5-17-2015 Solar System Configurations: A Rundown
Despite the overwhelming prevalence of grid-tied solar systems in the US, it’s not the only solar system configuration available. There are three solar system configurations that homeowners can choose from when deciding to go solar. They are: grid-tied, off-grid, and hybrid.
Grid-tied solar systems are the most common type of solar system configurations in the US. The systems are connected to the grid through a process known as interconnection. Being connected to the grid means that the system can feed any extra energy it produces to the utility company.
Homeowners whose systems are connected to the grid may be able to take advantage of net metering and save even more money on their energy bills. Grid-tied solar system configurations require the use of a specific grid-tie or micro-inverter. The type of inverter used on a system will depend on the utility company’s specifications.
Grid-tied systems also need a two-way power meter. This power meter is capable of measuring power going from the grid to the house and from the house to the grid. Having a two-way meter enables the utility company to know how much energy a solar system adds to the grid.
Off-grid solar system configurations aren’t as common as grid-tied systems in the US. However, off-grid systems are making inroads in developing countries, especially India. They’re a great way for people who don’t have any connection to the grid to generate electricity.
Most homeowners who have access to the grid don’t opt for off-grid solar system configurations. The standard setup for off-grid systems is far more complex and expensive than the one for a grid-tied system. The main different between a grid-tied system and an off-grid system is battery storage.
Instead of feeding the extra energy the solar panels produce into the grid, off-grid systems feed the energy into batteries. Keeping extra energy in batteries helps ensure that the house has energy at night and on less sunny days. However, battery storage isn’t very efficient, so some energy is lost during the transfers.
Unlike a grid-tied system, which needs a specific inverter, off-grid solar system configurations simply need an off-grid inverter. The inverter doesn’t have to match phase with the utility grid because the system isn’t connected to it.
Also known as grid-tied with batter backup, hybrid solar system configurations offer the best of both worlds. Because the house is connected to the grid, homeowners can take advantage of off-peak electricity and get cheaper rates. Using a battery backup means that homeowners are less likely to lose power when the grid experiences a power failure.
Like grid-tied solar system configurations, hybrid systems require a grid-tie inverter. However, this inverter will be battery-based. It will be able to feed power into the batteries as well as synchronize with the grid.
Homeowners who are currently connected to the grid, but who want the ability to be independent of the grid may want to look into hybrid solar system configurations. There’s more equipment to handle, but it pays off in the form of greater energy independence.
Wading Through Solar System Configurations
Many homeowners won’t bother worrying about off-grid or hybrid solar system configurations because of the ease and popularity of grid-tied systems. Each system configuration has its advantages and disadvantages. The best way for homeowners to decide which system is right for them is to evaluate their energy needs and wants and determine which of the three solar system configurations will meet them.