What are the different types of solar power systems & how do they work?
Solar power systems are broadly classified into the following types:
Grid-tied or Grid-Connected solar power systems
A grid-tied or grid-connected solar power system, as the name suggests is a solar power system that is connected to the home & to the traditional electricity utility grid. This type of solar power system does not include any battery storage and the solar power generated by the solar panels is instantaneously consumed by all the appliances consuming power at that time. In case the solar power system is generating more power than the home is consuming, the excess power can be sold back to the utility company under a scheme known as net-metering. When the solar power system is not producing sufficient power, the balance power required by the appliances is drawn from the utility grid.
How a Grid-tied Solar Power System works?
Hybrid solar power systems
A hybrid solar power system, also referred to as a grid-hybrid solar power system is a solar power system with energy storage that is similar to a grid-tied solar power system but also provides the comfort of back-up power during a power outage (similar to a UPS system) as it uses batteries to store energy for later use. When solar energy production exceeds demand, the excess solar power is utilized to charge batteries & stored for later use and when production is lesser than demand, the stored energy from the batteries is used to make up the shortfall. A well designed hybrid solar power system provides you dual benefits of reducing your electricity bills (by reducing your dependence on grid power) while also providing you the comfort of having back-up power during a power outage. Depending on the situation, a hybrid solar power system also utilizes grid power to charge the batteries thereby ensuring that you always have the requisite comfort of back-up power during any unforeseen power outages.
How a Hybrid Solar Power System works?
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Standalone or off-grid solar power system
A standalone or off-grid solar power system, as the name suggests is a completely independent solar power system with energy storage that is not connected to the main utility grid. The solar panels are the only source of energy in a standalone solar power system and this energy is either provided to the appliances, or, stored in the battery for future use. Off-grid solar power systems are ideal for remote rural areas or applications where other power sources are either unavailable or impractical. Off-grid solar power systems can either be AC-based systems, in which case they include an inverter that converts the energy stored in batteries to AC power & feeds it to AC appliances, or, DC-based systems, that are cheaper as they don’t need an inverter but the power can only be fed to DC appliances.
Image credit: Energy Informative
Schematic: Standalone/Off-grid solar power system
Grid-tied solar power systems are the lowest cost solar power systems and are ideal for locations where there are no grid power outages. There are however, two key drawbacks of grid tied solar power systems – Firstly, in case of a grid power outage the home will have no power as regulations mandate that the solar power system is also shut down during this time for safety reasons (this lowers the ROI on your solar investment); Secondly, your savings in case of a grid-tied solar power system are dependent on effective implementation & continuation of the net metering scheme.