Grid-Tied vs. Off-Grid Solar Power: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Solar PowerWhether you want to connect with a utility company or choose to stay off-grid, you are making the right decision to shift to renewable energy. But in making the decision of which system to put your bet in, you must first weigh the pros and cons of each system based on finances and personal values.

Grid-Tied Solar Power Systems

Grid-tied solar power systems basically work under the premise that you harness energy from the sun using your own solar array, use up what you need in real time, and sell your extra electricity to the utility company you made a grid connection agreement with.

Advantages

It follows a feed-in tariff scheme, also called net-metering, to make residential solar systems more efficient and economical. Your utility company and the state government will buy the electricity your solar panels harnessed, and they will pay you by means of incentives and tax rebates. Installation and equipment are relatively cheaper and simpler.

But the main advantage of connecting to an electric power grid is that the grid will act as a virtual battery that you no longer need to maintain and replace. Utsmartenergy.com writes that electricity has to be spent in real time, so the excess energy that your system harnessed will go to the utility and will be used in real time for other community applications, to reduce distribution losses.

Disadvantages

A major disadvantage of being on grid is that you will have less incentive to conserve. Since the systems do not require batteries, you will not have backup energy, so if a power outage occurs, you have no option but to wait it out. But in the US, power outages only happen a few times a year for a few minutes to a few hours.

Off-Grid Solar Power Systems

An off-grid solar power system is not necessarily for homes in off-grid locations. Homeowners may choose not to connect to a power grid. As for homes in off-grid locations, where it is impractical and impossible to connect to a local utility, a stand-alone system is a more viable option. An off-grid solar system comes with notable advantages as well.

Advantages

The main advantage of this is that people can still live comfortably in an off-grid location, without getting affected by power failures on the utility grid. Off-grid solar systems are more economical than extending power lines, plus, they allow a remote home to become energy independent.

But to become more energy-sufficient, especially during cloudy weather, it is important to equip your system with batteries for excess energy storage and a backup generator. A battery bank will make sure you still have electricity throughout the evening.

Disadvantages

In an off-grid system, you will need batteries to store extra energy harnessed by your solar array. Your batteries will then convert this energy into chemical energy, which you can use for future applications or for backup. Energy storage, however, comes with significant losses, and batteries come with high maintenance costs.

An off-grid system is a bit more complicated than the grid-tied, simply because the homeowner has full responsibility for how the system will run. A big setback is that a battery bank only lasts up to 10 years, and it is a bit expensive and complicated. It also means that you will be the one to do the troubleshooting and maintenance, and it could be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

It really is a personal decision whether you want to stay on-grid or ditch the public utility and become energy-sufficient. But if you go off-grid, make sure you can commit to it and that you can handle emergencies yourself. Either way, you should base your option on what is more financially feasible and convenient for you.