If you're considering solar power, you'll find you have a few choices to make — renting or buying, roof or ground installation and on-grid or off-grid. Each of these choices will affect the cost, day-to-day operation and effectiveness of your solar system. With that said, there is no one right answer — your choice will depend on your priorities and situation. Learning as much as you can about solar power systems will help you make an informed decision.
First things first, you need to know a little about how solar power works. Solar technology converts energy from sunlight into usable electricity. The most popular type of solar system is photovoltaic (PV). Each PV cell has two layers of a semiconductor, usually silicon. The top layer has a negative charge while the bottom layer has a positive charge, creating an electric field between them.
When the photons from sunlight hit the PV cells, they knock the electrons within free. Conductive plates gather up the resulting current of energy. As long as sunlight is available, solar cells continue to generate energy in this way. Whether you choose to be on-grid or off-grid will determine where any excess energy goes.
You can choose to have your solar system connected to the power grid. When your system produces more electricity than you can use, the excess will go into the grid. On the other hand, when your system does not produce as much electricity as you need, you'll be able to take from the grid.
Choosing to stay connected to the grid has its advantages and may be the right choice for you. Here are some of the reasons to remain connected to the electricity grid:
Utility companies will partner with you in a process called net metering. You'll earn a designated credit per kilowatt-hour for all of the energy you send to the grid. When you need to take energy from the grid, you'll owe per kilowatt-hour, like normal. Your bill at the end of the month will be the net energy — what you owe minus what you generated. Net metering can help you save money.
Another advantage is that you'll always have energy available unless the grid goes down. If your system is not producing as much energy as you need — maybe the weather has been overcast for several days in a row — you can take what you need from the grid.
Of course, staying on-grid also has its downsides. Here are some disadvantages to consider:
Sending excess solar energy into the grid might feel wasteful. If you've chosen to invest in solar, you likely want to use all of the energy your system generates. Instead of sending excess energy into the grid, you can store it to use later.
The process also undermines some of your solar system's ecological benefits. You'll still rely on fossil fuel energy when you stay connected to the grid. An off-grid system has a stronger environmental impact.
The main practical disadvantage to staying on-grid is that you will lose power when the grid loses power, even if your system could be producing energy. When solar panels are connected to the grid, they shut down during outages. Otherwise, they could pose a safety risk to the utility workers repairing transmission lines. Disconnecting from the grid means keeping your lights on during emergencies and outages.
If you live in a highly remote or rural area, connecting to the grid might not be feasible. The grid may be inaccessible or unreliable. In addition, extending a power line to the grid is more expensive the further the line must travel.
The other option is to go off-grid. Instead of sending excess energy to the utility company, you'll store it in a battery for later use. Then, when you need more than your system is producing, you'll have your own energy to use. Separating from the grid might be the right choice for you, as it offers plenty of advantages.
An off-grid system is the best option for many homeowners and landowners. Here are some of the reasons to choose an off-grid solar energy system:
You'll be separate from the utility company, which means you can take complete ownership of your energy generation and expenses. Many homeowners and landowners seek this kind of independence from the grid system.
Because you'll be separate from the grid, you'll be able to continue using energy while the grid is down. You can access the energy stored in your system's batteries while the rest of the grid is dark. You can also install a backup generator for total peace of mind.
If part of your reason for investing in solar is the environmental benefit, going off-grid has a much stronger impact. You'll reduce your reliance on fossil fuels by making the most of your solar energy.
Another major advantage is that you can use an off-grid system anywhere, even if the grid is inaccessible or unreliable. The most rural, remote areas benefit from such systems.
It's important to note possible disadvantages as well, which may include the following:
Many landowners see a financial benefit from net metering, which will not be available to you when you go off-grid. You should consider whether or not you want to be able to use net metering.
The closed operation of an off-grid solar system is a bit more complicated than an on-grid system. For that reason, installation and maintenance costs can be higher. Of course, if you live far from the energy grid, an on-grid system could be much more expensive. Costs will depend on your unique situation.
Whether you choose to be on-grid or off-grid should depend on a few factors. Ask yourself these questions to help you make a choice:
Whether you choose to stay connected to the grid or opt for independence, a solar energy system can benefit your home, farm or ranch. An on-grid system allows you to partner with the utility company in a net metering agreement, while an off-grid system allows you to be completely self-reliant. Either way, solar is an ideal choice for many homeowners and landowners.
If you'd like to learn more about solar power, connect with the experts at S&H Solar. Here at S&H Solar, we'll work with you every step of the way, from initial property evaluation to lifetime solar maintenance. We believe in providing rural homeowners, farmers and ranchers with realistic expectations and achievable goals — we say what we mean, and we do what we say. Contact us to learn more or request your free quote today.