What are the pros and cons of straight grid tied solar vs solar with battery storage?
Written by Andrew Sendy
Updated August 13, 2021
5 minutes read
After much deliberation, you've made the decision to install solar panels in your home. Goodbye, electricity bill, and hello self-sufficiency! Well, not so fast. Installing solar panels doesn't necessarily mean you're free of your local power company — nor do you necessarily want to be. It all depends on whether you decide to be grid-tied, use battery storage to go off-grid or adopt an increasingly popular model of a hybrid solar system. There are pros and cons to each. Here are a few important questions to help you decide which is right for you.
What Does It Mean to Be Grid Tied?
As its name implies, a grid-tied solar system is one that's still connected to your local power grid. If at any given time your panels aren't producing enough energy to meet your home's power needs, then that energy is supplemented with electricity from your local power company. In a grid-tied system, you still get a regular electricity bill for the energy you use, but it's greatly reduced by your use of solar panels.
What Does It Mean to Be Off Grid?
If you're off-grid, then your home is disconnected from the local power supply. You're completely self-sufficient, generating enough power on your own to meet all of your energy needs. During peak sunlight hours, any extra electricity generated is used to charge a solar battery. That battery then powers your home at night, or at any other time when your energy usage exceeds the amount of power your panels are currently generating.
Can You Combine Grid-Tied and Battery Storage on Your Solar Panel System?
Just because you have supplemental energy storage doesn't mean you have to go off grid. You can have a hybrid system, which draws electricity from both the power grid and from one or more solar batteries, as needed. If you use more energy than your battery's capacity allows for, then you'll draw power from the grid to provide the rest. This is particularly common when electricity usage is at its peak – which will depend on where you live.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Being Grid Tied?
The main disadvantage to remaining grid-tied is that you still have to pay an electricity bill. The average household with solar panels is able to meet around 86% of their annual energy needs through solar power. While that can reduce your bill significantly, it's not quite enough to go completely off-grid.
The flip side of that is, when you're on the grid, you know you'll always have power when you need it. Whether it's day or night, sunny or cloudy, and even during times of peak energy usage, you can get the electricity you need to go about your day.
Additionally, on days when you produce more energy than you need, then you can actually make money from the grid. Many power companies all over the country have programs whereby the excess, unused electricity produced by your solar panels goes back into the grid, to be distributed to other residents in your area. You then receive a stipend for that energy that you're letting them use.
How much you receive depends on your local power company's policies. Talk to your solar provider to find out what the energy buyback policy is in your area and how to take advantage of it. Wherever you are, though, you can only make use of it if you remain grid tied.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Battery Storage?
With a solar battery, you can eliminate your electricity bill completely and not have to rely on your local power company for anything. The drawback is, solar batteries are expensive. They can range anywhere from $6,000 to over $8,000, on top of what you pay to install the actual solar panels. They will, of course, pay for themselves with energy savings over time, but it can take a number of years. Additionally, even with a battery backup, your energy needs can sometimes exceed your supply. If you choose to go off-grid, then you have nothing to fall back on when you run out of power.
Your local solar provider can help you find out exactly how much a battery would cost, and whether it would be worthwhile for your household's energy needs.
What Is the Best Way to Go Solar?
If you live in a remote area, where there aren't already power lines nearby, then connecting your home to the nearest electrical facility can cost a lot of money. In this case, as long as your energy usage is low enough that it won't exceed your battery's capacity, then going off-grid may be the most sensible option. If you are thinking about going off-grid, talk to your solar provider to determine if it's a worthwhile option in your current situation.
Otherwise, it's usually preferable to remain grid-tied, to be sure you always have a reliable power source, under any conditions, regardless of your energy usage.
How Do I Choose an Installer for My Solar System?
Do your homework. Check Yelp, Angie's List, and the Better Business Bureau to vet potential installers in your area. Reading multiple reviews for the same company, across multiple sites, can help you spot patterns that will help you narrow down your choice.
Once you've found a few installers that look promising, check their credentials. Are they licensed, bonded, and insured? Do they have certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, as PV Installation Professionals? Finally, talk to them in person, to find out how long they've been in business and see some examples of some of their past work.
With a little bit of research and legwork, you should be able to find the right solar installer for your system — someone who can help you determine whether a grid-tied, off-grid, or hybrid system with battery backup, is best suited to your particular location, financial situation, and general energy needs.