Many times people think that installing solar panels on their roof allows them to go “Off-Grid”. In fact, solar panels alone do not allow this. There is often confusion on this subject; lets go over the difference between “Off-Grid” and “Grid-Tied” solar systems.
Most installations that we perform in Rhode Island and installations across the US are “Grid-Tied” systems. This type of installation ties in with your existing electrical system. During the day the solar array will generate excess electricity that will flow out onto the grid and be used in other nearby homes; the solar home owner will receive credit for this excess generation. During the night, the utility electrical grid will supply the solar home to run the electrical loads in the house; at this point the solar home owner uses up some portion of the credits. This is a description of a Net-Metering Agreement, where electricity is sold too and bought from the utility at the same price. This connection is a benefit to the solar home owner, allowing them to use the utility electrical grid as a location to store solar electricity credit during the day and use it up at night.
Getting off the grid is much more of a lifestyle and financial commitment. When a solar residence disconnects with the grid, it now requires a battery bank to store extra energy generated during the day. It also requires the same battery storage to run electrical loads in the house during the night. This battery bank is typically very expensive and requires maintenance. In addition, the system must be designed to include enough generation and storage to meet your needs. Off-Grid residents must be conscious of their electricity usage; often a backup generator is required to meed fluctuating electrical needs.
The Take Away:
The thought of going “Off-Grid” can be romantic. Producing your own electricity is exciting. However, for most home owners that are near utility electrical service, it is advisable to install a Grid-Tied Solar Array. You still get to generate free, clean electricity AND do it while avoiding the additional expense and work of owning a battery system.
Going Solar is a great move. Be sure you do it in a way that best suits you and your needs.