Grid-Tie or Off-Grid Power Systems

Renewable energy has become quite popular lately, coming in two main varieties. Grid-tie and off-grid. So which is right for you? Lets take a quick look at the options.

Grid-Tie Systems

For a variety of reasons (environmental, economic, etc.) many people choose this route. Typically this starts by connecting the home to the local power company’s power lines. The home uses power, the meter spins. A bill is sent every month for power used. So far, everything is “normal”. Here is the difference. Grid-tie systems use energy produced from the home owner’s renewable sources to offset the power used.

Basically, it consists of installing some sort of renewable electrical generators. Usually solar is used, but some may also use wind or even hydro power systems. Then this electricity is directed into your home. During times when the system is producing more power than your home is currently using, the meter basically spins backwards. The nice thing is that then your power bill is credited. When the power produced is less than your current usage (i.e. night or cloudy days), then power company “sells” you the power you need. And you are sent a bill in the mail.

The Advantage?

The goal of most grid-tie systems is to greatly reduce our eliminate your power bill. So they install enough solar panels to accomplish that depending on your current budget. Grid-tie systems are typically less expensive (per kWh of power produced) than off-grid systems because there is no need for equipment to store excess electricity (the power company basically becomes the storage system, selling you power whenever your system is not producing enough).

The downside...With almost all solar grid-tie systems, when a power blackout occurs, the solar system is automatically shut down (safeties are built into the system so your solar power doesn’t electrocute some poor lineman who is trying to restore the power in your area). It is possible to set up a grid-tie system with a backup battery system, but by the time you go to that expense, much (if not all) of the advantage of grid-tie is lost.

Off-Grid Systems

On the other hand, an off-grid system is completely independent of the power grid. It produces all of its electricity and stores that power for whenever it is needed. This is the type of system required when someone needs electricity at a location remote enough that cost prohibits the running of power lines to it. While this cost varies depending on distance from existing lines and difficulty of installation, I have personally heard of an $18,000 quote for running power to a location around 1 mile from the power lines; another quote was approaching $50,000 to run the power lines several miles.

The Advantage?

A different advantage of off-grid systems is the very independence they provide. When the power company is experiencing a local or regional blackout, the off-grid system is not affected. Even though off-grid systems are typically more expensive (per kWh of power produced) than their standard grid-tie counterparts, the total system cost could end up being less. This is because off- grid users typically tend to be more careful about energy consumption and therefore don’t need to produce nearly as many kWh’s of power as the typical homeowner who installs a grid-tie system to lower the power bill. And if done properly and economically, even an off-grid system should pay for itself and end up saving money in the long run. How long this takes will depend on your energy consumption, and how economically your system is designed.

Because an off-grid system enables one to become truly energy independent, that is what we highly recommend.

Nick Meissner

Nick Meissner’s adventure with homesteading and off-grid living began in the late '90s with a less-than-bare-bones budget. Over the past 12 years, Nick has taught thousands of people about renewable energy, homesteading, water systems, and independence in general. He's deeply in love with his beautiful wife Lisa and thoroughly enjoys their two children.