What types of solar power systems can I get for my home?
Published on 15 Nov, 2017 by Chris Meehan
5 minutes read
Depending on your needs and how much you want to invest in a solar power system there are a number of different types of systems you can have installed on your home or property, and some that are even more portable. As solar energy use continues to grow across the world, even the more expensive systems are coming down in price, making them sensible for more people.
The most common types of solar energy systems for homes are grid-connected, grid-connected with energy storage (also called hybrid solar), off-grid (also called stand-alone), and DC systems. Grid-connected systems are the most common in the US, but have some drawbacks, which we’ll discuss in a bit, but hybrid solar systems, which are more expensive, are becoming more popular. Off-grid systems are used in more remote situations. Since most homes use AC power, DC-power systems aren’t used to power a full home these days, but can provide valuable power.
It should be noted that while all solar systems in the US can qualify for federal incentive programs like the Investment Tax Credit, you’re more likely to get more incentive opportunities, like net-metering—allowing you to sell power back to the utility—with a grid-connected system than with an off-grid electric system, since most incentives are offered through utilities. Local solar installers are the best to talk to about your options for solar power and incentives.
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Grid-Tied Home Solar Panel Systems
The grid-tied solar panel system is the most common type of solar power system in the US. These systems are connected to your local electric grid as well as your home. In most states the systems provide your power needs throughout the day and if your system produces more electricity than your home is using, it sends the excess back to the electric grid, selling your extra solar power back to the utility where it can be used by your neighbors and others.
The grid-tied systems are the simplest and cheapest form of solar power since they use less equipment than the other types of rooftop solar power. They consist primarily of solar panels, inverters and a bi-directional electric meter.
The big drawback to these systems is that when the sun’s down, you’re not able to use any of the energy that the solar panels produced. Similarly, if the electric grid goes down, your solar panels will be shut off automatically, too. This is a safety precaution allowing utility maintenance people to safely repair electric lines without the threat of your solar power traveling along electric power lines.
Grid-Connected Solar With Energy Storage
This is the most versatile type of home solar system. It’s set up like a grid-connected residential system but also includes an energy storage system, usually in the form of a high-capacity battery backup. The systems cost more, mainly because of the extra costs associated with the battery system. But with the costs of batteries coming down such systems are becoming more affordable. Also, in certain states—like California—and local markets as utilities change how they charge customers for energy use, the energy storage systems can provide additional opportunities to save money.
The main advantage of an energy storage system is that excess energy provided by your solar panels is stored in the battery. So even if the sun’s down, you can still power your home with the sun's power. Also, these systems can be designed to island, or go free from the electric grid. So if there is a power outage, your home will still have power for hours.
These systems are still tied to the electric grid, however, and here’s why that matters. As utilities continue to adopt mechanisms like time-of-use charges (where electricity costs more during certain parts of the day—usually during peak-use hours) your energy storage system can make sure you’re using its power instead of the power from the grid. When electric prices are lower it can allow you to use power from the grid to power your home. Some utilities will also pay more for electricity from home solar during peak hours and the energy storage system can also send electricity back to the grid during those times to maximize your electric bill savings. Pretty versatile, huh?
Other than the drawbacks of extra costs are the lifetimes of the batteries. While newer technologies are making longer-lasting batteries, like lithium-ion batteries, in many cases their useful life is shorter than the solar panel system’s life, meaning you’ll likely have to replace the energy storage system at some point.
Another drawback to such systems is that fewer solar installers offer energy storage systems at this point and not all energy storage systems can offer all the above benefits. The best way to learn more about what types of energy storage systems you can get is to check with local solar installers.
Off-Grid Residential Solar Panel Systems
An off-grid solar system is a lot like the hybrid system. They consist of solar panels and an energy storage system.
If you live in a town, city or even most of the country, you’re not likely to want an off-grid system. Off-grid systems are usually installed when it’s more expensive to run a power line to a home than it is to install solar power. So essentially they’re installed in very rural areas.
Off-grid solar systems are more expensive because they have to be bigger to provide all of your electric needs since it’s not connected to the electric grid and has to be capable of providing all your electric needs for days at a time in case there are multiple days of clouds or precipitation. That requires more solar panels and batteries, increasing the costs of the system. Since the system isn’t tied to the utility and electric grid there aren’t as many incentives offered for an off-grid system. That further increases the cost of the system.
DC-Solar Panel Systems
These solar systems don’t typically power a whole home, but might power an RV or cabin. Instead of using an inverter to convert the DC electricity produced by the solar panels to the AC electricity used in most homes the panels provide electricity to DC appliances and/or a battery bank. They’re also used in smaller applications like solar-powered lighting or for an attic fan for instance.
These are the different types of solar panel systems that are available for homes. To learn more about which options are best for you to talk with local solar installers. People can use tools like those available at https://www.solar-estimate.org/.