On Grid vs Off Grid Solar: What’s the Difference?

In this article, we’ll take a look at on grid vs. off grid solar. Each has its own benefits, and, thus, reason to consider using.

But, before we determine who should consider each option, let’s make sure we understand the the difference between the two.

Why Off Grid?

Before we get into the differences between on-grid and off-grid, let’s consider why someone may want an off-grid system.

In reality, the reason for wanting such a system will be very much a personal choice. Some people may simply want to reduce their dependence on the system.

That can be due to trust or due to other reasons. For example, if you live in a state that has high coal consumption, you may not want to rely in the grid so as to reduce your contribution to CO2 emissions.

While the reasons for wanting to go off the grid are many, there are certainly a lot of people who might choose to do so.

And now, let’s take a look at the difference between on-grid solar power and off-grid solar power.

On Grid Solar

An on-grid solar system, also known as a grid-tied solar system, is one that connects directly to the grid. Thus, these systems depend on the grid in order to generate power.

Pros of On Grid Solar

Why would you want a system like this? One of the biggest benefits of an on-grid solar system is that it can send excess energy back to the grid.

And if you live in a market where solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) are available, you can actually be paid for your excess energy production.

Needless to say, this is an attractive proposition, especially if you don’t use very much power.

After all, it means your solar panels can actually pay for themselves after a certain number of years.

It’s difficult to estimate how long it would take to completely earn back the cost, as costs can vary, as can panel efficiency. However, you should expect it to take five years at the very least.

In addition to the above benefits, these systems are easier to install, and the cheapest up front.

Cons of On Grid Solar

One of the biggest drawbacks of on grid solar is probably that it won’t help you if energy independence is your goal.

In some parts of the country, where planned blackouts are becoming more common, less grid reliance is looking more attractive.

That’s because if your energy from the grid is interrupted – whether planned or unplanned – you will lose power if you have an on grid solar system. Even if there is sunlight, you will still lose power.

Off Grid Solar

Once again, the name makes it apparent what off grid solar is. Simply put, off grid solar systems do not rely on the grid to supply power to your home.

As such, battery systems such as the Tesla Powerwall can be used to store power while there is no sunlight.

Pros of Off Grid Solar

The main benefit here is of course that you don’t have to rely on the grid to supply your power. That means that even if there is a blackout, you will still be able to have power.

This can help protect you against those blackouts mentioned above.

Despite those benefits, off grid solar is certainly not perfect.

Cons of Off Grid Solar

There are two main downsides to off grid solar: cost and installation.

There is more specialized equipment needed to supply power to your own home, such as an inverter and charge controller.

Plus, as mentioned above, you will need battery storage for when the sun isn’t shining.

And that gets to the other con: cost. Battery storage has come a long way but can be quite expensive if you intend to power a larger home with your own off-grid solar. The Tesla Power Wall can cost upwards of $15,000 if you intend to fully cover such a home.

The one other con to mention is that, because you aren’t relying on the grid, you will have no other backup if you run out of battery power or if one of your battery packs fails.

Hybrid Solar Systems

There is one other type of solar system to mention, and that is hybrid systems. As you can probably guess, they are a hybrid of the two types of systems mentioned above.

These systems can allow you to feed excess power back into the grid while also allowing you to supply your own power in a blackout.

But are these systems the perfect solution? Let’s find out.

Hybrid Solar Pros

The most benefit is being able to provide your own power while still being connected to the grid.

Basically, you can reduce the amount of power you need to draw from the grid while the sun is shining without the need to buy battery storage if your budget won’t allow it.

In some cases, these systems work in a sort of modular way in that they are expandable so you can add more capacity if needed.

Hybrid Solar Cons

Still, these systems are not perfect. The setup will certainly be an elaborate one with a lot to consider. For example, you will need a hybrid inverter to convert your hybrid solar power.

And despite this elaborate setup, you’ll probably still need some amount of battery capacity. Indeed, it’s probably less than you would need with a totally off-grid system, but it’s something to consider.

Other Considerations

There is certainly a lot to consider with a solar system install. In addition to the above considerations, another thing to think about is permitting.

This will vary depending on where you live, but chances are, you will need to file for a permit if you intend to install a solar system.

This FAQ from New York City has answers to several questions regarding solar permitting.

Generally, though, you’ll have to obtain multiple permits for your solar setup to be compliant. Common permit types include electrical permits, building permits, and photovoltaic permits.

Check with your local or state government in order to determine which types of permits are required for your solar install.

Which Solar Setup is Right for You?

Which solar setup is right for you depends on several factors, such as your budget and your goals.

For example, if your main goal is to completely eliminate your dependence on the grid, an off-grid system would certainly make the most sense.

However, it’s important to consider that cutting ties with the grid can be a big undertaking. If you intend to do so, you will need to be able to cover your own energy consumption when there is no sun.

And that can be expensive. Those who can’t cover the cost of batteries to store the necessary amount of energy may want to consider a hybrid system.

Depending on your budget and your goals, one of these systems should suit your needs. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the difference as well as which system you should choose for your home.

If you have any questions about the difference between the two types, please let us know in the comments.

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