Solar energy is not a “one size fits all” investment. Depending on your needs, you’ll have to choose between several types of solar power systems for your property – grid-tied, grid-tied with storage, and off-grid solar systems.
Solar power systems: what types are available?
Solar power systems always include photovoltaic panels, wiring, and inverters, but there are variations to exactly how your system can be set up to provide clean, inexpensive energy. There are three main types of solar power systems for your property: grid-tied systems, grid-tied systems with energy storage, and off-grid systems. Each type of solar panel installation has its own unique benefits and best-use cases.
For most property owners, a grid-tied system will be the most cost-effective and feasible option, but a grid-tied system paired with energy storage is also a prudent choice. As the cost of solar batteries continues to fall, systems with energy storage will become even more cost-effective and appealing.
Infographic: 3 types of solar power systems
Grid-tied solar panel systems
Most solar panel installations in the U.S. are grid-tied systems. As the name implies, this type of solar power system is connected to your home wiring and the electrical grid. A home with a grid-tied solar system uses energy from solar panels when the sun is shining and from the grid when it is not. This means that a grid-tied system doesn’t have to meet the entirety of your electricity needs – you can pull energy from the grid whenever your panels aren’t producing enough energy to offset all of your usage.
Grid-tied systems have many advantages. For one, they are typically the least expensive type of solar power system. Off-grid systems require more specialized equipment and installation procedures, and grid-tied systems with a battery require you to buy additional components that drive up total your cost. Being connected to the grid also means you can take advantage of net metering, which allows you to sell excess generated electricity to the grid for credits on your electricity bill. While net metering doesn’t lower your upfront installation price, over the lifetime of your system, you will reap significantly more savings than without net metering available.
It’s important to note that while connecting to the grid has many advantages, your solar panel system will usually stop working when the grid is experiencing an outage with typical equipment. In order to continue using solar energy during a power outage, you will need to install a system with energy storage and islanding capabilities included.
Grid-tied solar panel systems with energy storage
The second type of solar energy system is the same as a standard grid-tied system except for the addition of energy storage, or solar batteries. A grid-tied solar system with energy storage provides all of the benefits of a typical solar power system plus the unique benefits of having solar batteries.
When the sun goes down and your solar energy system isn’t producing enough energy to run your home, having a solar battery allows you to pull electricity from it instead of from the electric grid. This is beneficial for property owners without access to net metering, as you can continue to power your home with free solar energy instead of purchasing grid power. Additionally, having a solar battery installed with a grid-tied solar power system enables you to have power in the event of a blackout. While a standard grid-tied system will stop producing energy when the grid is down, a system with a solar battery has backup power that you can use to keep the lights on and appliances running when the electric grid is down. If you live in an area that experiences frequent grid blackouts from weather events like hurricanes, an energy storage system can protect you from being without power for extended periods of time.
Solar installations with energy storage cost more upfront than systems without energy storage because of the extra costs associated with the purchase and installation of a solar battery. However, the added cost can often be worth it, and will be even more so over time as the price of solar batteries continues to fall. This is especially true if you’re a customer of a utility company that charges time-of-use (TOU) rates. In a time-of-use plan (like in California’s new net metering 2.0 policy), electricity costs more to buy from the grid during peak hours when use is higher, usually in the late afternoon and evening. Having a solar battery allows you to avoid buying electricity at these higher prices.
Why is it worthwhile to remain connected to the grid? Any solar installation is at the mercy of sunlight, and even systems with battery backup may not be able to produce and store enough energy to stay completely independent of grid electricity purchases; this is truer in winter months when there are fewer sunlight hours and higher overall energy demand. It’s a good idea to remain grid-tied even with battery storage installed in case of the scenario where your energy needs are higher than your energy production and storage capacity (which happens more often than you might think). Plus, you’ll still get to take advantage of net metering if it’s offered in your utility territory.
Staying connected to the electric grid is not necessary to have a working solar power system, which brings us to the third type of solar setup: off-grid systems.
Off-grid solar combines the capabilities of photovoltaic panels and solar batteries to remove the electric grid component entirely from your system. An off-grid solar power system is essentially a grid-tied system with energy storage that has enough storage capacity installed to allow for complete energy independence. Off-grid systems often need to be larger than typical grid-tied systems both in terms of solar and storage capacity- this is because you will need to generate more energy at once to keep in storage in the event of periods of low sunlight.
Because of the need for more solar equipment, off-grid systems tend to be the most expensive types of systems to install. Additionally, many rebates and incentives available through your electric utility will not be available for off-grid systems. As such, it is rarely cost-effective to go off-grid with solar and energy storage. Remaining connected to the grid, even with energy storage installed, lowers installation costs and gives you peace of mind that there’s an electric grid backing up your home in the likely case that you can’t produce enough solar energy on your property for complete grid independence.
With the right system design, solar energy is a solid investment
These three types of solar power systems all have their own advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of system that fits your property best. While most property owners will benefit most from a grid-tied system with or without energy storage, remote properties without easy access to utility lines can potentially save the most with an off-grid system. Regardless of your property type, the best way to understand your solar options is to compare quotes on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. If you are interested in a battery storage option with your solar panels, simply leave a note in your profile for potential installers to view.