduced 500 kWh, the family is only charged for the net consumptionfrom the utility, 200kWh. It’s as simple as that. In places likeCalifornia, the investor-owned utilities use tiered billing systemswhich increase the cost perkWh as the consumer uses more. In this case, solar covers the top 500kWh leaving the remaining 200 in the cheapest (baseline) rate. So whilethe 500 kWh covers 71% of demand, it could defray 80% or more of theactual charges. Better yet, grid-tied systems qualify for all rebates,feed-in tariffs and tax credits without requiring a battery bank.

Back-Up Systems:If you live in an area where weather plays havoc with the power linesconsider a back-up system for your solar installation. Some invertermakers like SMA America make inverters that work with the grid but alsotrickle charge battery(s) for temporary back-up power. These cost alittle more but can be worth it. The question one should ask is "Howoften does the power go out for more than four hours in a year?". If itdoesn’t happen but maybe once a year, don’t bother with back-up. Itmight get you bragging rights with your neighbors that you have somepower when they don’t but it likely will not justify the extra cost.Just keep your refrigerator and freezer closed until the utility isback up.

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