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Grid-Tied vs. Off-Grid Solar: Which is Right for You?


Solar offers more than just an opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint. When you install solar panels on your roof, you are a step closer to taking your electricity production and consumption into your own hands. One of the biggest decisions solar shoppers have to make is whether to install a standard grid-tied solar energy system, a solar battery backup, or a fully off-grid solar energy system. Here’s everything that you should keep in mind when you’re deciding between grid-tied solar vs. an off-grid solar battery backup system.

Why Many Homeowners Choose a Grid-Tied Solar System

Off-grid solar technology is becoming more advanced every year, and a growing number of companies are manufacturing solar batteries for home. If you install battery storage along with your PV system, you can store excess solar electricity when it’s produced and then use it as needed later. Theoretically, this means that you can completely sever your connection with your electricity utility. In practice, it often makes more sense to stay grid-tied, particularly if you live in an area with significant climate variation.

Most of the solar batteries for home use available today, like the Tesla Powerwall, are designed to store solar energy generated during the day for your home to use at night. This can help you reduce your reliance on utility electricity by storing your excess solar power at home instead of feeding it back into the grid. 

The trickier proposition is generating and storing enough extra solar electricity in the summer when solar power generation is highest to cover your future needs in the winter, when solar potential is at its lowest. According to EnergySage Marketplace data, the average solar shopper offsets 86 percent of their annual electricity use with solar – a significant amount, but not enough to go fully “off the grid.”

Preventing total power loss in the event of a winter snowstorm or an extended period of overcast days would require a lot of storage capacity, a very large solar panel system, and a significant financial investment to install. While it is technically feasible to go off the grid with solar batteries, it’s rarely cost effective when compared to the benefits of staying grid-tied. 

Can You go Off-Grid With Your Solar Panels?

Grid-tie solar is the best option for many homeowners, but there are plenty of situations where taking your home off the grid with a solar battery backup makes sense.  In some places, particularly in remote areas, off-grid solar battery systems are the best (or even the only) option. There are a few criteria your property should meet to be a good fit for off-grid solar.

First and foremost, you need to have very low electricity demand. If you construct a net zero energy home or conduct major home energy efficiency retrofits on your existing home, powering your property with off-grid solar-plus-storage can be a feasible option. You also need to have the financial capacity to invest in a solar battery backup, which will add thousands of dollars to your solar installation.

Even if you don’t take your home fully off-grid with a solar battery backup, there are still opportunities for you to use solar-plus-storage technology. Many do it yourself solar options with batteries are available if you want to install solar-powered lighting or electrify outlying buildings on your property, like barns and tool sheds. Tiny houses, boats, and RVs are also great candidates for solar-plus-storage – they have comparatively small electricity needs and are already designed for “off grid” use. 

Using Solar Battery Backup with a Grid-Tied Solar-Energy System

For the average solar homeowner in the United States, it usually makes sense to maintain a connection to the utility company. However, even if you don’t choose to go fully off-grid, you can still install a solar battery backup with your PV system.

Solar-plus-storage systems that include a battery are particularly beneficial if your utility doesn’t have a good policy for compensating homeowners who generate excess solar electricity. For example, some utilities don’t have retail rate net metering for solar, which means you won’t receive a full bill credit for solar electricity that you send back to the grid.

If you live in California, net metering 2.0 means that new solar homeowners will be enrolled in time-of-use rates with their utility. As a result, the credit you receive for your solar electricity will vary depending on the time of day – electricity sent back to the grid during peak hours generally results in higher value credits. In both of these cases, you can benefit from storing your excess solar energy at home even though you’re still connected to the grid.

In addition to making it easier for you to manage your solar electricity generation and use at home, solar batteries can provide a few hours of backup power in the event of a power outage. If you’re already installing a solar PV system, including a battery can be more cost-effective in the long term than a diesel-powered backup generator.

While most homeowners can’t go completely off the grid with a solar battery backup, solar panels are still a strong investment, and storage technologies are becoming cheaper every year. Even if you don’t invest in energy storage now, you can ask your solar installer to make your system “storage ready” so that, a few years down the line, you can easily install a solar battery backup. Use the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to get multiple quotes from pre-vetted local solar installers and find the right solar-plus-storage option for your home.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Dual-Mode Hot-Water System Heated with Solar and Wood

How the Dual-Mode Solar-and-Wood Water Heater Works

Having hot water for showers and dish washing is certainly a joy that makes off-grid feel as luxurious as on-grid, yet without utility bills or fossil fuels. Where I live, summer sunshine is abundant, but winter cold requires the heat of a woodstove.

In summer, I connect to the solar hot water panel in the greenhouse, and in winter to the hot water coil on the wood stove pipe. I have cold and hot water tanks, located upstairs, to provide gravity-fed hot and cold water to a kitchen sink and a shower on the lower floors. The hot water tank is filled manually, by a pipe and valve plumbed from the cold tank.

I let the hot water tank heat all the water in the tank to a usable temperature and then use it. Hot water is circulated to the hot water tank by heat convection — no pumps.


The solar collector heats my ten gallon hot water tank to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in about three hours on a summer day, even if partly cloudy — the stove pipe coil heats the tank above 130 degrees F in about two hours, or three hours if the starting temperature of the tank is near ice-cold.

A surprising discovery is that the hot water coil will lower the stove pipe temperature by 100 degrees F when water is circulating. Depending on how hot the water in the tank is, and if I mix cold at the faucet, showers use 2-1/2 gallons and washing dishes use 2 to 4 gallons per day. The tank will drop about 20 degrees F overnight or after the woodstove has stopped burning.

Solar Hot Water Collector

The solar hot water collector panel is made with an array of CPVC pipe on a flat plate collector (3 feet by 5 feet). It has ten 1/2-inch collector tubes that “T” into a top and bottom manifold that is 1 inch CPVC and routes to the hot water tank. CPVC pipe can withstand 200 degrees F, while the hottest temperature on my flat-plate collector is 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

solar hot water panel

Stove Pipe Hot Water Coil

The hot water coil is 3/8-inch copper tube that is coiled around the stove pipe about a dozen times and joins 1-inch copper pipe that is routed to the hot water tank. Copper pipe can withstand boiling water without damage. Do not use plastic fittings with copper pipe because plastic will melt. The stove pipe can get very hot, over 500 degrees F, and it could easily turn the water in the hot water coil to steam in a closed system, unless you have an open tank with a loose-fitting lid so that no steam pressure will build up.

hot water coil

Summer and Winter Modes

When the season changes, I simply swap the connection to the hot water tank between the pair of CPVC pipes from solar for summer, to the pair of copper pipes from the woodstove for winter.

summer-winter pipes

Heat Convection Loop and Hot Water Tank

Two key points to remember about using heat convection to circulate hot water from the heat source to the hot water tank:

1) Heat convection flow will stall if there is too much resistance. That means the pipes must be large diameter, 1-inch minimum, and routing must have gentle angles — never use a 90 degree turn, instead use two 45-degree fittings or a flexible hose (the metal type used on typical hot water tanks). Heat convection flow will stop if the tank water level drops below the hot water inlet.

2) Heat convection requires that the heat source (where the heat is collected) be lower than the hot water tank (where the heat is stored). The tank should have four ports, one is the fill inlet and one is the hot outlet, and two for heat convection. The hot water inlet port that brings hot water from the heat source must be ABOVE the hot water return port.

Similarly, hot water output is from the TOP of the solar collector and/or the hot water coil, while the cold water return is supplied to the BOTTOM of the solar collector and/or the hot water coil.

hot water tank

More ideas for your homestead and small house are in Christopher James Marshall’s holistic guide, Hut-Topia: How to Create Sustainable Small Homes and Homesteads. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Cut the Costs of Going Solar


There are plenty of reasons to install solar panels on your home. Solar PV panels produce zero-emissions energy, which is good for your health and the environment. They also significantly reduce your electricity costs and can even be a smart investment for your retirement. Over the past few years, the cost of installing solar has fallen dramatically. Today, there are a growing number of financing options and incentives that will help you cut costs even further so you can enjoy all of the benefits of solar.

Solar Loans Offer Easy, Accessible Financing Options for $0 Down

In the early days of solar, equipment was so expensive that buying solar panels wasn’t an option for most homeowners. The only way that solar was affordable was through the solar lease. In a solar lease agreement, the solar company that installs solar panels on your roof maintains ownership, and you pay monthly “rent” to them in exchange for the benefits of clean solar energy. 

Solar leases require no up-front investment from homeowners, but they also offer lower savings than if you were to buy your solar panel system. Why is this? If you own your solar panel system, you enjoy the financial benefits of free solar electricity as soon as you break even on your solar investment.

By comparison, in a solar lease arrangement, you are always obligated to pay “rent” to the solar company for the duration of the 20-year term. As equipment and installation costs have fallen in recent years, buying solar panels outright has become more feasible for the average homeowner.

Even if you don’t have the cash on hand to purchase a solar panel system, there are a growing number of solar loan options available for homes and businesses across the country. With many solar loans, your monthly payments are low enough that you see net savings from month one of your solar panel installation.

Types of Solar Loans

Here are a few of the most common types of solar loans available for homeowners:

Home equity loans and lines of credit. When the solar industry was new and relatively unproven, banks were hesitant to grant loans for homeowners who wanted to install solar. However, there are now more than a million solar installations in the country. Banks are starting to recognize that solar is a worthwhile home improvement project that offers steady returns. As a result, home equity loans and home equity lines of credit are a popular way to fund solar installations.

Unsecured solar loans. As solar costs have fallen, more companies are offering specialized solar loan products. These loans don’t require your home as collateral, and you can often work directly with your solar installer to access them. Specialized solar loan products are typically easier to access but come with slightly higher interest rates.

PACE financing. Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing is available for homes and businesses in certain states. If you choose PACE financing, you pay back your loan on an annual basis as part of your property taxes. Your electricity bill savings throughout the year are usually higher than your annual payment, so you’ll be “cash flow positive” from day one.

State/local government subsidized loan programs. Some states have established subsidized loan programs to create more favorable loan options for solar. For example, Massachusetts launched the Mass Solar Loan program for homes and businesses in December 2015. These programs use a few different tools, such as reduced interest rates and grants for low-income families, to make solar financing even more accessible.

Each of these options can help you get the most out of your solar investment by making it possible to buy your solar PV system. Use a comprehensive list of solar loan providers to find the best option in your state.

Many States and Municipalities Offer Tax Breaks and Other Incentives

The environmental benefits of solar are significant. To encourage the expansion of solar across the country and increase these benefits, many states, municipalities and even utilities offer solar financial incentives and rebates that reduce the cost of going solar.

Most significantly, the federal government offers a tax credit equal to 30 percent of your total solar costs. That means if your system costs $10,000, you’ll receive a $3,000 credit on your federal income taxes. Many states will offer additional state tax credits to cut your costs even further.

Some states and utilities also have programs that enable you to make money form the electricity generated by your solar panels. If your state has a market for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs), you can sell your system’s SRECs to earn additional income. Some areas also have performance-based incentives that pay you per kilowatt-hour for the electricity that your system produces.

The main takeaway: the incentives available to you depend on where you live. A tool like EnergySage’s Solar Calculator can give you a customized instant estimate of your net costs and savings based on your electricity bills and your location.

Comparing Solar Quotes is Another Easy Way to Save

The price tag for your solar panel system depends on whether you’re buying in cash, using a solar loan, or signing a PPA or solar lease. It also will also vary based on the incentives and rebates available where you live. However, all solar shoppers can save money on their solar PV systems by doing one simple thing: comparing multiple quotes from different solar installers.

When you compare your options, you can identify the ideal combination of equipment, financing, and solar installation company for your home. You can also be confident that the prices that you are quoted are reasonable for your area. With the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you’ll receive offers from qualified, pre-vetted solar installers in your area. You can use the Marketplace’s side-by-side comparison tables to review all of your options so that you can ensure that you’re getting the best deal on your solar energy system.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Community Solar: How to go Solar Without Rooftop Panels


Solar adoption is surging across the U.S., and it isn’t just limited to rooftop solar. The newest innovation in the solar industry: community solar, which offers many of the benefits of a home solar energy system without the need to install solar panels on your roof. To understand whether community solar is right for you, you’ll need to learn about the process and technology, when you should consider it, and how you can find local community solar projects near you.

How Community Solar Works

Community solar, also known as “shared solar” or a “solar garden,” is a solar power plant whose electricity is shared by more than one home or business. A third party, such as a municipality, utility, or project developer, will construct a large solar panel array and sell shares of that project to members of the community. In exchange, project participants receive the benefits from their share without having to install a solar panel system at their property.

Community solar projects offer both environmental and financial benefits. If you own or subscribe to a community solar share, you receive credit for the electricity that your share produces through a policy called virtual net metering. The credits appear on your electric bill and are counted towards your total monthly electricity use. Each credit is equal to one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity.

For example: you use 1,000 kWh at your home in one month, and your community solar share produces 800 kWh. The 800 kWh in credits from your share are applied to your electric bill, and your utility then charges you for the remaining 200 kWh. You pay your community solar provider directly for the cost of your share or subscription.


Your electricity cost savings depend on the kind of contract you have for your share. There are two commonly used community solar pricing models:

Ownership. With this format, you buy some of the panels in the community solar project from the owner, either in cash or with a loan. You then receive all of the benefits from the share of the system that you own.

Subscription. With this format, you “subscribe” to the project and pay a lower price for the electricity sourced from the community solar project. Some subscription projects charge a fixed dollar amount that increases slightly each year, while others offer a fixed discount off your utility electricity rate.

The financial benefits of owning a share of a community solar garden are similar to buying a rooftop solar energy system. If you sign up to a subscription model, your savings will be similar to a lease or PPA for a rooftop solar energy system.

When to Consider Community solar 

Community solar is a great option if you can’t (or don’t want to) install a solar energy system on your roof. Renters, apartment and condo owners, and property owners whose homes aren’t good candidates for solar can enjoy many of the benefits of solar by purchasing or subscribing to a community solar share. If you’ve already installed solar on your home, but aren’t able to meet 100 percent of your electricity needs with your panels, you can get a community solar share to make up the difference with emissions-free electricity. 

Most community solar projects require that you live in the utility territory where the project is located. However, certain community solar companies, like Arcadia Power, also offer special billing structures that make it possible for residents of almost every state to own a community solar share. This option can be a great alternative for property owners who live in states where the economics of rooftop solar aren’t as favorable.

How to Find Community Solar Projects Near You

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are 25 states with at least one active community solar project, and the market is expected to grow significantly in the next five years. Use a marketplace that lists community solar projects to explore all of your options. Different project owners offer different bill structures, prices, and savings – comparing your options is the best way to find the community solar project that’s right for you.

If you’re trying to compare community solar vs. rooftop solar, get offers from multiple providers of each solar solution. You can use EnergySage's Solar Calculator to compare your estimated savings from various rooftop solar options, and you can receive rooftop solar offers from qualified installers on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Whichever sustainable energy option you choose, you can be confident that you’re reducing your impact on the environment as well as your electricity costs – that’s what we call a solar win-win.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Buying Solar Panels? Check Out These Free Tools


If you’re beginning to educate yourself about the using solar energy in your home, it’s easy to become overloaded with information. Even veterans of the industry have to actively keep up with a variety of topics like state and federal regulations, utility policies, and changing technologies. If you’re excited about having solar panels installed on your roof, don’t be intimidated by the process.

Adopting solar power is a great way to invest funds, increase your property’s value, lower your electricity bill, and reduce your personal carbon footprint. Plus, with the recent and continued drop in solar panel costs, the return on investment is the most profitable it’s ever been. In other words, it’s definitely worth your time and research!

Depending on what state you live in, the type of property you own, whether you want to lease or own your solar panels, and other specifications, there are many aspects to consider during your purchasing process. Thankfully, there are several free tools available to make this process as easy as possible. Whether you’re looking to avoid energy cost fluctuations, make a financial investment, or to live a greener lifestyle, these resources will help clarify some frequently asked solar power questions you may have.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)

Also known as DSIRE, this website provides a wealth of free information about renewable energy incentives and policies. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, DSIRE serves as a massive database and provider of technical assistance to thousands of homeowners, businesses, solar companies, policymakers, and advocacy groups.

So what exactly do you need to use it for? DSIRE lets you easily and instantly search solar policies by state and even zip code, so you know exactly which tax credits you should qualify for and the amount of rebates you can expect with your purchase of solar panels. The online platform is very easy to use, and once you select your location, the database will display all state and federal policies that apply for your area and detail each one specifically. It’s the best way to inform yourself about all the policy technicalities, expiration dates, extensions, and more.

It’s important to be well versed in the types of net metering, state tax credits, and federal incentives that before installing your solar panels, so you can accurately crunch the numbers on your investment and future savings. This information should also come in handy when speaking with solar panel installers. A good installer will be aware of the exact net-metering policies in your area and local incentives. 

Solar Savings Calculator

One of the main advantages that you’re probably familiar with in regards to using solar power is that it will greatly reduce your electricity bill, saving you thousands of dollars at the end of each year. But how is this calculation made and how much can you be saving? There’s a solar savings calculator for that!

When you start generating your own electricity, the amount of power that you need to draw from the utility company will obviously decrease dramatically. However, the exact amount that you will save depends on the cost of utility power in your area, the size of your home, your region’s net-metering policy, and your energy needs.

It can be a headache to calculate all of this yourself. That’s why 123SolarPower created a free solar savings calculator that provides an instant estimate of your potential savings. Simply input a few criteria based on your household, and you’ll get an online savings estimate, which can give you a jumping off point on what to expect.

Solar Panel Marketplace

As home solar has become more and more popular, the numbers of solar providers have increased to meet demand. This is great in terms of creating more competition in the market for homeowners to choose from, resulting in better quality service and rates. But researching and selecting which company to go with can become a little overwhelming. That’s where a solar panel marketplace like 123SolarPower comes into play. The free marketplace allows you to request pricing and service quotes from a number of certified solar providers. This gives you the advantage of comparing several companies and prices in minutes, instead of calling and meeting with each one yourself.

This type of tool only connects you only with providers that service your area and offer the exact type of solar that you’re looking for. These companies can be a wealth of knowledge in your shopping process and answer lots of questions about installing solar panels on your roof and what you should expect, not to mention, provide competitive pricing quotes. Whether you’re looking for solar panel San Diego or South Florida, a trusted network of providers can be a big help.

Energy Audit Self-Assessment

Last but not least, if you’re serious about getting the most out of your solar panel system, a home energy audit can be really helpful. While enlisting the help of a professional is best, you can perform your own assessment to spot where your home is losing energy. has a free Do-It-Yourself home energy audit checklist available online.

The checklist provides a number of areas of your home to check and what exactly to look for. From air leaks, insulation, lighting and more, this list can serve as a great tool for homeowners. It should be noted that a DIY assessment won’t be as thorough as one conducted by a professional, but it can definitely help you get a good idea of where you can save.

There are many important factors to consider before making your solar power purchase. Tools like these make the process much easier, answer your questions, and get everyone in your household excited about solar power.

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Read all of Sarah's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Most Important Warranties for Your Solar Installation


Choosing the right equipment for your solar panel system, and the right company to install it, are both crucial decisions to a successful home solar installation. Solar energy systems come with multiple warranties that apply to different parts of the installation, and trying to keep track of them all can get confusing.

Here’s a simple guide to the different warranties for your solar energy system, and which ones you should really pay attention to.

Types of Solar Warranties

Some of the warranties that back your solar energy system are related to the equipment, and some are related to the installation itself. Below are the main solar warranties that you should consider before signing on the dotted line.

Solar equipment warranty

Rooftop solar energy systems have no moving parts, and solar panels are extremely durable. Aside from an occasional rinse (if you live in a dry or dusty area), your panels don’t require any day-to-day maintenance, either.

While issues with a solar installation are extremely rare, your panels will come with a solar equipment warranty. Also referred to as the “materials” warranty, the solar equipment warranty guarantees that your solar panels will be free from problems caused by manufacturing defects or durability issues. If your panels fail as a result of one of these problems, the manufacturer will provide you with replacements at no cost. The industry standard for the materials warranty is 10 years, although the best solar panels offer up to a 25-year warranty.

The inverter, which converts electricity from your solar panels into a form that can be used in your home, also comes with a warranty. Inverters generally aren’t as long lasting as solar panels, so you’ll likely have to replace your inverter at least once over the lifetime of your solar energy system. Materials warranties for inverters typically range from five to 10 years, with some companies offering 12-year or even 25-year warranties.

Solar power production warranty

Solar panel performance naturally degrades over time at a relatively slow and steady rate. To give you a sense of what to expect year-over-year, your solar panels also come with a power production warranty. Production warranties are based on lab tests that reproduce the conditions your panels will have to endure over 25 years.

Solar panel manufacturers offer a power production warranty, which guarantees that their panels will retain a certain percentage of their production capacity over the first 25 years. Most power production warranty will guarantee that, after 25 years, a solar panel will operate at around 80 percent of its original output. For this metric, a higher percentage guarantee is preferable to a lower percentage.

The production warranty should also offer a guarantee that your panels only lose a certain percent of their production capability each year — typically no more than 0.7 percent. In this case, you should look for a warranty that guarantees a relatively low rate of decline (in percentage terms).

Solar installer workmanship and roof warranties

In addition to the equipment included in your installation, many solar installers offer a warranty on their workmanship. Installing a solar panel system on your roof is a smart decision and a big investment. If your solar installer offers a workmanship warranty, it is a sign that they are ready and willing to stand behind the work that they do on your house, from system design to installation.

Properly installed solar panels will not void any existing warranty that you have on your roof, and the work done to install your panels is typically covered under your installer’s warranty. In fact, solar panels can actually extend the life of your roof by protecting it from wear and tear caused by the elements.

Which Solar Warranties Are Most important?

 The bottom line is that, when you consider solar, the most important warranties are the ones around your equipment — not your specific installer. Think about the last time you bought a new dishwasher or other home appliance; did you focus more on the brand name of the appliance, or the contractor that installed it it?

While both are important considerations, chances are you focused more on getting that new Maytag dishwasher or GE French Door refrigerator. Solar is no different, and pairing your equipment warranty with a strong power performance warranty is the best way to be certain you’ll have a high-quality product that performs well into the future.

In the rare event that something does go wrong, many of the companies that manufacture solar energy equipment – such as LG, Panasonic, Hyundai and Kyocera — are long-standing, reputable electronics manufacturers. This means you can be confident that they will be around to honor their equipment warranties if and when the time comes.

Compare Options to Find the Best Solar Panels for Your Home

Finding the right solar panel system for your home means comparing multiple quotes from solar installers. Use a website like the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to find local solar installers near you, and make easy side-by-side comparisons of all your solar options, including equipment, installers, and financing. By shopping around first, you can find the right option at the right price — warranties and all.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Hybrid Home Energy Systems Offer Both Off-Grid and Grid-Tied Benefits

Who hasn’t been attracted to the idea of living off the grid? Between the monetary freedom and the savings — especially when you consider peak pricing and other utility charges — grid independence is enticing. It’s also practical during a power outage or emergency. Grid independence can be a formula to help any home withstand the elements. The situation is never beyond your control when you can generate and use your own electricity.

However, as some homeowners realize late in the process, not utilizing the potential of energy storage is easier said than done. Following Hurricane Sandy, many solar owners in the affected area (New York and New Jersey) learned the hard way that because they lacked hybrid operation and energy storage capabilities — their grid-tied solar electric systems were incapable of keeping the lights on and refrigerators running, because they were required to disconnect during a power outage. All those thousands of kilowatts of solar electricity being generated stayed up on the rooftops, unable to help the homeowners below.

What is a Hybrid Energy System?

What they needed was a hybrid approach, a way to harvest and store solar-generated electricity to use it with or without the grid present, at night as well as during the day. That’s what hybrid systems deliver: the ability to operate in multiple modes and store electricity for later use.

Such a system can “zero out” the grid if enough solar is present for self-consumption, which occurs when your solar electricity use powers the loads in your home, effectively providing off-grid independence. If there’s a surplus of solar-generated electricity available, these systems can export it back to the grid for net-metering incentives if they are allowed by the utility and locale.

Most important, they can store surplus solar electricity in a battery bank, enabling you to use your own stored electricity during peak demand times when rates are higher, giving you time-of-use control and flexibility.

And finally, such a system can keep critical loads up and running during an outage, providing greater security.

For residential users that want to control and master their electrical consumption, as well as business owners and agricultural users, a hybrid approach offers the best of both worlds: reduced or even eliminated utility charges and backup during critical times, without the need to stay totally off the grid with a system that can draw from the grid when necessary to make up the difference.

If your home or business falls into this category, below are three ways to successfully go hybrid.

Choose the Right Battery Size

Battery sizing is critical for any solar-plus-storage project. Lay out your specific intent for the batteries before making a purchase — often, users purchase inexpensive batteries to save money at the beginning of a solar installation, but they need to be replaced quickly when they can’t handle the demands of a solar installation. It’s a lost investment, a frustrating process and entirely avoidable.

Consider whether you plan to use a battery for occasional outages or if you’ll be offsetting electricity costs during peak hours. The two scenarios demand different capabilities from the batteries. Backup batteries, for example, are designed to discharge less frequently and at a greater “depth.” But use them daily and their service life is shortened considerably.

SystemEdge by OutBack Power

Aim to Prove ROI ASAP

An off-grid system is a major investment. Depending on its size, power usage, the owner’s location and goals for the project, the retail price could be $10,000 to $30,000, and that price comes before installation fees.

Of course, solar power helps users reclaim the setup process’ costs. Solar technology increases the value of a home, and you can sell surplus energy back to make a profit. By investing in hybrid capabilities at the start, the payback period can come more quickly, through increased utility savings and the ability to use solar electricity 24/7 and offset peak demand pricing.

Follow a Path That’s Proven to Work

As you talk to your energy providers — electric and solar alike — about your new installation, ask about their customers’ experiences who might have properties, energy consumption habits, and long-term goals similar to yours.

For example, one Silicon Valley home wanted to reduce the electric bills common in its high-cost area, while minimizing its peak load to the grid. The homeowner also wanted to invest heavily in smart-home technology, including the latest solutions in control, lighting, HVAC, networking and entertainment. A hybrid approach gave the homeowner an insurance policy that would keep his smart home running during storms, third-party disruptions and any other issues, while empowering his family to produce energy on site, gain independence from the utility and cut electricity costs.

Going off-grid is perfect for some, but it’s not for everyone. With a hybrid system, users can store electricity for their own use and achieve the full benefits of a solar approach, while maintaining the ability to access the grid if the situation demands. By outlining goals at the start of a project and following a successful path forged by other hybrid users, your home or business can achieve its energy goals with flying colors.

Eric Hill is senior strategic platforms manager at Alpha Technologies, parent company of OutBack Power. He has 8 years’ experience in energy storage focusing on renewable energy, telecom, wireless, industrial utilities, and broadband cable TV. Connect him on LinkedIn, and find OutBack Power on Twitter and Facebook.

Mark Cerasuolo is the marketing director and head of the training program for OutBack Power, a designer and a manufacturer of balance-of-system components for renewable and other energy applications. Prior to his work with OutBack Power Technologies, he held senior marketing roles at Leviton Manufacturing as well as with prominent consumer electronics companies such as Harman International and Bose Corporation, and was active in the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). More recently he was the marketing lead for the Washington State Department of Commerce. Mark also serves as a business & marketing advisor for the educational non-profit organization Healing the Culture in Kenmore, Washington, and was a volunteer field literacy tutor for the Ventura County Adult Literacy program in California.

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