“Solar School for Beginners” is a series of articles to guide you on building a Solar energy system for your home. Click here to read the first article; for definitions on confusing Solar jargon, check out our Solar School Glossary.
For the second part of our series, let’s continue to demystify Solar terminologies. The solar industry loves to talk about terms related to the grid: grid-tie, off-grid, grid alternative, grid-independent, grid outages, etc. But you might wonder, what is the grid? And why does it matter for solar?
What Is the Grid?
The electrical grid or power grid, also known as “the grid,” is a complex electrical infrastructure designed to transmit electricity from its generation facilities (power plants) to homes and businesses. Some of these systems stretch hundreds of miles, connecting millions of homes. Many of our daily activities use electricity. From fridges to laptops to washing machines, our modern homes are constantly connected to the power grid (unless you produce your own power, but we’ll discuss that later).
However, as essential as the grid is, it’s also facing challenges. For instance, you would have heard about (or even might have experienced) power outages due to extreme weather, such as floods and storms with gusty winds, as well as bushfires. Australia’s energy crisis amid transition from fuel fossils is another example.
Will My Solar Panel System Work during Power Outages?
Suppose you already use electricity from the grid and are thinking of adding solar to your energy mix. In that case, chances are you’ll opt for a grid-tied system where your energy is sourced from the local utility company as well as your solar system. Depending on your utility company’s policy, you might be able to export excess electricity to the utility and get credit for it, which is called Net-Metering. The credit can be used when you source electricity from the utility, so you save on your electricity bills.
However, not all grid-tied solar panel systems can work during power outages, even when the sun is out. Indeed, most grid-tied systems without battery backup shut off automatically for safety reasons in the event of a blackout. One reason is that the utility company sends workers to fix the damaged power line in case of a blackout. If a solar panel system is sending electricity to the grid at the same time, it can cause serious injury to the line workers.
Solar with Battery Storage System
Is there a solution for it? Yes, of course! One of the most popular solutions is to include battery storage in your grid-tied solar system. Solar with battery storage system disconnects itself from the grid when a power outage is detected. This feature is called islanding, which allows your solar and storage system to operate even during power outages, charging the batteries in the daytime and discharging them when needed. So long as the system is adequately sized, a solar with battery storage system is an excellent option to keep your essential appliances running through a prolonged power outage.
When considering a solar with battery storage system as a grid alternative in case of power outages, there are a few things to keep in mind. How many hours/days do you plan to sustain without the grid power? More importantly, which appliances will you need during a power outage? These are essential questions because the system design will depend on them.
It gets slightly technical, but larger appliances with motors, such as air conditioners, would consume more energy when they start. This is not a concern when your home is powered by the electrical grid, as the grid can handle a surge of electrical demands. To expect the same from your solar with battery storage system, surge power of your inverter is the key.
Save on Electricity Bills with Time-of-use Rates
For those of you connected to the grid, you might be able to further save on electricity bills with a solar + battery storage system if your local utility company offers the time-of-use (TOU) rates. Under a TOU plan, your utility bill would be determined by how much energy you used and when. The rates may vary during the day, weekdays vs. weekends, and season.
So, how to take advantage of TOU rates by investing in solar with a battery storage system? Most utility companies’ TOU structures have peak hours and off-peak hours. Using solar-generated electricity during peak hours can avoid being charged for higher electricity rates. Even if your utility company’s peak hours are during nighttime, batteries will help store energy for later use.
Go Solar with Battery Storage
The power grid is essential for many. But also, it’s facing challenges. If you want to protect yourself and your family from power outages or save on electricity bills by utilizing time-of-use rates, consider a solar + battery storage system.
- Electrical grid/power grid = An electrical infrastructure designed to transmit electricity from its generation facilities (power plants) to homes and businesses
- Net Metering = A billing mechanism that allows grid-tied solar system owners to export electricity to the grid. In return, the solar system owners often receive credits
- Surge Power (in inverter) = Maximum power the inverter can supply, usually for a short period of time
- Time-of-use (TOU) rates = An electricity rate structure charging based on when the energy is used