Would You Rather Be On the Grid, or Off the Grid?

| 7/21/2009 12:32:24 PM

Tags: question to readers, solar power, wind power, renewable energy, on grid, off grid,

If you’re considering installing solar-electric panels or a home wind turbine, one of the first questions to ask is whether you want to be on the grid or off the grid.

What’s the difference? A grid-tied system connects to the local electric utility, so you can sell power to the utility, or buy power when you need it. A grid-independent system does not connect to the local power lines. Instead, you produce all the power you need for your own home.

Both options have their pros and cons.  First, a grid-connected system is usually cheaper. For one thing, you don’t have to produce all your own power, so you can choose to purchase a smaller system. You will also need to purchase less equipment, because a grid-tied system doesn’t require batteries.

However, for some people off the grid is the only way to go because it allows you to be truly independent of the utility. During a power outage, your lights stay on. And who needs fossil fuels? You’re producing all the power you need from clean renewable energy. Also, if you live in a remote area that doesn’t already have electric service, an off-grid system can end up being cheaper than extending electric lines to your house.

So, tell us what you think. If you installed solar-electric panels or a wind turbine, would you want to connect to the grid? If you already have a home renewable energy system, what did you decide about a grid connection, and are you happy with that decision? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

heath israel
8/16/2010 8:00:09 AM

I totally agree with on-grid (in a city). a) we have netmetering in NYC so the excess is sold back at the price I buy. b) we have an old house with window units. In the summer, it can be a pretty big energy drain and it helps to have some backup juice from the power company to help cool. c) wind isn't a good option so we only have solar...and we need electricity at night you know. (the batteries would have to be stored in my basement and that's not a good option so battery backup isn't very practical for me).

9/16/2009 8:56:06 PM

I don't know if you care to hear more feedback 3 months after the article, but I'm contributing mine anyway... If I could be fully independent by providing my own energy I would love it. I'm not opposed to being connected to the utility grid to sell power back, as long as I maintain my self-sufficiency. Also, the idea of a neighborhood sort of communally producing and sharing power is very appealing to me; if there was a way for each house to have a backup supply before passing on the excess to one's neighbor. Oh, how I would love to escape the congested sprawl of Los Angeles...

7/27/2009 7:27:38 PM

I lived with my wife for 5 years off the grid. We had a small system, less than $5000, that suplied all the power we needed. We had a; well pump, washer and gas dryer, sewing machine, side by side refridgerator/freezer, and tv/dvd player. Nothing was special energy saving appliances, and we lived a very normal life. It's amazing how much electricity is wasted in the average home. From incandecant lights to ghost drawing appliances. We now live in a small town and wish we didn't haveto be hooked to the grid.

neill sayers
7/27/2009 11:38:26 AM

It would cost me a fortune and a 30 foot right of way to get the grid to my place. I prefer to live with less energy and preserve my woods and privacy.

sidney patin
7/26/2009 6:57:15 PM

I would expect that people who frequent motherearth would prefer off-grid. I would prefer off-grid if I did not live in a metropolitan area. But it is much cheaper to just plug into the grid system. I have been on the grid for 20 years without any significant outages, so I'm ok with it the way it is. (now that's honesty!) On the other hand, if I could figure a way to get off this hamster wheel to get out in the country to live with a farm, chicken and goats, I would do it in a minute and would prefer off-grid.

7/26/2009 5:19:30 PM

I have lived in Northern Maine for 19 years. The first 11 were off-grid. We had gas appliances and lights, a battery bank/inverter/generator. My husband built our house and wired it himself for both ac and dc. We used wood heat with a 12-volt ceiling fan to requlate the temperature between the 2 floors. Small appliances and electric lights were run from the battery system. On laundry days, the generator was started and the batteries recharged Usually a 2 to 3 hour process every 4 or 5 days. I definitely think off-grid is the way to go. I would definitely do it again-with a better system in place. I have lived the past 8 years on-grid and would miss a few conveniences (my larger TV screen, turning up the thermostat first thing in the morning instead of doing the woodstove before my coffee and doing laundry with trudging out to the generator shed), but probably not for long. At this stage of the game I would like to take the middle road, the best of both worlds, and be grid interactive.

terry verstuyft
7/26/2009 8:54:28 AM

i am trying to install a whole house solar package on my rural home. i am finding that it is EXTREMELY expensive and havent yet found a way to afford it but if i could afford it i think i would go "on-grid" as the thought of actually getting PAID by the power company for my extra power is somewhat appealing. i would however make sure that i had enough solar panels and a big enough solar package to accomplish this.

7/26/2009 6:32:40 AM

At this time there is no affordable way we can do either. Our home is 100% electric, so we are trying to cut down where we can, and save up for things that either don't require any electric or very little. We are checking into a human powered generator which would provide us with a small amount of electricity and also exercise. We are working towards being self-suffient & non-electric. What happens if you have solar or wind, need replacement equipment and can't get it? Basically your out of luck. Learning to do things with out electric is by far your best choice.

theresa williamson_1
7/25/2009 7:31:08 PM

In many ways the interactive system sounds really great. I like the idea of selling electricity to the electric company we have been attached to for so many years. However, here is something that you may not have considered: The Bible says that "in the last days" that people will not be able to "buy or sell" without having the "mark of the beast"---and if you are a believer of the Lord Jesus Christ, this could be a problem. In the light of that, I think it would be better not to be connected to the grid. I would like to live in such a way as to be very self-sufficient. Unfortunately, my husband doesn't think the same way I do. I would like to have a separate water well that doesn't connect to our neighborhood well system, even if we may have to filter it ourselves. Over the past several years, I have made several small gardens and he has never helped me with any of them. He has even destroyed fruit trees that I planted, usually with the weed eater. The only one that he let survive was a pecan tree, because he likes pecans. We are rarely on the same page about anything. Our three children have seen this division all their lives. I still try to do what I can to better our lives and prepare for the future. One thing everyone can do is prepare for the future when food supplies may diminish. If you haven't started storing food away, start now. We live in a mobile home in a subdivision that permits mobile homes, and we can start hiding food under our trailer behind the skirting. If you live in a house, you can store food away either under your house or in your basement or closets or attic,or in your storage buildings. My parents have an extra closet near their front door that they put things they have bought on sale. You can too. Pioneers used to make a basement under their cabins to hide in, in case of emergencies, like in case of fire,or other things. Think about what your fa

7/25/2009 4:53:27 PM

i would only want to be on the grid so that I could get paid for all the energy that I'd generate during peak hours if I had a solar set up.

b knight
7/25/2009 9:58:14 AM

If you have access to the grid already, being tied to the grid makes sense to me. If I need backup power during an occasional outage, a generator cost much less than backup batteries. More amd more states are coming out with a Feed-in Tariff (FiT). The one in Ontario for example, pays you 80 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity you produce. With that kind of FiT, you are best off to produce your solar electricity and sell ALL of it to the power company, while still buying back what you need at 6 cents per kwh. Info on rates: http://www.ontariosolarfarms.com/residential.html .

m mcwilliams
7/24/2009 11:08:10 PM

Emily, a grid-tied system requires and inverter that is set up with an AC disconnect. This is to protect the electric company workers should the grid go down. Solar panels can/should still be producing energy when the grid is down...as long as it is getting light. The disconnect protects the workers and senses when the grid is back up. You should not need to reset it with most inverters. Hope this answers some of you questions. We chose a grid tied system for a couple of reasons. We don't have many long term outages here (middle VA) and we have a really good co-op that is very supportive of solar. Rather than batteries (fairly expensive) we chose a propane generator for our back up since we already had a couple of propane appliances in our house (fireplaces and range). We are also certified installers for PV laminate panels so we have done a lot of research on this before we decided on our system.

gary storey
7/24/2009 10:02:36 PM

I am planning on building my log home with an off grid system with battery storage. John Lorenzen from Iowa did this back in the early 80's. His 160 acre farm was powered by 3 wind chargers with a bank of Jacobson batteries for storage. A physics professor from Iowa State took classes out to his farm to show them what he had done. He also produced hydrogen by electrolysis from the wind chargers. He also ran his 1980 GMC truck on water using a " hydrogen" battery that he built. Of course, he was doing electrolysis as he went down the road.

tim brady
7/24/2009 4:59:57 PM

Math correction on my last post. I shouldn't try and do math late on Fridays: I understand a Solar Chimney Turbine, like the one in Spain, can be built at a cost just under 2 million dollars. It can produce enough electricity for 10,000 homes, at a construction cost of under $200 per household. I'm not sure what the total monthly maintenance cost would be but even if it was $20,000 per month, electricity would only cost each household $20 per month if none was sold to the grid. I currently pay $2820 a year for my electricity. If my numbers are even remotely close that would be reduced to $440 the first year and just a $240 per year there after, a $4960 savings after 2 years. Not chump change by any means.

tim brady
7/24/2009 4:30:54 PM

Why does on or off the grid have to be an individual household decision. Why not a neighborhood or community grid, example: A community windmill or solar chimney turbine system which produces enough electricity for the community and sells the excess to the electric grid. If enough small rural communities, neighborhoods and subdivisions built their own green energy sources for the residents and small business of the community and sell the excess electricity to the grid. The electric utility could to sell it to larger urban communities and large corporate users. This would in effect reduce the energy cost to the rural user maybe even make it near free, reduce the dependency on oil, coal and gas to produce electricity to urban users thus reducing green house emissions and reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources. The ROI on this wind and solar chimney turbine technology is very quick I understand a Solar Chimney Turbine, like the one in Spain, can be built at a cost just under 2 million dollars. It can produce enough electricity for 10,000 homes, at a construction cost of under $200 per household. I'm not sure what the total monthly maintenance cost would be but even if it was $20,000 per month, electricity would only cost each household $10 per month. I currently pay $2820 a year for my electricity. If my numbers are even remotely close that would be reduced to $320 the first year and just a $120 per year there after, a $5200 after 2 years. Not chump change by any means. I think all this me individualism is the thing of the old economy. The new economy is going to require the active participation of Individuals in the community. We need to go from 10% of the members of a community doing 90% of the community work to 90% of the community doing 100% of the community's work. Things like utilities, fire protection and civil protection need to be community based with participation by everyone in the community.

scott kimball_2
7/24/2009 12:23:01 PM

I would only want to be grid tied if I made enough electricity to sell the excess back.

james armstrong_2
7/24/2009 11:36:13 AM

I don't understand this obsession to stay tied to the grid. Why not just produce what you can, then learn to live with that amount of energy. Seems sensible to me if you really want to save the planet.

cyndi jenkins
7/24/2009 11:31:25 AM

I prefer off....very off actually. 1 1/2 years ago we made the decision to live totally non electric. We do not use alternative energy sources like solar or wind. We collect rain water and carry water from the Spring. We store items in the Spring to keep them cold. We use oil lamps and one LED lantern, we raise our own meat and food and process both. I have no regrets in our decision and hope that I am physically able to live this way the rest of my life. I am now 47. SO....it is COMPLETELY off the grid for me!

suaznne jamison
7/24/2009 11:15:38 AM

This does not need to be an either/or decision. For those with no access to grid-based electricity, the off-grid system is the obvious choice because it is cheaper than the paying for the hard-wired access. Many people would be surprised to learn how many families in the US live without access to grid-tied electricity, especially in rural areas and Native Nations. Here the challenge is to set up a locally-owned rural utility that manages the off-grid system. Many local, rural electric systems do not offer grid-tied opportunities because they do not have the resources to install the equipment necessary to make this available to customers. These local systems often serve those areas which could benefit most from a hybrid grid-tied/storage back-up because they are often less reliable in resilient and redundent than larger systems. Do not assume that wherever there is a grid, the grid-tied option is available. Another issue to consider are the requirements of utilities for specific installation and components in a electrical generating system in order to be eligible for tying into the grid. Anyone considering this option must contact the utility in advance to find out its requirements for connecting an electrical generating system to the grid. Wind generation systems are more of a challenge in this regard due to the extreme fluctuations in the troughs and peaks, which drive power grid managers nuts. Grid-tied is less expensive for the initial installation because a large portion of the costs in any alternative electric generating system is the storage. Yes, we can generate electricity from every square inch of the Earth's surface in a myriad of ways, but how to store and transmit is the issue. Any grid-tied system should also have at least a small storage system for back-up. The size of that system depends on the individual's trust in the long-term viability of the grid.

chad haring
7/24/2009 10:41:28 AM

I'd prefer being on-grid, BUT with battery back-up. Reasoning: I currently (summer) product more power with my 10.5kW PV system than I consume. Selling surplus power to the grid does two things; suppliments my cost for power and shares any surplus with other consumers, [hopefully] reducing the requirement for additional fossil-fuel generation capacity.

alex mckenzie
7/24/2009 8:11:36 AM

I'm with George (above) -- I'd rather go with grid-interactive. Selling power to the grid at peak takes some of the load off those highly polluting power sources, and the batteries give me some light and heat if the grid goes down. Sure, it's more complicated, but it also just plain seems like a better choice. Emily: my understanding is that most grid-tie systems come with a controller that watches for power coming from the grid. If there isn't any, it shuts down the system until power is coming in again, or possibly until it senses power and a person manually resets the system.

george works
7/24/2009 8:05:41 AM

There is a third alternative, a "grid interactive" system, which is what I installed. My system connects to the grid so I can sell excess solar power to the grid, or buy power from it. But my system also has batteries, so when the grid goes off my lights stay on. I chose this system because most of the time my batteries "float", so battery life is long and battery maintenance is less. But I live on St. Eustatius, where the grid is much less reliable than in the US (especially during hurricanes), so I want the independence that batteries provide. The disadvantages of a grid-interactive system are, of course, that you must buy and maintain batteries. The advantages are all the other advantages of both grid-tie and off-grid systems.

emily gaiser
7/24/2009 8:04:58 AM

When I did my research on grid-tied vs. independent, it was my understanding that if you are grid-tied your system has to be set up for the power company to have the ability to turn your power supply off so their workers aren't in danger of being electrocuted. In the event of a power outage, you too would be without power. Is this correct?

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