If you’re stuck deciding between staying on-grid or going off the grid and becoming completely sustainable, then you’ve found yourself in a good position – because regardless of your choice, you’ll be taking advantage of renewable energy.
Before we get into the comparisons between the two options, we first need to understand what each option offers. We’ll first take a look at the benefits of being on-grid, since it’s these types of systems that are mostly utilized in residential areas.
Why staying on-grid is usually the safer and more feasible option.
Staying on-grid means that your solar power system is linked to your local utility company. Most homes typically use this system. If your solar power system doesn’t produce enough electricity, then your utility company serves as a backup – which also means you don’t need to invest in a backup battery which can be expensive.
If your solar-powered system produces more electricity than you need, the extra energy will be sent back to your utility, where in exchange, you’ll build credit that can then be cashed out at the end of the year. This process is known as net metering. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, most solar customers produce more energy than needed during the day. Net metering allows these customers to export that extra power back to the grid, further reducing their electric bill.
When it comes to staying off the grid, you won’t have the luxury of net metering. Without a backup utility company, your success will come down to the efficiency ratings of your solar panels and batteries.
Why staying off-grid, and becoming 100 percent sustainable, is still a difficult task.
Off-grid energy consumption is becoming a trendy subject, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. To achieve complete sustainability, you’ll need a large number of solar panels, plus a battery backup system. For your off-grid system to work, your batteries will need to store a large amount of the electromotive force that’s generated from your solar panels.
There are four required parts that you’ll need to keep your off-grid solar power system up and running, including:
- Solar Panels
- Charge Controller
- Power Inverter
Simply having solar panels alone is not enough to be completely sustainable. Batteries are just as important as solar panels, because they’ll provide electricity once the sun sets. To truly go off the grid, you need to completely sever ties with your utility company. This means not being able to purchase electricity during low sunlight periods throughout the day or at night. Using battery banks to store the excess electricity that is generated throughout the day will help keep the lights on at night.
Even though a charge controller and a power inverter aren’t the trendy parts of an off-grid solar power system, they are still just as important as the solar panels and battery banks themselves.
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A charge controller is pretty inexpensive (charge controllers start under $30), yet it is an integrable part to the success of your off-grid solar power system. The charge controller protects your batteries from permanent damage.
According to Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, “A charge controller or charge regulator is basically a voltage and/or current regulator to keep batteries from overcharging. It regulates the voltage and current coming from the solar panels going to the battery.” Essentially, the charge controller acts as a defender, as it protects your batteries and your overall system from overcharging and breaking down.
Without the power inverter, our electronics would be unable to consume the electricity generated. Solar panels and batteries deliver energy as a direct current (DC), but conventional outlets provide electricity as an alternative current (AC). The power inverter converts the DC power from your stored battery banks into AC power, which you can then use.
You will come across some appliances and electronics that can consume DC power, but for the most part, most appliances and electronics will need AC power. If you’re trying to stay off-grid, you’ll always need an inverter.
They draw power from your batteries even when they’re not in use, which means that they shouldn’t be left on all day. After you’ve used your inverters, shut them off – otherwise, they’re idle state will drain your battery banks.
So, is it possible to be completely sustainable?
As it stands now, the average solar shopper can offset 92.5 percent of their electricity consumption with their solar power system, per Energy Sage. Even though it is possible to become completely sustainable, it can only be done with a large number of solar panels, battery banks with high storage capacities, and a significant financial investment.
Most solar power systems are unable to generate the amount of electricity needed to be a home’s only power source – which makes on-grid is still more popular than off-grid. Your location’s climate will also play a heavy influence on your success. If you live in a sunny state such as Arizona or Florida, your chances of going off-grid are much better than if you live in Vermont or Massachusetts.
Everything from meeting zoning requirements, to having the proper septic system and a clean water source, will need to be in place, so that your home is in compliance with local ordinances and state laws.
So if you’re still stuck choosing between staying on-grid or going off of it, you first need to understand the requirements for compliance. The last thing you would want is to invest a large sum of money into an off-grid solar power system that is ultimately deemed illegal because it doesn’t follow local ordinances.
Staying on-grid provides a safe affordable option, which still allows you to take advantage of renewable energy. As research and development continue to advance, off-grid sustainability may one day become the new norm for energy consumption.