There are different configurations and systems which are tailor-made according to the needs of the user. The advancements in technology have allowed us to enjoy this freedom of customization. A person might be interested in using home solar energy as backup power or might want to shift to solar energy to wholly meet its household requirements. Different scenarios need different types of solar systems.
The idea of going off-grid with a battery-backed system is not a new concept. But in recent years, with the rise of companies such as Telsa and their home battery installation options, many have jumped onto the off-grid concept.
Today, solar panel systems are being installed mainly in three different configurations.
Grid-Dependent Solar Installations
Perhaps the most common configuration for installing solar power systems is the grid-tied system installations of solar panels. This is because most houses and buildings in urban areas are provided with a continuous connection to mains electricity. Almost every house in urban areas is connected to an electricity supply connection provided by the municipality’s power supplier, and therefore is capable of receiving continuous electricity. Grid-tied solar systems are built on top of this electricity connection and serve as an added support. The grid-tied types of solar panel power systems are not isolated power systems but are rather based on top of the mains supply.
All solar panels harness the energy coming from the sunlight and produces DC voltages. These DC voltages cannot be used in our households as it requires AC power supply. Therefore, the DC power generated from the solar panels is converted into an AC power supply using an electronic device known as an inverter. In grid-tied solar power systems, the inverter is powered by the electricity coming from the mains supply connected to the grid and converts your solar panels’ DC power into AC power. In turn, this AC power supply can then be used for our domestic purposes.
What is Net Metering and Behind the Meter?
A widespread phenomenon noticed in grid-tied solar power installations is of net metering. As batteries are not actively installed in this configuration, any excess power generated through the solar panels is supplied further to the main grid, thus adding to its total power resources. In return, the owners are given power credits, which means they can use electricity from the mains supply to exchange these power credits. However, government policies on net metering differ from region to region and actually require a permit from your local power supplier to allow you to add electricity to the national grid from your solar panels.
Another similar term folk in the industry use here, and that is ‘behind the meter.’ Which basically refers to your power meter sitting between your home and the grid. This meter is not designed to understand what is going on with the electricity coming in or going out of your home. So, although you may be exporting a particular amount of solar power on one particular day, this isn’t necessarily the total amount being generated by the system. There could be some consumption of this power within the household before making it out and onto the grid.
You Will Need the Sun to Shine (to Keep the Power Bills Low)
Grid-tied type of solar system installations are prevalent in urban areas because they come with an added advantage. Suppose the weather in your area is not favorable for solar energy production, and you are stuck with almost zero electricity produced by the solar cells on your solar panels. In such cases, you can directly use the electricity from the mains supply without any issue. Grid-tied solar solutions are generally more affordable than other configurations because of the minimal amount of devices that need to be installed.
On the flip side to this argument, one would need to be living in an area with a large prevalence of sunshine to really take full advantage of this type of solar panels setup. In Northern parts of the world, where seasonal effects are heavy on the weather, sunshine is a limited resource, and your solar panel usage will go down (and the electricity bill up).
Off-Grid Solar Installations
Off-grid solar power systems are installed in a place that needs a more robust and reliable electricity supply. For example, let’s say a facility in a remote area needs electricity supply. In such scenarios, we need standalone systems that are not dependent on the main grid. They are self-sufficient in the sense that they produce, store and distribute their own electricity. This type of configuration is best suited for someone who wants total authority over their electricity production and consumption. Lodges, motels, hotels, and homes in remote regions generally opt for this type of system with their solar panels. Complete off-grid systems also need to account for weather within the local area and average sun levels throughout the year. This will then be compared against estimated daily power usage to create a net balance of power needed.
Sounds Cool, But at What Price?
Off-grid solar installations are isolated from all external power sources, requiring more infrastructure and devices to function smoothly. As a result, they are generally considered the costliest type of installation, largely because they need much more infrastructure in the choice of solar panel brand, charge controllers, batteries, protection gear, etc. Think of it as a stand-alone system that generates, regulates, distributes, and stores its own electricity. Therefore, it needs almost all solar system electronic devices like inverter, solar panel, circuit breakers, charge controller, batteries, automatic power switch, etc. Batteries will make up a large proportion of that additional cost. Not only cost, but the size of a battery system to cater for a complete off-grid type of solar panel home will also be quite large, depending on the battery technology chosen.
Planning & Preparation is the Key of Off-Grid Success
Moreover, off-grid solar power systems are designed more thoroughly and with energy efficiency in mind to cater to the home’s needs. An integral part of the system is large batteries, which must be efficient enough to support continuous power supply throughout the day. This adds to the overall cost of the solar panels system. Off-grid types of solar installations must be designed to become capable enough to store and support the household electricity consumption for at least three days.
Hybrid Solar Installations
Hybrid solar power installations can be described as grid-tied systems with battery backup power supply. It is installed in areas that experience a frequent power outage or scheduled load-shedding. Power outage means that the grid-tied part of the solar power system will become ineffective, as it is turned off when the power outage strikes. Therefore, hybrid systems are predominantly seen in areas that have poor grid-power supply.
The batteries are installed in this system, storing the solar cells’ excess power during the different types of solar panels’ normal operation. Once power trips in the area, these batteries can supply electricity to the household for the time being. Usually, the time for a power outage is not very long. Therefore, the batteries do not need to be very large. They need to be sufficient enough for a 5-6 hour backup.
Hybrid systems are costlier than grid-tied solar installations, but are cheaper than off-grid solar power systems. They are also the least used method as compared to grid-tied system or off-grid installations.
The Battery Revolution is Well Underway
As we mentioned at the start, with the introduction of market players such as Telsa offering home battery systems (on top of their solar panel system offerings), the idea of a hybrid solar installation is not that far off for many. Underpinning this growth is the fall in pricing of lithium battery power. Lithium batteries allow homeowners to have relatively maintenance-free backup power resources when there is not enough power from the solar system or mains power is available.
Achieving the right battery size for a true hybrid solar panels system isn’t too easy and will require an analysis of your home power usage. Essentially, one would only want to use the battery in an emergency instead of cycling it up and down, eating into the battery’s lifespan.
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