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The three most common types of solar-electric systems are grid-tied, grid-tied with battery backup, and off-grid (stand-alone). Each has distinct applications and component needs.
Grid-tied solar-electric systems generate solar electricity and route it to the electric utility grid, offsetting a home’s or business’ electrical consumption and, in some instances, even turning the electric meter backwards. Living with a grid-connected solar-electric system is no different than living with grid power, except that some or all of the electricity you use comes from the sun. In many states, the utility credits a homeowner’s account for excess solar electricity produced.
Grid-Tied System
Grid-Tied System with battery backup
Without a battery bank or generator backup for your grid-tied system, when a blackout occurs, your household will be in the dark. To keep some or all of your electric needs like lights, a refrigerator, a well pump, or computer running even when utility power outages occur, many homeowners choose to install a grid-tied system with battery backup. Incorporating batteries into the system requires more components, is more expensive, but for many homeowners who regularly experience utility outages or have critical electrical loads, having a backup energy source is priceless.
Off-Grid System
Although they are more common in remote locations without utility grid service, off-grid solar-electric systems can work anywhere. These systems operate independently from the grid to provide all of a household’s electricity. That means no electric bills and no blackouts. People choose to live off-grid for a variety of reasons, including the prohibitive cost of bringing utility lines to remote homesites, the appeal of an independent lifestyle, or the general reliability a solar-electric system provides. Those who choose to live off-grid often need to make adjustments to when and how they use electricity, so they can live within the limitations of the system’s design. This doesn’t necessarily imply doing without, but rather is a shift to a more conscientious use of electricity.