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Installing a Grid-Tied System: 7 Things You Need to Know

Installing a grid-tied solar system (aka on-grid solar system) is the most preferred type of solar installation in American homes. Almost 4 in 5 solar homes have some sort of arrangement with the grid —it could be purely grid-tied or a combination of batteries and grid.

While it may be the go-to solar installation, you still need to know certain things before installing a grid-tied system. And that is what we are discussing today—we answer seven important questions our energy consultants come across most often.

For example:

  • How does grid-tied solar work?
  • How to use grid-tied solar during power outages?
  • Do you need a permit for installing an on-grid solar system?
  • How to convert grid-tied solar to off-grid? Can we do that?
  • Is a grid-tie solar system worth it?
  • What is the difference between on-grid, off-grid, and hybrid solar systems?
  • How on-grid solar system works at night?

Let’s briefly answer each one of them separately below.

1. How does a grid-tied solar system work?

Grid-tied systems are the simplest type of solar installation. All you need is a few solar panels sized so to match your daily needs. Solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity when the sun shines over them. A set of inverters would be needed to convert the DC to alternating current (AC) electricity to make it usable. This would work well during the day.

But you will revert to your grid at night or when the sun disappears due to clouds. A net meter (which monitors the two-way exchange of electricity) facilitates the switch to and from the grid. One of the benefits of grid-tied solar systems is net metering. That is, any excess energy your solar PV system generates is fed to the grid, against which you earn energy credits. At the end of your billing cycle, these credits are netted against your electricity consumption.

2. How to use grid-tied system during a power outage?

Grid-tied solar systems do not work during a power outage. It is because your solar system is directly connected to the grid, which can cause safety concerns for engineers and technicians working on the grid. Hence, it is shut down for safety purposes.

So, you have installed an on-grid system and experience a power outage. In that case, you can meet your electricity demand by relying on a backup generator or uninterrupted power supply/home inverter. Another way is to connect your system to a battery bank. But note that when you install batteries, your system will no longer be called grid-tied but a hybrid solar system.

For hybrid systems, you may require a few extra components, such as charge controllers and hybrid inverters. We recommend installing a hybrid solar system if you live in an area prone to frequent power outages.

3. Do you need a permit for installing a grid-tied solar system?

Yes, permits are necessary for installing an on-grid solar system. Permits ensure that your system is designed and installed correctly – based on your system’s design, the authorities can also suggest changes.

Typically, you will require approval from two bodies. One is from your local building authority, and the other is from your utility. The latter is especially necessary, as your system is directly connected to the grid. Also, without an interconnection permit with the grid, you cannot utilize the benefits of net metering.

The process and the time solar permitting takes may vary from state to state and utility to utility, as the building and electric codes may vary.

Did you know?

As of November 2022, the number of solar energy systems installed in the US stands at 3,060,500 and is expected to grow at 13.4% by 2030.

Source: Forbes

4. How to convert an on-grid solar system to off-grid?

A grid-tied system can be easily converted to an off-grid system. However, the costs of such an exercise are too high, as the cost of batteries alone can go upwards of $30,000 (depending on the size of your system).

In addition to batteries, you would need to install an off-grid inverter. The inverter for the on-grid solar system is designed to monitor the exchange of electricity with the grid, and since there is no grid involved in the off-grid system, your old inverter won’t work.

Then there is the need to install additional solar panels. The number of solar panels for an on-grid system is required only to equal your daily energy consumption. But in off-grid systems, you have a battery bank that requires charging. Hence, you will need additional solar panels to supply that charge.

5. Is a grid-tie solar system worth it?

Absolutely! Grid-tied solar systems are the least expensive among different types of solar installations. The installation process is also simple. But the potential they have for saving homeowners on electricity, in the long run, is the best in the league.

With the shortest payback period, another key advantage of on-grid systems is net metering. You do not have to install an expensive energy storage system for your needs at night. Your grid is virtually your battery bank. Additionally, you can eliminate your electricity bill altogether if you install a right-sized solar system. That is, generate as much electricity as you consume, send it to the grid, and they will give you energy credits in return. Doing so can make your electricity bill negligible (though you will pay your grid a certain amount, which is fixed and permanent.)

6. What is the difference between on-grid, off-grid, and hybrid solar systems?

It is simple. It is called an on-grid system when your solar system is connected only to the grid and does not have batteries. But detach your system from the grid, install a battery bank, and it becomes an off-grid system. Households with off-grid systems rely on solar panels for their energy needs during the daytime and batteries during the nighttime.

Now, a mix of both on-grid and off-grid systems is called a hybrid system. In such systems, your solar system is connected to the grid but also features a battery bank for emergency needs. If you want to read more about the differences between these systems, read our comprehensive article on grid-tie versus off-grid versus hybrid solar systems.

7. How on-grid solar system works at night?

Solar panels do not generate electricity when the sun is away. So what to do at night? Well, you switch to the grid electricity.

As mentioned above, grid-tied systems are connected to the grid through a two-way meter. The grid transmits the energy you require at night but also keeps track of the energy your solar system generates in excess during the day—which goes to the grid. At the end of your billing cycle, your consumed units are netted against your exported units, and you get an adjusted electricity bill.

These were a few things you needed to know before installing a grid-tied solar system. If you have decided to go solar, let us design a system for you customized to your needs!

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We'll put together a solar installation package that won't break your budget.

Whatever the size of your project, you save with Next Earth Solar.

Call us today to get a quote on solar panels, inverters, and battery packs. We're sure we can beat any other quote you have!.

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