Types of Home Solar Power Systems

Not all residential solar power systems are the same. There are a number of different options you can choose for your home solar power system, ranging from placement and material to grid connection and battery choices. While there are many distinctions between residential solar power system options, the three main types of home solar power systems are:

  • Grid tied residential solar power systems (the most common type of home solar power)
  • Grid tied residential solar power systems with batteries
  • Off grid residential solar power systems

Read on to learn more about each of these types of solar power systems for the home. You’ll also learn about other factors you should consider when choosing the residential solar power system that’s right for your home.

Grid Tied Residential Solar Power Systems

Grid connected home solar power systems without batteries are the most common types of residential solar power used today. This type of solar power system is the most affordable to purchase as well as the easiest to design and install, which makes them so popular. They have the fewest components and are the simplest to use and install.

Of course, without a battery, solar home owners will not be able to store any excess solar power. Stored power can be used during an emergency, blackout, or when solar panels are not generating power, such as overnight. But without a battery, the electrical grid is your backup.

Without storage for excess power, this energy will be sent to the grid. When you need power, but your solar power panels aren’t currently producing the energy you need, you’ll purchase your power from the grid rather than draw on stored power in a battery. Most home owners are able to take advantage of net metering in this situation, wherein you’ll receive a bill credit for the excess power you feed back in to the grid, and use that same credit to purchase grid power when your solar power isn’t enough.

Unfortunately, if grid power goes out, solar homeowners on a grid tied residential solar power system without a battery will also lose power. Your inverters will disconnect from the utility grid as soon as power goes out for safety reasons.

Pros of Grid Tied Residential Solar Power Systems:

  • The most affordable home solar power system
  • Easy to install
  • Makes it possible to take advantage of financial incentives including net metering
  • Uses the utility grid as a backup when solar power isn’t enough

Cons of Grid Tied Residential Solar Power Systems:

  • When grid power goes out, so does your solar power system. This is true even if sunlight is available and you could generate solar power
  • Excess energy is sent to the grid, not a battery. Home owners may not be paid back for this energy at the full retail rate
  • Grid tied systems may be subject to utility fees

Grid Tied Residential Solar Power Systems with Batteries

Grid tied solar power systems with batteries are less common than those without batteries. Often, these systems are significantly more costly and difficult to install, and some home owners encounter resistance from utility companies when installing this type of system.

With a battery grid tied solar power system, you’ll be able to use your battery bank as a backup as well as the grid. Your solar power system will first store any excess solar power in your battery, then send extra power on top of that to the grid once your battery is fully charged.

If the power goes out on the grid, your system will go to an off grid mode and use the solar power that is currently generated by your solar panels, as well as power from your battery bank as a backup. This is very useful in case of an emergency.

Pros of Grid Tied Residential Solar Power Systems with Batteries:

  • More affordable than completely off grid systems
  • Offers both battery and the grid as a backup, ensuring reliable power
  • Allows home owners to use their own power during a power outage
  • Likely still eligible for solar power financial incentives

Cons of Grid Tied Residential Solar Power Systems with Batteries:

  • More costly and difficult to install than a system without a battery
  • May still require grid power when solar power and battery backups aren’t enough
  • May not qualify for some financial incentives
  • May be subject to utility fees for solar power
  • Home owners may encounter difficulty with utilities during installation

Off Grid Residential Solar Power Systems

Even rarer than grid and battery solar power systems, off grid residential solar power systems are not often seen except in deep rural areas where utilities may not offer service. With an off grid system, your solar power generation is completely independent, using careful planning and a battery system to meet 100% of your home’s energy needs.

An off grid system will generate and store all of its own power. This requires careful planning and monitored usage to ensure that there will always be enough power to maintain the home’s energy needs.

An off grid system is not subject to grid power outages, so emergencies and blackouts are not an issue. But at the same time, off grid systems are not able to rely on the grid as a backup when solar generated power is not enough to meet their home’s needs.

Off grid solar power systems are most often seen in remote areas where it may cost more to get power brought in by the utility. It is extremely rare to see an off grid system in a suburban or metropolitan area where utility service is available.

It’s important to note that in order to take advantage of many financial incentives available to solar power home owners, you’ll need to have a grid tied solar power system. That means off grid solar home owners won’t be eligible for net metering, as well as some rebates, tax credits, and other incentives for solar power.

Pros of Off Grid Residential Solar Power Systems:

  • Offers complete energy independence
  • Power outages will not impact your energy needs
  • With careful planning, solar energy can completely power your home
  • Remote homes can avoid the cost of paying utilities to bring power to their location

Cons of Off Grid Residential Solar Power Systems:

  • Significantly more expensive than grid tied solar power systems
  • More difficult to install than grid systems
  • Offers only batteries as a backup with no connection to the grid if you run out of power
  • Will not qualify for some solar power financial incentives
  • Typically not feasible in metropolitan or suburban areas

Additional Considerations for Solar Power Systems

The type of home solar power system is the biggest choice you’ll make when installing your residential solar power. But there are other considerations you’ll need to keep in mind. These include:

  • Size of solar power system: This will largely depend on your home’s energy needs as well as whether you plan to have a battery or not, or go off grid and power your entire home independently. The size of the solar power system will be determined by your energy usage and expected output from the sun.
  • Placement of solar panels: Most often, solar power panels will be placed on your roof. But if you have an aging roof, unusual roof angle, limited access to the sun, or home owner’s association restrictions, it may be more feasible to place your solar power panels on ground mounted posts.
  • Fixed or sun tracking arrays: Fixed arrays are the most common installation, as they are more affordable and easy to design and install. But in some installations, sun tracking arrays are needed in order to get enough power from the sun. With a sun tracking array, your solar panels will move to the best angle for collecting solar power.
  • Solar panel material: Solar panels come in a variety of materials, including crystalline silicon, monocrystalline, polycristalline, and thin film. A solar installer can help you decide which material would work best for your solar needs.
  • Solar power system financing: Some solar power home owners are able to purchase their systems outright, but often, others will get help with financing. Home owners can get loans including low cost PACE financing. Leasing is also a popular option, as it allows you to take advantage of the savings and financial incentives of solar power without the upfront cost.

Photo by Flickr user abooth202