A solar panel system is obviously connected to the electrical system in your home, but what about the electric grid? Do solar panel systems need to be tied to the grid to produce power? Does excess power from a home solar panel system flow back into the grid?
The short answer is it could, but a home’s solar panel system doesn’t have to be connected to the grid. You can disconnect if you don’t require electricity 24/7 or if you’re able to produce your own electricity.
However, even if you do have a solar panel system that can make you energy independent, there’s still a few practical reasons to be tied to the grid.
Electrical Grid Integration Essentials
At one time our electrical grid systems only needed electricity to flow in one direction – from large-scale generation source (power plant) to homes and businesses. The advent of solar panel systems, also known as photovoltaic (PV) systems, changed the dynamic completely. Now there are end-users that don’t need a constant supply of electricity. Some homes and businesses may even overproduce energy and pass the excess back to the grid.
The last point is the most significant because it means modern-day electrical grids now need to be two-way systems. The flow of electricity needs to go in two directions, back and forth.
There are three primary benefits for solar-powered homes and businesses that connect to the electric grid:
- You have a backup power supply when you aren’t able to produce enough electricity to meet your needs.
- You don’t have to have a backup storage battery if you have the grid for a backup.
- You could get financial credit for supplying the grid with your excess power.
If you want to be off the grid, backup battery storage is a must in order to have power at night and when it’s cloudy.
How Home Solar Panel Systems Are Connected to the Grid
There are key components to a solar panel system. One of those components in the inverter. Without it, the PV system couldn’t be connected to the electrical grid.
Homes, businesses and the electrical grid all use alternating current (AC) electricity. But solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity. For a solar panel system to power a home or send electricity back to the electrical grid the DC electricity must be converted to AC electricity. That task is handled by the inverter. Today there are smart invertors that also speak to the electric grid to provide real-time information about the system’s electricity generation.
The other component that’s needed to tie a solar panel system to the electrical grid is a bi-directional electricity meter. This meter is able to read how much excess electricity a system sends back to the electric grid as well as how much electricity is supplied by the grid when solar energy doesn’t meet demand. If bi-directional meters aren’t available, you’ll have to install two separate meters: one for electricity supplied by the grid and one for electricity sent back by the solar panel system.
The solar electric provider that installs the system should provide the inverter and meter that’s needed to connect to the grid.
Getting Credit for Excess Electricity All Depends on Net Metering
To receive credit for the solar energy that’s sent back to the electric grid you’ll need to be a part of a net metering program offered by the local utility. Net metering simply means that you pay for the electricity that’s supplied by the grid minus however much electricity your solar panel system supplied to the grid.
How much you’ll be credited for the electricity that you supply to the grid can vary. Often it will be a straightforward set amount per kilowatt-hour, most likely in line with what you pay per kilowatt-hour. But you could end up receiving more or less if you are on a time-of-use plan with fluctuating rates. If that’s the case it’s most beneficial to supply the grid with excess electricity during peak demand hours.
Keep in mind, even if you don’t use any electricity from the grid you may still have a small bill to pay. This is because of the service fees.
Spark Energy has electricity plans for every home and business, whether or not they’re equipped with solar panels. We’ve also partnered with VIA Energy Solutions to bring energy independence to more customers. As PV systems become more efficient and affordable, going solar will be practical for more people. Spark Energy and VIA Energy Solutions can help make it happen!