Many people are choosing solar lately. It is the biggest craze right now with how the world is going lately. People are scared of the grid failing and and still needing to still have power to perform everyday duties of life. And after all, it is better to be prepared. In the last decade alone, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 33%.
However, going solar does not necessarily mean being off the grid. As a matter of fact, being on solar in many cases means still having an electric bill monthly.
In this post, I will explain how off-the grid and on-the-grid solar works so you can make a better informed decision on your journey towards being self-reliant.
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Common Misconception of Solar
There are so many people who assume that if you have solar panels, you must be off the grid. Solar panels absorb the suns energy only. That’s their job.
The energy must be not only stored, but also must be able to be used by your homes electrical system. A home’s electrical system runs off of AC or Alternating Current. The electricity made by those solar panels is considered DC, or Direct Current
So for those panels to power your home you must change it from DC to AC. That is done with an inverter. The inverter converts DC to AC easily and then sends the electricity into your home’s electrical panel to power your home.
However with this system, you are still connected to the grid. This means you can automatically draw electricity and any surplus is sold back to the power company.
Common On-Grid Solar Set Up
Step 1: Sunlight begins to activate the solar panels
Solar panels are made up of silicone cells, also called photovoltaic attached to wiring. These cells are inside of a metal frame that is then enclosed in glass. The glass has a special coating on it.
Depending on the size and number of panels your property require, these panels are grouped together into an ordered sequence that are called arrays. They are then either mounted on roof or ground-mounted depending on the weight, size and location.
These solar “cells can then absorb the sunlight all day long.
Step 2: The cells produce an electrical current
Inside each of the cells are two layers of silicon that form a semi-conductor wafer. On layer is negatively charged and the other is positively charged. these two layers, when combined, produce an electric field.
When the sun’s light energy enters the solar cell, it energizes the cell and causes electrons to become loose or unattached from the wafer. The electric field surrounding the wafer “charges” those electrons and that creates an electrical current.
Step 3: The Solar energy is converted from DC To AC by way of an inverter
Since the solar energy is in the form of DC, it must be transformed by way of an inverter into AC. Once it is exchanged it is sent into the home. Any additional solar energy not used by you is commonly “bought back” from the electric company and returned to you as a credit on your bill.
The Pros and Cons with an On-Grid Setup
By connecting to solar in the manner mentioned above, there are pros and cons.
While many people may see a drastic cut in their electricity bill, especially in the summer months, they are still on the grid. That means if the main power company goes down, you have no electricity either.
However, on those dark, dreary days when there is not a lot of sun, your electric will still be always on and available. But you may not receive as big of a discount on the electric bill due to less solar energy being absorbed.
The Off-the Grid Set Up
Many people would rather fill all of their electricity needs through solar and want nothing to do with an electricity provider that they pay monthly. The solution is an off-the-grid solar setup.
Like the system mentioned above, the sunlight is captured by the panels, sent to a charging controller, and then relayed to an inverter that turns the energy into electricity. However, instead of the unused energy going to the power company, it goes to a charging controller. It then goes to a battery or batteries where the energy is stored until you need to use it. Then it travels to the inverter to be changed from DC to AC and then to your home.
The Charging Controller
The charge controller is the “delivery man” between the solar panels, the inverters, and the battery bank. Charge controllers act as a regulator, ensuring that the power received through the solar panels doesn’t overload the battery. Instead it keeps the battery or batteries fully charged and tops them off when needed.
The charge controllers then either delivers the energy directly as DC power to your house lights or to the inverter. The inverter converts the energy into AC power for household appliances. All excess energy goes now goes to the battery bank.
Types of Batteries
There are basically two types of batteries available for an off-the-grid system.
Newer lithium batteries offer advanced functionality and come in a small, sleek form. They are, however, very expensive and will account for a large portion of your costs if you decide to use them.
AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) lead-acid batteries are bulky and have a shorter lifespan. However, they are much cheaper. Their low price makes them a popular choice for off-grid solar systems.
Be sure to check with a professional that is well-versed with solar before purchasing any parts. They will be able to lead you to the correct materials for your specific location and usage.
The Benefits of Going Off-The-Grid
There are many benefits to going off-the-grid!
- You don’t have to depend on the government or a power company to have electricity
- The sun produces cleaner energy! Therefore you reduce your carbon footprint!
- No matter what damage the weather causes, you will always have electricity, even when the power lines are down.
- You save a lot of money in the long run.
- It allows very remote and rural properties the convenience of having power that once was not available.
The Cons of Going Off-The-Grid
There are some cons to being totally dependent on the sun. These include:
- The inverter and battery bank you must have can be very expensive in the initial part of going totally solar.
- Dark and rainy days can mean less energy is being stored for later use.
- Batteries are expensive to replace when they go bad.
- Electricians should be used to install the system and this can be very costly.
What We Chose and Why
We chose at this point to stay connected to the grid for a bit. It was definitely more feasible and affordable currently for our particular current situation. However, we do have plans in a few years to go off-the grid.
We intend to start budgeting and maybe even buying and storing some batteries over the next few months to reduce some of the expense when we are ready to be completely off-the grid. Money and time will tell.
Although we will see a reduction in our power bill from the current system we have, the end goal is to have no power bill at all.
We may decide to set up a separate system for our well seeing that without power we have no means of getting water. We are still researching how to set up an off-the-grid system just for that.
What’s The Right Choice For You?
Do you think you are ready to take the plunge into solar for your property? I hope this post at least helped explain the basics. You even got to learn a few of the pros and coms of each.
Do your research. Pay a professional. Read the fine print. And make the best choice for your family.