As you research whether or not you should install solar panels on your home, people may mention that using solar power means you are going off the grid. The term “off the grid” implies that your home is totally independent of the electricity distribution system operated by the utility company in your area, and you can generate your own power, which makes you less vulnerable to blackouts or brownouts.
With this article, we will help you understand the meaning of off the grid. We’ll then talk about why going solar doesn’t mean that you’re saying goodbye to the grid.
What Exactly is “The Grid?”
The “grid” is how the energy industry refers to the infrastructure used by the utility company to transmit and distribute electricity. That includes transmission lines (aka “power lines”), electrical substations, and the power distribution equipment that connects the grid to every home and business.
Although the power plants that create the electricity are connected to the grid, they aren’t considered part of it. The same logic applies to your home or business in that they’re connected to the grid, but they aren’t part of it either.
In most cases, the power used by your home or business is generated by local power plants affiliated with your electric utility company and then transmitted to you over the local grid. However, most power plants are still interconnected across large regional grids.
For a thorough overview of The Grid, check out our Beginner’s Guide To The Electric Grid.
What Does Going Off The Grid Mean?
The only way to be truly off-grid is if your home or business is not connected with any electric utility in any way. Thus, the meaning of off the grid is that there are no physical wires leading from the power lines into your home, and you don’t get bills from the utility company or a retail electric provider. When you’re completely going off the grid, you are entirely dependent on generating all your own electricity for your energy needs.
Off-grid living includes installing solar power or using your own generator, but it also requires that you take the extra step of disconnecting from the grid.
Going Solar Is Not The Same As Living Off The Grid
That’s right - simply installing solar panels on your roof is not going off-grid. However, wiring your rooftop solar system into your home's electric system to run your appliances and meet your energy needs does make you the primary producer of your home electricity.
Your solar power system produces electric power by converting sunlight into a flow of electricity, and as you’d imagine, it only generates electricity when the sun is shining. In most cases, your home will use electricity as the system generates it. Thus, your average home using solar panels isn’t considered off-the-grid solar because it still needs electricity when the sun isn’t shining (e.g., at night) or shining less (e.g., in the winter).
The Importance Of Installing Battery Storage
Batteries for solar power storage are increasingly effective, and many homeowners add them to their overall solar power system design. Solar batteries store the excess power created by the solar panels when the sun is shining, and that stored power can be used to meet your needs at night or during extra cloudy days.
However, the chief problem with off-the-grid solar is installing enough energy storage capacity to meet all your power needs. It is very expensive to install enough battery capacity for the times when you are not generating solar energy.
To learn more about energy storage, check out our Solar Battery Guide.
You Should Still Connect To The Grid
Thus, most homeowners who install solar power remain connected with the grid. Using a combination of solar panels and grid electricity produces substantial, regular, and long-term savings on your electricity bill because you are generating most of your own energy.
You still have advantages staying on the grid, including:
- In areas with Net Metering, you can receive credit for the extra electricity that your home produces and feeds back into the grid.
- Any time your solar panels don’t generate power (including nights and cloudy days), you automatically and seamlessly switch to using power from the grid.
- If you need to fix a problem with your solar system, you use the grid for power until the repairs are complete.
- You become part of a new future for energy generation solutions in America.
What It Takes To Use Off-Grid Solar
Even given all the advantages of going with solar energy while remaining on the grid, approximately 200,000 people in the United States do live off the grid. However, with a U.S. population of 312,000,000, such people are a small fraction of one percent. Why? Because it’s an intricate process with several interconnected systems and some considerable sacrifices.
To make this choice work, a homeowner needs massive energy storage in the form of batteries so they don’t lose power during long storms, nighttimes, and the short days of winter when it’s harder to generate enough solar power. The problem is that building a system so heavily reliant on battery storage is expensive.
For that reason, the few people who elect to use off-grid solar for ideological or environmental reasons make very intentional choices about their energy usage, such as designing homes that use very little electricity. Even then, they often have backup generators installed on their property in case their solar panel system can’t meet all of their energy needs.
Reduce Your Dependence On The Grid With Solar
Many people want to go solar because they want to help the planet and be protected from problems on the larger electricity grid. For most homeowners, the ideal setup is to install solar panels and remain connected to the grid, even as you enjoy some of the perks of using off-the-grid solar. Not only will you use less grid electricity because you’re generating your own power from your solar panels, but you can still use the grid as backup in case of emergencies.
If you have more questions about the benefits of solar panels, you should learn how solar panels work on your home. If you’re interested to learn how much you can save with solar power, check out Palmetto’s Free Solar Savings Estimator.