As the demand for solar-powered systems continues to rise every year around the world, the technologies behind them are also improving at a staggering rate, and this bodes well for the future of energy. But for most people, the lack of knowledge on how to go about with switching to solar-powered systems is what is keeping them from adopting solar power.
We are going to delve into on-grid and off-grid solar systems, look at what they are, how they function, how they compare to each other, and all the other details that will be of help to anyone looking to install solar power. So stick around to the end to learn a few tips that will help you understand the whole setup better.
An On-Grid solar power system is one that is tied directly to the local utility’s grid that you use for your daily needs. It is the system that is used for most residential houses around the world. This is due to the fact that the houses are completely covered in the event that there’s an overproduction or under-production of power. Basically, an On-Grid system is flexible and compensates for the variations of power without putting anything to risk.
Another standout feature of this system is that any excess energy that surpasses your needs is stored away in the grid, and this gives you a chance to build credit that you are allowed to cash out at any point in time through a convenient process called net-metering.
With this system, there’s no need to add an expensive power-saving battery to the entire setup, and this can help cut off your initial investment when it comes to setting up an on-grid system in your house.
The On-Grid solar system works in a very straightforward manner that is easy to understand, especially if you have some knowledge on how power is distributed to homes from the main power grid. The following is a simplified breakdown of how this works.
The electricity flows from the grid-connected to the user’s house and from the user’s house back to the grid. This is the special feature that makes this system a very flexible and useful one among the ones that exist.
The solar panels that are installed on the roof of the user’s house are directly tied to the grid. They convert the direct energy from the sun into electric energy in the form of a Direct Current.
This Direct Current is then sent to the inverter, which then transforms the DC into an Alternating Current that can now be used for all the electrical news of the house. This AC is then routed back to the grid, where it is then used to supply the house for the day to day usage.
At the same time, the inverter helps regulate the amount of voltage of the electricity being supplied to the house. This is because the power being supplied may exceed the needs of the house.
The power is then routed through the net meter, where power consumption is recorded, and the consumer gets supplied with the bill at the end of the month.
Inverter: This is what converts the Direct Current that the solar panel produces into an Alternating Current that can now power things around the house and outside. It is one of the must-have components needed for making everything work on the on-grid system.
Array DC Disconnect: This is an emergency switch that is used to disconnect the power in the house when it comes to conducting maintenance and repairs. It disconnects the power straight from the solar panel even before the DC is converted to AC, and this increases safety, especially when dealing with emergencies.
Power Meter: This is used by the system to maintain a tie to the utility grid by measuring the amount of electricity that you use from the power grid. This way, any surplus power produced is redirected back to the grid for use in other places or for storage for later use.
Charge Controller: This is a charge regulator that is used to maintain the proper voltage used in charging for the system battery. This helps stop the batteries from getting overcharged as that may spoil them and cause them to degrade.
There are a number of benefits that one can accrue from using the On-Grid system, and they include the following.
No Electricity Bills: When you have your solar panels conn3cted to the grid, you will only pay for the surplus electricity that you end up using, something that rarely happens. The bill that’s generated at the end of the month only serves the purpose of determining if the surplus has been passed or not. If the electricity usage is less than the expected target, it is fed back into the grid.
Easy to Maintain: Dealing with repairs and other important works on an on-grid system is much easier compared to other systems. It has the least number of electrical parts, and the installation is very simple. The lack of things like batteries further makes maintenance a very easy thing that can be handled by anyone with basic knowledge of electricity.
Easy Synchronization: An on-grid system can be synchronized with other forms of electricity like diesel-powered generators. This increases the convenience as you can seamlessly switch to a backup power option when the solar power isn’t working.
Creates Profits: You can choose to sell the surplus electricity by supplying it to your neighbors at a cost. This can become a very good source of passive income as you will be earning money without lifting a finger.
Cost-Effective Installation: The cost of setting up any solar system is not cheap; however, when compared to other systems, it is way much cheaper, and it comes with great long-term benefits. And when you consider the possibility of making money from it, it becomes a worthwhile investment.
Despite their good reputation, On-Grid systems do come with their own limitations, and the most notable ones that you should be aware of are the following.
They Lack Batteries: The lack of backup batteries may be good for cost-effectiveness, but it increases unreliability in situations where there’s not enough sun to generate electricity. Without storage batteries, you could find yourself in darkness for a very long time.
There’s Less Incentive To Conserve The Energy: In some way, in situations where surplus power is not utilized properly, everything goes to waste, and this can come back to bite you when the sun eventually wanes at some point when seasons change.
When talking about Off-Grid setups, it simply means that you are not directly connected to the grid’s power system or any utility company that may be behind the management of electrical systems in your locality.
This is different from the on-grid system as you are independent. You generate the electricity you need in a self-sustaining way. However, it lacks some of the benefits that one would expect to find when using on-grid systems. The biggest among them is being forced to get an extra battery setup for storing any excess power that is generated. These cost a lot and are way too bulky, something that has discouraged many people from adopting solar power energy.
The power generated by the solar panel is consumed directly in the house, and any excess electricity is directed to the batteries for storage for later use. This is the kind of setup that is reserved for remote areas with no access to power grids. This is why they come with a backup mechanism that ensures the power is marinated and produced all throughout the year, no matter how bad the weather may turn out to be.
An off-grid system is not connected to any grid system. The electricity produced is directly sent to the batteries for storage, and from that point, they are supplied to the house, where it powers all the common appliances. It is a very elaborate network of connectivity that links up the entire house with the needed electricity.
When the sunlight hits the solar panel, the energy is converted into electricity and sent directly to the batteries. This ensures that the batteries are continuously charged the more the electricity continues to stream in. Once the sun goes down, the house continues to receive the electricity directly from the batteries, and this continues for as long as the batteries have power in them.
There are a couple of important components that are needed for an off-grid system to function as designed. All these components have to work with each other, and they include the following.
Battery Bank: This is a system of batteries that are connected to each other by a neat network of wires and linked to a big power supplier. The main function of the battery bank is to store the excess electricity degenerated during the day for later use once the sun goes down. This is the only part of the off-grid system that makes setting it up expensive.
Solar Charge Controller: This regulates how the battery bank is charged. The one thing that one has to be cautious about is overcharging the batteries, as that quickly reduces their lifespan. The solar charge controller ensures that the connection is stopped once the battery hits its charge capacity.
Off-Grid Inverter: The main purpose of the inverter is to convert the direct current that is harnessed by the solar panels into alternating current that can now be used by all the electrical components in the house.
DC Disconnect Switch: This is installed between the off-grid inverter and the battery bank, and it is used to switch off current between all the components at a moment’s notice for emergencies. It also comes in very handy for maintenance and troubleshooting.
Back-up Generator: This is optional for those situations where the battery bank is damaged or is not damaged. Most run on diesel, but for most people who set up solar power systems in their homes they rarely have this as it is an added cost when you consider how expensive battery banks are.
The off-grid system comes with its own set of advantages that one can live with. Some of the most notable ones include the following.
Self-Sustainable: There’s full independence that comes with using the off-grid system. You are not reliant on the grid and this means you control everything, from how the electricity is consumed and how it is stored. You have access to electricity even in seasons where there’s no sufficient sun.
Cleaner and Cheaper: For most of the other systems to work, you require a backup option, and this comes in the form of diesel-run generators. These are not only bad for the environment but are extremely expensive to set up and run. Off-grid systems, on the other hand, are cheap to set up and are entirely reliant on the sun, the most renewable source of energy.
Great for Remote Areas: Power grids are not as widespread as people may assume despite electricity being around for centuries. There are some areas that are not covered sufficiently enough to support any form of grid connection. This is where having an off-grid system comes in handy. All you would need to have things running is the basic equipment like a solar panel, long sunshine hours, and batteries for storage, and you are good to go.
Safe From Power Cuts: You are your own boss when it comes to off-grid systems as you control everything on your own. There’s no power company that sets up a meter that keeps track of your usage for billing. Once you have set things up, there are no other charges that come knocking. You only need to worry about maintenance and repairs when the time for that comes.
Just like any other system, the off-grid setup has its own limitations that may cause a moment of consideration. These limitations include the following.
High Cost: Setting up an off-grid system is very expensive when you factor in the cost of buying the battery bank, which is very necessary for the whole system to work efficiently. This cost is what may cause many people to avoid going with this option.
Energy Waste: Any surplus energy that is produced when the sun decides to really come out will most likely go to waste. This happens when the battery reaches capacity much earlier. This type of waste is not good since it cannot even be harnessed by other people. Unless you chose to add more battery banks, which is another added cost.
Unreliable in Bad Weather: When the weather goes cold for a very long time, the off-grid solar system will go offline for a very long time, and this can cause you a lot of problems if it is the only thing you depend on for your electrical needs.
High Maintenance: The batteries used for backup require a lot of attention, and they also come with a very short lifespan. Without any proper maintenance, they degrade way too fast, and this can bring your solar panel project to a halt if you have no other means of replacing the batteries.
There is another third type of solar system that combines the best features of the on-grid and off-grid systems to create an option that appeals to people who may want to have both systems but lack the funds to set them up at the same time.
Hybrid solar systems are both grid-tied, and at the same time, they come with bank batteries that you would normally find in an off-grid system. In a nutshell, you get full control of how you generate and use your electricity by having a system that allows you to tap into the best of both worlds.
A hybrid solar system works the same way as the other systems but with some little modifications that bring about great differences. It generates power by absorbing energy from the sun in the form of Direct Currents. This is then converted into an Alternating current, and it is immediately transferred into the grid.
From the grid, the power is then supplied to the house for direct use, and any surplus electricity is sent to the batteries for storage. Once the battery is full, the transfer is stopped and redirected back to the grid, where it can be used for other purposes or redirected to other locations that are connected to the grid.
There are a couple of beneficial things that one can get from switching to a hybrid system, and the most notable ones include the following.
Flexibility: You have the convenience of tapping into both the off-grid and on-grid systems without the limitations of either. You can have the power redirected back into the grid once the battery is full, and this eliminates wastage of power, and that saves on the cost.
Expandable: There’s room for future expansion as it is highly customizable and allows for all kinds of modifications. If you ever plan on expanding the size of your property, a hybrid system is the easiest way to cover all the additional parts without having to create new systems from the ground up.
Better Power Management: There’s better power management in hybrid systems as you are using some of the best components of both the off-grid and the on-grid systems. This makes it a very cost-effective solution for people who want a reliable power solution that doesn’t lead to wastage.
Good as the system may be, it does have a few drawbacks that anyone looking to get one set up on their property should be on the lookout for. These drawbacks include the following.
High Installation Costs: Setting up a hybrid system is much higher than both the on-grid and off-grid systems. It is almost the same as setting up both systems at the same time, and this requires the use of advanced components that don’t come cheap.
High Maintenance Cost: The installation process is already complicated on its own, and when you factor in the maintenance and the repairs that you may need to have down the road, you find yourself dealing with a very complicated system that requires professional hands.
Takes Too Much Space: The setup requires too much space to accommodate all the parts and the equipment needed to make things run. On top of setting up the panels on the roof. You also need to set up the bank battery and other important structures. This ends up costing a lot of money in the long run.
Solar Power System Safety Measures to Keep in Mind
Solar energy may be harnessed from the sun, but it is just as potent and dangerous as any other form of electricity, and for this reason, there are some safety measures that people dealing with solar panels need to pay close attention to.
You need to use junction boxes that provide safe housing for the writing to avoid any electrocution accidents that may occur. Junction boxes protect the wiring from any moisture and this ensures there are no fire hazards that crop up due to short-circuiting.
When doing the setup in your house, ensure that the main power is switched off. Wiring involves the handling of naked wires and the opening of circuits, and if this is done when the power is on, there are a lot of electrocution hazards that could take place, leading to grievous injuries to those involved.
Ensure you use genuine parts, from the solar panels all the way to the internal wiring. To be on the safe side, ensure that you source all your materials from one company. This way, there will be some accountability involved when something goes wrong. Getting your stuff from different sources could only lead to trouble and loss of money.
Ensure that the entire setup has an easy-to-access regulator that can be shut off immediately in bad weather. Most electrical accidents tend to happen when the weather is rough, and sometimes, leaving the electricity on, even when it is from the solar panel, can be dangerous.
The solar panel systems mentioned above are designed to address different news in different places. It is hard to make a verdict on the one that works best since it all comes down to personal preferences and the location where the setup is being installed. For more information on solar power systems, how they are manufactured, and how they operate, check out our website and have all your questions answered by our team of experts.