Many times, when people want a solar power system installed, there is a misunderstanding of what it means to be on-grid versus off-grid. A lot of times we hear people say they want to be “off the grid” thinking that is what it means to go solar. What they really mean is that they want to reduce their energy usage, but don’t realize you can do it and still be tied to the grid. On-grid systems stay connected to your power lines which are run by your utility company whereas off-grid ones only rely on the solar system and batteries.
For an off-grid system, in order to store the energy produced by your system, you would need a battery back-up. The batteries that off-grid systems require bring up the overall cost of the system, are bulky, unreliable, and are not as environmentally friendly. This usually defeats the purpose for many of you who are going solar with the incentive to save money and live a greener lifestyle. Since off-grid systems require a battery back-up system, it is not as reliant as it can only hold a certain amount of energy. Additionally, the battery typically has a shorter life span than most solar panels, which means you will eventually need to replace it. Any maintenance required for an off-grid system will not be covered by your utility company, but is dependent on you. Although there are advantages to having an off-grid system, like having power stored in the battery back-up during emergency situations like outages, the overall advantages in comparison to being on-grid are not as beneficial.
Being on-grid and net-metering are the most cost effective ways to store energy for solar systems. Since you are tied to the grid, you won’t need a battery back-up since you can pull energy into or from the grid. On-grid solar projects are typically more simple than off-grid ones because for an on-grid set up, the power goes directly into your utility grid. Simply think of the utility grid as a large battery that is already available for your system to store an unlimited amount of the energy that it produces! When a solar system is grid-tied, the excess power that is produced can turn your net meter backwards and earn you credit from your utility company. For an off-grid battery backed up system, not only do you have to pay for the battery back-up but the excess energy that you produce can’t be exchanged for credit. The biggest drawback of being on-grid is that when the grid goes out, so does your power. However, the reason for this is the grid-tied solar electric inverter has to shut down in order to avoid injuring nearby line workers.
The reasons why on-grid systems tend to be the more popular choice among homeowners getting solar systems due to security and convenience. Majority of solar systems typically offset around 50%-75% of your usage depending on the size of your system, your location, and other various things dependent on your individual situation. With a 50%-75% offset, an on-grid system should still significantly bring down your electric costs while providing a cleaner source of energy. With that said, with an on-grid system, you can rest assured that the rest of your electric usage that isn’t offset can be pulled from the grid.
Remember, having an off-grid system really just means having a home that is not connected to the utility grid. Other than that, a home with an off-grid system can actually use just as much power as a regular home that hasn’t gone solar. Unless you completely want to be independent from your utility company and want nothing to do with them, don’t get your idea of what it means to be on or off grid mixed up. If you live in rural or remote areas where there are no utility companies available then off-grid systems are usually your only option. Don’t forget to always do your research and get all the right facts before disregarding your options.
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