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Sunday, January 24, 2010

To grid tie or not to grid tie.

That is the question.

There's a couple of approaches to solar electric systems. Two of the biggest are whether or not to tie into the grid.

If you are in a cabin far from power lines, it's not a problem. You don't have a choice. You are off grid, that's why you had your donkey haul all those solar panels and batteries up that mountain.

If you do have access to grid power, then it's something to think about.

The advantage of grid tied is that many people dispense with a battery bank entirely. No maintenance, no changing them out every so many years. Just a reduction in your electric bill. You are doing your bit to put clean power into the grid. Of course, maybe you just are scared of fusing a wrench to a low voltage/high amperage battery bank. (silly fear, that's what rubber handled tools are for.)

The stand alone, off grid system has one major advantage. When the grid goes down you still have power. Grid tied systems are set up to disable themselves once the grid goes down. The rational behind that is the power company doesn't want solar power energizing supposedly dead lines. Even though the sun is shining on your wonderful solar electric panels, you'd be without power just like everybody else. I bet that feels like a rip off.

It is possible to have a grid tied system that also has battery backup. While that defeats the cost savings of having no battery bank, it is a source of power during blackouts. If I had huge piles of money I didn't know what to do with (hint hint Publisher's Clearing House), that's something I might do. I also might spend all my days drinking icy drinks at the Flying Monkey Bar in Key West, but that's not what I'm trying to focus on right now.


Twenty years ago when I put my system in, I decided to not tie into the grid. Basically, I decided not to get ripped off. Back then Public Service Company of NH required the grid tie to be done by a technician they approved. I would need expensive equipment I wasn't willing to buy. To top it all off, they'd pay me a low wholesale price for my solar power while charging me a high retail price for their power. I hear it's better now, but mama Sixbears didn't raise no stupid cubs. I continue to not sell power to those rat bastards.

In a perfect system, you'd have just enough solar power to meet your needs -no more, no less.

I'm not a big fan of the grid. While I still have some grid power, the only tie into my system is from the grid to the battery bank. There's the option of topping off the batteries from the grid. The grid functions like a back up generator would in a totally off the grid system.

The grid power was already installed. Good generators cost good money that's better spent on frozen alcoholic drinks. At the time I was still heading off to work a few days a week -leaving my wife with 3 young children at home. Picture this, it's -30F, the batteries are low, and the generator has to be started. I'm away at work. What do you think would happen?

If you said I'd come home to a frozen house and note saying the wife and kids are staying in a hotel in Orlando -bingo! Did not want to have that happen. Much easier to put a battery meter and a switch in the kitchen. If the meter starts to read low, flick the switch and the batteries charge.

Now that I don't go off to one of those job things, it'd be no big deal to occasionally fire up a generator as needed. The solar electric system is a bit bigger and our power needs bit less. Could work. Probably find out in the coming months. (especially if I don't pay the power bill.) PSNH keeps raising rates, and my income isn't getting any larger.

So there you have it, feed you power into the grid, thus supporting a corrupt and evil corporation, unsightly power lines across the country, a fee and tax structure designed by Satan himself, or you could just make enough power for yourself and loved ones.

The choice is up to you.

-Sixbears

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