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A Beginner’s Guide to 3 Types of Solar Installation (Grid-Tie versus Off-Grid versus Hybrid Solar Systems)

Solar systems can be installed in many ways. You could connect your system to the grid or keep the grid out of the loop and instead rely only on batteries. There is another way—connecting your solar system to the grid and batteries. 

There are three main types of solar installations:

  1. off-grid
  2. grid-tie
  3. hybrid

Which one should you choose? 

Many would prefer to go completely off-grid, and the reason is obvious: to receive no electricity bill. But it is not that simple. Why? We will know this in the lines below as we discuss each type of solar installation along with its benefits and downsides. 

Grid-tied solar system (aka on-grid solar system)

Grid-tie is an arrangement where your solar system is connected to your grid without having batteries for energy storage. During the daytime, you consume the electricity your solar system generates. But since your system cannot generate electricity when the sun sets, you will use grid electricity at night—or when there is a power outage or your system is having issues. 

Grid-tie system also goes by other names, such as on-grid, grid-interactive, grid-connect, and grid-feed solar system. Whatever the name may appear on your solar quote, it all means the same—your system will be connected to the grid, and there won’t be batteries. 

Grid-tied systems are the most popular type of solar installation in the United States.

Did you know ?

According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, 88.8% of solar installations were on-grid in 2021, and only 11.2% went for solar systems with batteries. 

Pros of grid-tied solar system 

  • Net metering – in an on-grid arrangement, your surplus electricity goes directly to the grid, for which you will receive energy credits. These energy credits are adjusted in your electricity bill. 
  • You won’t be at the mercy of the sun—whether the sun is shining or the weather is cloudy, you will have electricity available. If your solar system doesn’t generate enough power, grid electricity will meet your demands. 
  • Flexibility—you can install as many panels as you want. For example, you don’t want to install a system for the whole house but only for your air conditioning system? Very well. As long as you are connected to the grid, you do not have to install a system for your whole home. 
  • Cost-effective—on-grid arrangement is cost-effective. You won’t need additional equipment, like a backup generator, charge controller, etc. In addition, you have the freedom to size your system—if your budget is limited, you can choose a smaller solar system.  

Cons of grid-tied solar system 

  • The only downside of a grid-tied solar system is that you won’t have power when there is a power outage, even if the sun is shining. This is because a grid-tied system feeds to the grid, and if there is repair work going on, it can cause dangers for people working on the grid. When the grid goes down, your system will automatically switch off. 

Equipment required for grid-tied solar system 

You will need the following: 

  • Solar panels—it is for you to decide which type of panels you choose. 
  • Solar inverters—there are two different types of inverters: central inverters and micro-inverters. Both go well with a grid-tied solar system. 
  • Power meter—this is a meter that allows and tracks two-way electricity flow. Standard meters only measure the incoming electricity, while power meters can do both ways. 

Off-grid solar system 

Off-grid systems are those where your solar system alone is responsible for all your electricity consumption. Your system is not connected to the grid. But there are energy storage systems—batteries—installed for use at night. 

Off-grid systems are more popular in remote areas or regions where electricity transmission lines would cost more than the average. Theoretically speaking, off-grid could be considered the best arrangement, as you won’t receive any electricity bill. In addition, all the electricity you consume would be clean and green. 

But off-grid systems have their own downsides, for example, regularly paying for the batteries’ upkeep. Also, suppose the weather condition remains adverse for a couple of days. In that case, you could experience blackouts, as your solar system may not generate electricity, and the electricity stored in your batteries will already be consumed. To avoid this, you will have to spend on a backup generator. 

Equipment required for off-grid solar system 

To design a completely off-grid system, you will need: 

  • Solar panels 
  • Off-grid inverter
  • Battery bank to store excess electricity for use at night 
  • Charge controller for batteries 
  • Backup generator (optional)
  • Additional DC connect switch 

Pros of off-grid solar system 

  • Energy independence—with an off-grid system, you say goodbye to grid electricity and hence, expensive electricity bills. You are in the driver’s seat of meeting your energy demands. The prices of grid electricity are always on the upward move and prone to fluctuations, but it won’t affect you anymore. 
  • Cost-effective for remote locations—the off-grid arrangement is a cheaper option than grid electricity in areas where running power lines could be too expensive. 
  • Clean and green energy—all the electricity you generate will be eco-friendly and achieved through sustainable means. 
  • Access to electricity even during blackouts—on-grid systems remain switched off during power outages, but with off-grid systems, you will have ready access to electricity 24/7. 

Cons of off-grid solar system 

  • Higher upfront cost—due to the additional battery bank, the initial cost will be 30-40% more than the on-grid system. If you opt for a backup generator, the costs could go a bit even higher. 
  • No net-metering—since you are not connected to the grid, you cannot sell surplus electricity to the grid. 
  • Batteries maintenance—batteries require routine maintenance, and that means paying more for the off-grid system in the long run. While there have been batteries in the market with a lifespan of up to 10 years, some types of batteries need replacement after 4-5 years. This also reduces the payback period of your solar system.  
  • Limited power in adverse weather conditions—you will have power during an outage, but if the weather turns cloudy for a few days, you might run into trouble. There won’t be any new electricity, and the already-stored energy in the battery bank might not last for more than a few days. 
  • Requires more space—you will have to accommodate the battery bank and generator in a separate space. This arrangement might not be feasible if you have limited space. 

Hybrid solar system 

The hybrid system is a compromise between grid-tied and off-grid solar systems. In this arrangement, your solar system will be connected to your grid as well as batteries. It is like the best of both worlds. 

In a hybrid solar system, the surplus energy your system generates is stored in batteries. But when the batteries no longer need charge, the surplus electricity is diverted to the grid. 

Hybrid solar systems are fast becoming famous, especially after efficient batteries with improved lifespans came to the market. In 2017, only 2.8% of systems had storage systems attached to their solar system. In 2021, the number jumped to 11.2%, and in 2025, it is expected to be around 30%. 

Equipment required for hybrid solar system 

To install a hybrid solar system, you will need: 

  • Solar panels 
  • Hybrid inverter
  • Battery bank 
  • Charge controller for batteries 
  • Power meter 
  • Additional DC connect switch 

Pros of hybrid solar system 

Combine the advantages of both the grid-tied and off-grid systems, and we get a hybrid system. Some of the benefits of hybrid solar systems are: 

  • Less reliance on grid electricity—with a hybrid solar system, you will have less reliance on grid electricity. During the daytime, you will consume the electricity generated by your solar panels. At night, it could be a mix of both grid and battery. But when there is a power outage, you will still have power in your home, unlike in grid-tie systems.   
  • Continuous power supply—whether it is a power outage or adverse weather conditions, you will have an uninterrupted power supply thanks to the battery bank. 
  • More savings—hybrid systems save you the most. One, it reduces your reliance on the grid. Secondly, it allows net metering, where you can sell the excess power generated to your utility.  
  • Expandable—like on-grid systems, hybrid solar systems are the most flexible and expandable solar systems. If you cannot install a system that meets all your energy demands, you can install a small solar system. You can expand the system when your budget allows it. 

Cons of hybrid solar system 

  • Higher initial investment—like off-grid systems, hybrid systems also cost more than grid-tied systems. But the cost is lower than what you would pay for an off-grid system, as you don’t need a backup generator. Also, you don’t need a huge battery bank. 
  • Requires more space

Grid-tied vs. off-grid vs. hybrid solar systems: Which system wins? 

We discussed the benefits and downsides of all the systems. No system is perfect, but choosing one depends on your preferences, needs, lifestyle, location, and budget. A hybrid solar system would make more sense to everyone, as its benefits outweigh the benefits of other systems. But then, it is also expensive and requires more space. 

If you live in an area that does not experience frequent power outages, the grid-tied solar system will work fine for you. If you want to reduce your reliance on grid electricity and, at the same time, save more, you may consider installing a hybrid solar system. But if you live in a remote area that lacks power lines or it would cost you more to run power lines, an off-grid solar system will be a better choice. 

If you are still confused, fret not. Call us today, and one of our energy advisors will suggest an affordable, perfect solution for your household.

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