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Should You Go Off Grid?
Oct22

Should You Go Off Grid?

Let’s face it, most of us have no choice where we get our electricity from. The local electric company is your only option and when a company has no competition, they have no incentive to make you like them.  So customers often look at solar panels and get to thinking… can I go off the grid? Typically, off grid systems are only installed on homes built where the grid isn’t available. It is not uncommon for an electric company to quote $100,000 or more to bring power to a rural property that is being newly developed. So they want you to pay $100,000 to bring in the lines so that you can pay them ever month for electricity when $100,000 will buy you an absolutely amazing off-grid solar power system. If this is your situation, you should definitely go off grid.  But if you currently own a house that is connected to the grid, the answer is not that clear. Yes, we know you don’t like the electric company and nothing would make you happier than to divorce yourself from them permanently but let’s look at the options before jumping into that decision. First, the cost of a solar power system increases dramatically when it changes from grid-tie to off grid. In order to be completely independent from the electric company, you need to have a system that generates the maximum amount of power you may need even in during those months when the days are short and the sun is low in the sky. You also need batteries to store the solar energy produced during the day so you have power to get through the night. Even more batteries if you want to have enough stored energy to get through a rainy day when the solar is producing little to no power.  Also, you shouldn’t have solar be your only power source. People who live off the grid usually have a diesel or natural gas generator as backup. This is necessary because the amount of batteries needed to run a house through a whole week of cloudy/rainy weather would be ridiculously expensive and take a up too much space. The generator may also be needed to cover your needs when a piece of equipment like an inverter or charge controller needs to be serviced. So you have to add the cost of a generator to your already too expensive solar power system to comfortably disconnect yourself from the electric company. Example of a gas generator When you stay connected to the electric company, you can put the solar panels on the roof without needing the batteries. You can...

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AC Coupling Versus DC Coupling
Sep09

AC Coupling Versus DC Coupling

It is becoming more popular to install batteries with solar power systems on new installations and as retrofits. One of the questions to be answered when planning the battery installation is how will the battery system tie in with the solar. The answer will be either AC coupling or DC coupling. Solar panels produce DC power and inverters are used to convert this DC power to AC power. The terms AC coupling and DC coupling are used to describe where in the system the batteries are connected. An AC coupled system has the batteries tied into the AC output of a grid-tied solar inverter while a DC coupled system has the batteries tied in before the inverter where the DC power is flowing from the solar panels. Deciding which way to do your install, depends a lot on what other equipment you plan to use or what equipment is already in place if you are retrofitting. For example, if you are using microinverters, these microinverters are changing the DC power from the solar panel to AC power right at the solar panels themselves. Because the DC power from the solar panels is being converted immediately under each solar panel, it would be difficult to tap into so you would definitely go with the AC coupling option where you hook up your battery-based inverter to the AC output of the microinverter system. If you are working with a string inverter, then you have DC power coming from the solar array to the inverter and you can easily use it. There are few different ways to do DC coupling. One way would be to connect the output of the solar panels to a charge controller which charges the batteries and then you would have a battery-based inverter that changes that battery power to AC power. This is a very typical set-up for an off-grid system like the Outback SystemEdge Villa or Cabin Series packages. Another way to DC couple is to use an inverter like the SolarEdge StorEdge that will take the DC power from the solar panels and allocate it to the batteries or convert it to AC as needed. This gives the system a much higher efficiency than most other battery systems because every time the power is conditioned or converted, there is a small loss. If you run from solar panels to a charge controller to the batteries to the inverter. You will have a loss at the charge controller, a loss at the batteries and a loss at the inverter while the StorEdge system manages the power from the solar array in the most efficient way possible...

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Do Batteries Make Sense with Solar?
Jan09

Do Batteries Make Sense with Solar?

We all know installing solar makes sense, but should you install batteries with it? In a grid-tied system, the solar produces electricity which will save you money on your electric bill. Batteries are not required to make this happen and a battery system such as the LG Chem with SolarEdge will increase the system cost by at least $12,000. So, what good are they? The purpose of batteries is to store the electricity produced by the solar which could be helpful in a few different situations. One argument for batteries is that they could save you more money than solar by itself. This is dependent on how the electric company is charging you for power. If you are on a Time-of-Use (TOU) rate, you are going to be charged more for energy used in the between 4pm and 9pm, after your solar stops producing for the day. With batteries in place, you can store excess solar power generated during the day, when the electric rates are lower and use that power during those peak evening hours. This may increase your solar savings if the differences between lower energy rates and peak rates are greater than $.30/kWh. Your electric company’s net metering policies can also affect the battery decision. When you install solar, you will be feeding your excess solar power to the grid during the day and pulling electricity from the grid at night. If your electric company credits you a full kWh for every kWh you give them, there is no need for batteries unless you want backup power. A scenario where batteries can help is when the electric company charges you “demand charges”. These are more commonly seen in commercial electric rates but many electric companies are considering adding demand charges to residential rates. The demand charge is a dollar amount based on the largest amount of power drawn at one time during the month calculated in 15 minute intervals. A battery system can be set up to provide power when your demand spikes, which would reduce how much of that spike comes from the electric company, thereby reducing the demand charge on your bill.  On top of the savings on your electric bill, there may also be a financial incentive like a rebate to install batteries. California’s SGIP program and the Federal 30% tax credit is a prime example where the cost of the batteries is partially mitigated with a rebate or tax incentive.  Setting aside financial incentives, another good reason for batteries is power outages. A grid-tied system will not provide power to your home during a power outage. The one exception to this is...

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