Grid Tied vs Off Grid Solar Electric Systems: Which option is better for you?

Grid – Tied Solar Installation Completed by Eco Alternative Energy in Spring 2011

Grid – Tied Solar Installation Completed by Eco Alternative Energy in Spring 2011

If you’re wondering which of these two options are better for you, then you’re at the right blog!

Let’s face it, we would all like to be off the grid generating our own electricity and telling our local hydro company not to bother sending us another bill – ever! It’s also nice to take comfort that during a thunder-storm when the lights go out, you’ll be watching TV with your lights on while your neighbours sit in the dark. It’s a pleasant thought however not always practical, economical or to your benefit.

First of all, just in case some readers are not sure about what Grid Tied or Off Grid Solar electric systems are, here’s the difference -

Grid Tied Solar Electric System:

 In this case, your solar system generates power through your solar panels and you sell ALL of that power to your hydro company at a preferred rate (often guaranteed for 20 years). You will then buy electricity (including your clean solar electricity that you produce) as you normally would however you will buy this power at the standard lower rates for electricity that we all pay.

To take part in this Provincial Solar incentive program, (called the MicroFIT program in Ontario), you would be required to apply to the Ontario Power Authority for approval. To be eligible, you are required to own your home and your system cannot exceed 10 kW’s in total. Your Solar installation company can help you navigate through the approval process. ( In case you want to know if your home is fit for solar you can find out the requirements here)

One of our head installers installing a Grid Tied Solar Electric System

One of our head installers installing a Grid Tied Solar Electric System

If you look at your hydro bill, you’ll see that here in Ontario, we all buy our electricity at a rate of 6.7-12.4 cents per kWh (depending on the time of day). Under the MicroFIT program, generating electricity with solar power and selling it to the grid will pay you a premium rate per kWh (current June 2013 MicroFIT rates are at 54.9 cents per kWh) and that rate is guaranteed for 20 years! Since the average Solar system costs between $25-$40,000 before taxes, you can expect your investment to pay for itself in about 8-10 years. As your OPA contract runs for 20 years, the remaining 10-12 years will be money in your pocket.

Off Grid Solar Electric System:

For Off Grid systems, you are completely off the grid as your system generates power through your solar panels and that power is used for your own consumption. In this case, you will require batteries to store that power to be used in the evening or on cloudy and low producing days.

The trouble with Off Grid Solar systems is that you need to truly understand your electricity consumption and then you need to build the size of your array to the worst month of the year (let’s say January) so that it will still meet your minimum daily requirements. With Off Grid systems, you now need to purchase and hold a bank of batteries (amount and size of batteries to be determined by the size of the system) to store the electricity you generate. Batteries are not cheap and they typically only last about 10 years before they need to be replaced. Chances are, you will need a back-up generator for the times when your system is not be able to meet your requirements in the worst producing months of the year. These batteries can add at least a third of the cost of what a Grid Tie Solar system would be. Lastly, an off grid system is a lifestyle change as you need to conserve electricity wherever possible.

At the end of the day both systems have their merit. Off Grid systems work best in areas of the Province where you cannot connect to the grid in any other way, typically in rural settings. Grid Tie systems are better in an Urban environment where Hydro is readily available.

If you’re curious about your home and want to see how much a Solar system on your roof can generate, please feel free to drop us a line below or call us at 1-866-976-3749.

Author: Derek Wilson

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