Solar Resources

Should You Have Grid-Tied or Off-Grid Solar Power?

August 18, 2016

We always hear about cutting the cable TV cord, but maybe you’re considering part of the next cord-cutter revolution: off-grid solar power systems.

The United States is pushing solar energy heavily, offering a wide range of benefits, tax incentives and more to help people just like you adopt solar energy for your home or business. Renewable electricity is a great way for you to increase the value of your home, make a commitment to the health of the planet and save some money too.

Most people opt for a system that is tied to the grid because it usually makes the most financial sense. These grid-tied solar power systems allow you to make a smaller initial investment and can turn the excess electricity you generate into cash when you pump it back into the system.

Stand-alone systems, called off-grid solar systems, are complex and can be expensive, but they might be necessary if you live in, or are powering, a remote location where the electric company doesn’t currently provide service. If you have a location without an existing utility distribution network — like power poles and wires to your location — then you might want to consider an off-grid system, but be prepared to pay $25,000 or more for your system.

That cost alone typically makes it an easy choice when deciding between an on-grid and off-grid system.

However, we want to give you all the information available so you can make your own informed decision. That’s why we’ve put together this basic guide to help you out. It’ll show you the benefits and concerns of each type, but should also make it clear why we focus on and often recommend grid-tied solar in Lancaster and grid-tied solar systems throughout PA.

Bright Eye Solar has a wide installation and service base, so contact us with any questions as you read this guide and we’ll be happy to help you make the choice that’s best for you and your wallet.

How Do I Choose Between Off-Grid and Grid-Tied Power?

Off-grid and grid-tied solar power systems each have their own benefits and drawbacks. Deciding which option is right for you will take a little bit of work. While each option is likely available at your home, it’s smart to look at the investment requirement and understand how much more you’ll be paying if you decide to adopt off-grid solar power in PA.

So, let’s dig into your options and see where you’ll win, pay more, be more secure and have more of a positive impact on overall energy policies.

Grid-Tied Advantages

Grid-tied solar systems in PA are a common choice because they provide you the flexibility of solar energy with the guarantee of service that comes from your local utility. They tend to be the simplest system to install, maintain and use. You’re also in the best financial shape when you choose a grid-tied system. However, you will have some small fees from your utility provider.

It’s a lot of the good with just a little bad.

The grid you get tied to will essentially operate as a perfect battery, storing all of the extra electricity you could possibly generate. It also delivers the electricity you need when the sun goes down for the night. You personally experience no loss of energy because the utility pays you for the extra energy you pump back into the system — even if they have a problem on their end that prevents them from properly rerouting it.

2 install grid tied
When it comes to installing your system, you typically pay less for a grid-tied system. Upfront costs are often lower, and the lack of battery requirements further decreases your cost.

Some utilities will allow you to lock in the price of your electricity when you install a photovoltaic system. This can give you years of even pricing or options that raise the amount you’re paid for electricity to match the price you pay for using electricity. All of the benefits of the grid are at your fingertips, but in a safer and eco-friendlier way.

Grid-tied systems also won’t require you to start cutting your usage or run your life in a different way. Now, most people reading this want to be energy efficient, so you’re probably looking for ways to save on energy as well. That’s a great thought, and we really encourage it. This note is really about having the access you need when you need it. If you throw a party every month, then you’ll have the extra power you need that night to cool drinks, run the lights or pump the music, but an off-grid system might not have the capacity to grow and meet that demand.

And if you need a little extra help on some days, you won’t have to run a generator. You pull energy from the grid and it is typically cleaner, cheaper and more reliable than power from a generator.

To top it all off, it isn’t that difficult for many homes to transition from a grid-tied system to an off-grid solar system in PA. The design allows for a transition as you grow the size of your panels. You can even incorporate an off-grid system to power some home items as you slowly transition. This allows you to transition however you like, if you like.

Grid-Tied Disadvantages

Many grid-tied systems, like those common in Lancaster, don’t include a battery backup. While this isn’t always a major disadvantage — because the grid is there to provide power when you need it — you’ll notice the lack of a battery when the grid itself is having a problem. This means that storms or other damage could leave you in the dark too if the outage is at night or lasts a long time.

Interconnection agreements come with stipulations that are designed to protect the grid from your home. These can include fees and charges or even a requirement of liability insurance, according to the EPA. While most homeowners will already have liability insurance, there’s a chance your utility will require you to increase the amount or get a new coverage plan that adds an extra layer of coverage to your solar system.

Some fees that an interconnection agreement may stipulate include:

  • Permitting fees
  • Engineering fees
  • Inspection fees
  • Metering charges and installation costs
  • Stand-by charges to defray the utility’s cost of maintaining your system as a backup power supply

Those fees and other elements assume that your home is connected to power lines and that the property you want to power is also connected to those lines. This means a solar system for your barn or a building on the far end of your property can’t be grid-tied unless you get power run to the building as well.

Sometimes the biggest disadvantages are the missed opportunities. Grid-tied systems provide no real incentive to conserve energy, so you or your family may not change your habits. One of the main reasons cities, states and the country incentivize solar panel installation is to increase the use of renewable energy and cut overall energy demands by making us more cognizant of the energy we use each day.

Grid-tied systems typically take up a lot of space and must be located on the roof or very close to your home to allow them to safely connect to the power meter. This means your prime sunny real estate is taken up by a panel and may increase some home maintenance costs.

3 grid tied pro
Even at that large of a size, the typical grid-tied system won’t be large enough to power a home fully. This means you’ll have some energy costs. The average consumer reports saving about 50% off of their annual energy costs with a grid-tied system.

Off-Grid Advantages

The benefit that most owners of off-grid solar systems start with is the independence it provides them. They can have power anywhere they want it, even when the grid isn’t available. Off-grid solar power also has fewer restrictions because it isn’t guided by the terms of the local utility. This doesn’t mean you are regulation free, but it can mean that you won’t be impacted by blackouts, brownouts or increased electricity rates as long as you have a big enough battery backup system to store the electricity you need.

4 grid ties con

Many of our customers who ditch the utility company for an off-grid system tell us they must live a modest lifestyle in terms of electric use because the battery bank to account for the electricity the average American uses would be an entire room of batteries.

An off-grid system also allows you to put power and use it wherever you want. For example, if you have a piece of property like a parking area that gets very dark, you can use a solar powered system to add lighting and other electrical support. You can make your home or building safer and completely customize it to your needs.

Sometimes we need a little a help, and off-grid solar power, especially in Lancaster, is a great way to force our hands.

One interesting advantage that we’ve seen throughout Pennsylvania is that off-grid solar systems can allow you to purchase a cheaper piece of land when you’re looking to move or expand your home. Property values of off-grid locations tend to be lower per square foot, allowing you to buy for cheaper.

However, you’ll need to be saving at least $25,000 for this to make sense.

Off-Grid Disadvantages

A lot of people who call us say they want to cut out the utility company because they’re tired of high rates or having no say in how their homes are powered. While we encourage independence, we want you to make sure that your choice is financially sound.

In the hundred-plus solar installs that we have completed, nobody has opted for the off-grid system because of the cost associated with it.

Some of the advantages above also play into the disadvantages of off-grid solar systems in PA. The first thing to consider is that you’re taking on the role of the utility company. That means you manage the power and how it gets to your home, plus maintenance and any expansions you need down the road.

You are responsible for making and storing all of your own electricity, which can be expensive. In many cases, we see consumers who want to go completely off the grid face costs that are more expensive than getting electricity from a utility, even when they are able to get incentive programs.

You’ll also face risks and costs with system maintenance and troubleshooting, which can be very expensive. Pennsylvania utility companies have laws and contracts that dictate how they must approach getting power back to your home after a storm. When you remove the utility, you have to pay a power company, and that can sometimes mean you get caught in a backlog if other storm-related work has already been called in for repair.

5 battery bank cost

You’ll end up needing to replace batteries eventually, and you’ll likely have to pay if a storm or other event damages your home power system. Battery banks can run about $1,000, and the minimum system will possibly start at around $10,000. That won’t take into account labor costs for repairs and maintenance unless you plan to spend the hours to do so.

6 tied off cost

A typical off-grid system will cost roughly twice as much as a grid-tied system. Off-grid systems are also less efficient in many cases because a battery maxes out at being about 90% efficient, and this often generates significant surplus energy waste that a grid-tied system would sell back to the utility company. The older your system gets, the less efficient it becomes. You can also see efficiencies drop when battery banks themselves are older, larger, improperly maintained or running too hot or too cold.

You’ll also be looking at an additional cost of a back-up generator that most homeowners want just in case. These generators can be expensive and will require their own maintenance as well as running lines to it. And unfortunately, if you skimp on a quality generator, you’ll probably end up replacing it every few years and further hiking up your costs.

We’re a certified installer for many different gas generators that can turn your system into a hybrid system, but it’s important to remember that costs and components mount significantly when you go off-grid, and they climb even higher when you add in a backup generator — which unfortunately tends to be a requirement in almost every off-grid case.

A hybrid system is a grid-tied system that also has a battery bank that is used when there is a power outage. These batteries are not used to power the entire house but just a couple of smaller critical circuits.

Living off the grid can have a wide range of benefits and make you feel pretty great. However, you’ll want to balance that feeling with the hard work and sacrifices that come with running a completely off-grid platform.

Is Grid-Tied Solar Power in PA Always the Right Choice?

The list of advantages and cost reductions makes a grid-tied solar system in PA sound like a smart choice, and often it’s the best choice for a homeowner or business starting out with a solar panel system.

If your main concern is that you don’t like fossil fuels and want to help our country move away from this dependence, then you could do more homes a favor with a grid-tied system. The more energy you pump into the grid, the less reliance we have on fossil fuels during the day.

As previously stated, battery systems are only 90% efficient at their peak. This means you could be providing a greater amount of solar energy for use by tying into the grid. Also, if your off-grid system creates enough energy for you to use and fills your battery, then it simply lets any excess go to waste. A grid-tied system will use every ounce of solar energy that’s produced, giving this type of energy a preference over other systems.

The best news about starting with grid-tied is that you can slowly remove yourself from the grid. You get the backup and reliability of solar with minimal risk. And sometimes the biggest impact we can have on the power system is by working with it.

One home leaving the grid is unlikely to cause a local power plant to shut down or significantly change its output. However, as hundreds or thousands of homes start pumping clean solar energy back into the system, the plant lowers the amount of fossil fuels it uses because the solar energy you’re producing is cheaper for the plant to access and use.

When it all comes down to it, the choice of system is all about the context of the building or power you need. If the grid is available, tie into it — at least in the beginning. You have safety and security with reduced maintenance costs and other expenses. This choice also allows you to start an incremental process of delivering more renewable energy into the system.

7 financial sense

It just doesn’t make financial sense for the vast majority of homes to adopt an off-grid system. We know it can be compelling to “stick it the Man” and leave the utility company behind — and we would make a fair amount more money off of an off-grid system — but it just isn’t the right choice for most people, and we don’t want to see anyone undertake a system or expense that causes them financial harm.

Solar Considerations Specific to Pennsylvania

Considerations and benefits for solar panels and power differ all across the U.S. Here, we’ll look at the options that are available in our home state of Pennsylvania. If you live elsewhere in the Northeast, just contact us and we’ll let you know the relevant laws and savings that are available to you!

8 phtovoltaic system

Here are a few things you should be aware of if you’re planning on trying out grid-tied solar or off-grid solar power in PA, all according to the Solar Energy Industries Association:

9 incentive programs

  • The Solar Power Performance Payments make small cash payments based on the number of kilowatt-hours generated by a renewable energy system.
  • You get a property tax exemption for the system, despite the fact that a solar panel system can increase the value of your home by as much as $17,000.
  • The average solar power system for a home or business lasts 25 years, which can generate thousands of dollars of savings and more than pay for itself.

10 solar longevity

These options can generate thousands of dollars in immediate, annual and long-term savings. You have the opportunity to shave off costs right away and save money when the next tax time rolls around.

There’s a lot of red tape, and some options will remove your ability to take advantage of others. It can be tricky, but that’s why we have a staff of experts who look at every available option based on local, state and federal government policies.

Our goal is to get you the greatest savings we can because it means another satisfied customer and less reliance for our country on oil and other foreign energy sources.

Get Started With Bright Eye Solar

Bright Eye Solar has been providing residential solar energy and solar installation in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and New Jersey for years, though we’ve recently had a lot of great customers with some amazing businesses in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

We’ve been able to work with homeowners and businesses to discover what systems will provide them with the best return on their solar investment, giving them real cost savings on top of the joy they feel by making a positive impact in our world and our nation’s energy policies.

Our expertise is in helping people just like you make a choice between off-grid and grid-tied systems based on your current goals and your finances. We can also help you look at options in the middle that involve generators, backups or just move more of your usage to solar.

There’s no one-size-fits-all option that works for every home in the Northeast. Reach out and ask us all the questions you have. Our solar energy experts will help you estimate costs, evaluate your land and take advantage of all the incentives currently live in your area. We can’t wait to hear from you.

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