Imagine using only the energy from the sun to power your home. You would never have to pay an electric bill again and or be impacted by power outages. It may sound great, but there are numerous advantages to having a solar home that is on-the-grid when available.
The Electric Company Pays for Solar Energy
What is better than having no electric bill? Having an electric meter that spins backwards. Most states have net metering laws requiring the electric company to purchase excess electricity generated from your solar system. The details vary by state, but many companies are required to pay the retail rate for the energy.
Oversized Solar System
Off-the-grid solar systems must be sized for the worst case scenario, unless they use a backup generator. Cloudy weather and snowy solar panels have to be taken into account. The result is a solar system that is oversized for typical daily use, thus increasing the upfront cost of the system.
Batteries Increase Cost and Maintenance
To have electricity at night and in cloudy weather, batteries are required. As the name implies, lead acid batteries can be hazardous. It is crucial that they are recycled when no longer useful. Luckily, lead acid batteries have an extremely high recyling rate. Batteries also increase the upfront cost of the solar system, require regular maintenance, occupy storage space, require the system to have extra components (a charge controller), and typically need to be replaced every 5 to 10 years.
Batteries Cause Efficiency Loss Up to 15%
A glass placed on the bottom of a sink under a faucet acts very similarly to a battery on a solar system. When empty, most of the water makes its way inside. Once it is nearly full, much of the water splashes out. When it is completely full, nothing else can fit. Some energy is wasted when the batteries are full. If the house were on-the-grid, the excess energy would have been consumed by a neighbor.
Batteries and the solar system work with DC electricity. Most of our electronic gadgets run off AC current. To avoid purchasing an inverter to convert to AC and experience the minor efficiency losses, many folks who are off-the-grid will use only DC appliances. This certainly limits the available appliances, although these appliances tend to be far more efficient.
Having an off-the-grid solar system makes people far more aware of their energy use. This can be seen as both a good and a bad thing. For example, under certain weather conditions you may not be able to watch television or charge your cell phone.
There certainly are instances when it is best to be off-the-grid, but the majority of us are not in the situation. I have a solar system and find great satisfaction in seeing a credit on my electric bill.
Sarah Lozanova is a freelance writer that is passionate about the new green economy and is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Energy International Quarterly, ThinkGreen.com, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.
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