Key takeaways


ontrary to popular belief, going solar doesn’t necessarily mean going off grid. As a matter of fact, most homeowners who take up solar power still stay connected to the national electricity grid. This solution allows them to enjoy the benefits PV panels offer and secure a stable power supply at the same time. This article is going to give you a clear picture of what on grid solar actually is and whether this option is right for you.

What are on grid solar panels?

On solar grid systems are the most common way to tap into solar power. They are permanently connected to the electrical grid, and the excess electricity their panels produce is exported to it. But when homeowners need more energy than their PV system generates, they draw it from the grid. Thus, they basically use the grid as power storage and don’t need battery backup.

How do grid tied solar systems work?

Infographic: How do grid tied solar systems work?
How do grid tied solar systems work?

To begin with, let us clarify what a power distribution grid is. By the grid, we mean an interconnected electrical network that produces and distributes electricity across large areas. The grid is comprised of a power plant, transmission lines, substations, transformers, and a distribution system. First, electricity is generated in a power plant which transforms turbine-driven mechanical energy into electrical energy, typically by burning fossil fuels - natural gas, coal, or oil. The electricity is stepped up by a transformer (i.e. its voltage is increased) and flows to the transmission system. When the electricity reaches a substation, its transformers reduce the voltage back and send it to the distribution system, which brings electricity to our homes.

The power grid has been the one and only way to deliver electricity to households for over a century, but today with the development of solar power, this mechanism undergoes dramatic changes. Homeowners combine the electricity they get from the grid with electricity they generate on their property with PV systems. This frequently causes dissatisfaction and criticism among utility companies, as they lose quite a chunk of their income.

Now let’s look at how solar panels and the national electrical network work together. When sunlight hits the surface of a panel, it is captured by PV cells and transformed into direct current (DC) electricity. Then this current is converted into alternating current (AC) electricity by an inverter, after which this electricity is ready to power your home.

Solar system output rarely exactly matches the amount of electricity you need. So when your solar array generates some excess energy, it is fed to the utility grid. To make this possible, the electric current must have the same frequency as the current that runs through power transmission lines, which normally equals 50 or 60 Hertz. That’s why these systems use special inverters synchronized with the grid that can adjust frequency and voltage.

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Advantages of grid tied solar panels

The popularity of on grid solar systems speaks for itself: they offer a number of tangible benefits for solar users. Here is a list of just some of them.

Makes going solar more affordable

The biggest barrier to solar energy uptake is usually the upfront cost. And here lies the first advantage of on grid solar systems: they are significantly cheaper than other types of solar PV systems. The reason for this is that grid tied installations require fewer PV modules, an inverter with a lower capacity, and no battery storage.

Lower upfront expenses as compared to off grid systems not only make going solar more affordable, but also greatly reduce the solar payback period.

Helps save money on solar with net metering

As we said before, your solar system may occasionally produce more electricity than you can consume. But sometimes your home-generated electricity is not enough to meet your energy needs. For example, you may generate excess electricity on sunny days and feed it to the grid, and draw electricity from it on rainy days when the output of the solar system is not sufficient.

Homeowners may be worried that extra energy that is not used will be simply wasted. But this is not true: with net metering, you will be able to save money even if you don’t use up all of the electricity a PV system generates.

This billing tool allows you to sell extra energy to your power company by sending it to the grid and get credits that cover the cost of your electricity usage. You will be credited at a full-retail rate, which means the cost of electricity from the grid and your solar panels will be the same.

Net metering programs are mandatory in the majority of US states, and some states have adopted them voluntarily, which means it is offered by some local utilities. It is considered the most beneficial policy because it allows a homeowner to save as much as tens of thousands of dollars by switching to solar.

Offers an easier solar system maintenance

Since such a system needs fewer PV panels and its components are generally a little simpler, it is easier and cheaper to maintain. Besides, as such a system doesn’t require battery storage, which meant one problem less to worry about.

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Disadvantages of grid tied solar systems

But on grid panels are not as perfect as they might seem. They come with a set of drawbacks just as any other type of solar system, so let’s look at some of them below.

Solar panels are exposed to power outages

This is where ongrid solar systems fall short of their off grid alternatives. While some homeowners considering a switch to solar are convinced that PV panels will in any case hedge them from power outages, this is not actually true.

An on grid solar system is designed to turn off automatically during a blackout so that it wouldn’t send electricity to the grid. This is done to protect the utility workers while they are repairing the power lines. This means you won’t be able to use the energy generated by your solar modules during a blackout.

If you live in areas with old power lines or unreliable power supplies, you might want to consider installing a hybrid system instead of a grid tied one. In such a system, solar modules are paired with battery storage enabling you to use the generated energy whenever you need it.

Solar net metering can become less favorable for solar system owners

There is an ongoing debate on whether the financial benefits for grid tied system owners should be reduced. For example, some states have already cut the rate paid by power companies to solar owners for excess electricity fed to the grid is set to be phased down to a fraction of its original rate. Some utilities also propose to impose a tax requiring solar users to pay a monthly connection fee to help offset the costs associated with distributing energy.

Key takeaways

Navigating On-Grid Solar Power: Balancing Pros and Cons

  • Staying Connected: Most solar users remain connected to the national grid, enjoying PV panel benefits while ensuring a stable power supply.
  • Understanding On-Grid Systems: These panels are linked to the electrical grid, exporting excess electricity and utilizing it as a storage solution without requiring batteries.
  • Working of Grid-Tied Systems: Solar-generated excess energy seamlessly feeds back to the utility grid, altering household electricity dynamics.

Advantages of On-Grid Solar:

  • Affordability: Cost-effective with fewer PV modules and no battery storage, reducing upfront expenses.
  • Net Metering Benefits: Homeowners save by selling excess energy and earning credits, enhancing solar's financial accessibility.
  • Simplified Maintenance: Fewer components translate to easier and cheaper maintenance, eliminating battery-related concerns.

Challenges of On-Grid Systems:

  • Exposure to Power Outages: Shutdowns during blackouts limit solar energy usage.
  • Net Metering Concerns: Ongoing debates regarding reducing financial benefits, with some states proposing rate cuts and additional fees.

As solar tech evolves, weighing these pros and cons is vital for informed decisions in 2024.

May 9, 2023
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