On-grid vs. off-grid vs. hybrid solar installations

What are the different types of solar power systems?

Every photovoltaic solar panel system has common components including solar panels, charge controllers, and inverters. Once you decide to go solar, you’ll have to choose what type of solar panel system you’d like to have, and you will need to buy extra components on top of that initial list to complete your installation. The three main types of solar installations are on-grid, off-grid, and hybrid solar systems. Which one is best for you and what should you know about each of them?

On-grid systems (grid-tie solar systems)

On-grid systems, or grid-tied solar systems, are the most common and widely used systems by Canadians. If you’re in an area with reliable and steady access to the grid, staying on-grid can be the way to go. Building an on-grid system gives you the ability to take advantage of steady access to electricity from the grid and save money by using solar panels to supplement your energy production.

In on-grid solar panels, you can use energy from both the grid and your panels. You do not need to purchase a battery bank. When your panels aren’t producing power, such as at night or when it’s overcast, you can tap into the grid. Excess solar that’s produced is often credited to your utility’s account with a mechanism known as net metering. Then you can use that power at night without paying extra.

Because you’re using energy from multiple sources, this means you’ll be able to meet your energy needs with a smaller, cheaper system.

Who should install on-grid solar systems?

On-grid solar is ideal for those who:

  • Live in areas without enough regular sunshine areas
  • Want to save money on their utility bills without having to install a massive system
  • Have limited space or funds to build a large solar installation
  • What should I buy for an on-grid system?

    The key components of an on-grid solar installation are solar panels, a charge controller, inverters, cables, and mounting hardware. On-grid systems will also typically include an array disconnect (to disconnect the solar arrays from the home for maintenance), power meter (to measure the amount of power used from the grid), and breaker panel (to prevent the appliances on a circuit from drawing too much electricity).

    It’s helpful to understand the basics of how solar installations work. Solar panels, which are made up of many solar cells made of silicon, create an electric current when sunlight hits the panels, they create an electric current. The current collected by solar panels feeds into a charge controller, which controls how much current goes to the battery. Charge controllers prevent batteries from being overcharged. Your battery bank will store and produce DC power. In order to use AC appliances, such as microwaves, laptops, and phone chargers, an inverter is connected to change the power from DC into usable AC.

    What are some important considerations for on-grid solar?

    It’s crucial to note that many jurisdictions require that your on-grid system is installed by a licensed contractor because you will be connected to the grid. Be sure to look up the rules and regulations in your area.

    In a grid-tied system, your installation will also not work if there’s a blackout or outage. This is because it would be dangerous for your system to be pushing energy into the grid when workers may be out trying to make repairs to bring the system back up. Additionally, if you live in a remote or undeveloped area, on-grid solar may not even be an option for you.

    Off-grid solar systems (stand-alone power systems)

    Many people who envision off-grid systems, or stand-alone power systems, think of an individual living off-the-grid in the middle of the woods. Though more expensive and not as common as on-grid systems, off-grid systems are perfect for those who live in a remote area without reliable and affordable access to the grid. An efficient and powerful battery bank is a key part of every off-grid system. Off-grid systems must be sized and designed to fit a variety of needs throughout the year, especially in the winter when there are fewer sunlight hours.

    Who should install off-grid solar systems?

    Off-grid solar is ideal for those who:

    • Live in an area without reliable, steady access to power from the grid
    • Want to live sustainably and lower their carbon-footprint
    • Live in a tiny home, cabin, RV, boat, or remote area
    • Want to be energy independent and stop paying money to the utility
    • Are concerned about having access to power during a blackout

    What should I buy for an off-grid system?

    The key components of off-grid solar installations include solar panels, a charge controller, a battery bank, an inverter, cables, and mounting hardware.

    You’ll want to do some research to purchase powerful, efficient, and reliable batteries for your battery bank. We recommend purchasing the highly efficient and advanced lithium iron phosphate batteries. Lithium iron phosphate batteries have an extremely long cycle life, are compact and lightweight, and have high discharge and recharge rates. They also require little to no maintenance.

    What are some important considerations for off-grid solar?

    In an off-grid installation, it is especially important to properly size your system and make sure you’re investing in high quality and efficient components. To size your system, we recommend using the Renogy solar panel calculator.

    Benefits of off-grid solar systems include having access to power during a blackout, creating a lower carbon footprint, and putting an end to monthly utility bills. For those living in a tiny home, RV, cabin, boat, or isolated area or are in an area where they don’t have reliable, steady access to power from the grid, off-grid solar can be a great solution.

    On-grid systems with battery storage (hybrid)

    Battery storage used to be out of reach for many Canadians going solar, but with the decreasing costs of batteries, more people are choosing to add battery storage to their on-grid projects. Adding batteries to an on-grid system means you’ll be able to take advantage of the benefits of both on- and off-grid systems, such as ensuring you’ll have energy access during blackouts and lowering your monthly utility bills.

    Who should install an on-grid solar system with battery storage?

    Hybrid solar is ideal for those who:

    • Have steady and reliable access to the grid
    • Have limited space or funds to build a system to cover 100% of their energy needs
    • Want to have access to back-up power in case of outages

    What should I buy for an on-grid system with battery storage?

    The key components of an on-grid system with battery storage is similar to an on-grid system, including solar panels, a charge controller, a battery bank, an inverter, cables, array disconnect, power meter, breaker panel, and mounting hardware.

    What kind of battery should I purchase?

    Again, we recommend the highly efficient lithium iron phosphate batteries for your battery bank in a hybrid solar installation. Lithium iron phosphate batteries have the best cycle life of deep cycle batteries, offering approximately 2000 cycles at 100% DoD (depth of discharge.) Lithium batteries typically have a lifespan of at least 10 years and lose less capacity when idle.

    What are some important considerations for on-grid solar systems with battery storage?

    If you add a battery bank to your grid-tied solar installation, you’ll be able to use the energy you’ve collected and stored in case there’s a blackout. Adding a battery bank to your grid-tied solar installation means you’ll be able to take advantage of the reliability and energy access of the grid, while still taking advantage of the cost-saving benefits of going solar.

    Conclusion

    Whether you choose to install a grid-tied, stand-alone, or hybrid solar system, going solar is a great way to save money, live a lower impact lifestyle, and be more energy independent.