Hybrid solar systems: Is grid + storage worth it?

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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 hybrid solar system. Here's everything that you should keep in mind when you're comparing hybrid solar panels to typical grid connection or off-grid options.

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Key takeaways

  • Hybrid solar systems are both grid-tied and storage-ready.

  • Most solar system owners should choose a grid-tied solar system because it's typically the most cost-effective.

  • You may go off-grid if you live in a remote area, don't consume much electricity, and have the capital to invest in a complete home storage backup system.

  • Hybrid solar systems make sense if you're not eligible for net metering, have peak electricity rates, and want protection from power outages.

  • Check out the EnergySage Marketplace to compare quotes for hybrid solar systems.

A hybrid solar panel system combines a grid-connected and storage-ready apparatus that provides a consistent energy supply during the day and night. The hybrid approach stores energy for later use in one or multiple solar batteries but can also pull from the grid in high energy use periods like hot summer months. Any solar-plus-storage system that is not meant to be entirely off-grid will be a hybrid system.

Off-grid solar technology is becoming more advanced every year, and a growing number of companies are manufacturing solar batteries for homes. 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, you can completely sever your connection with your electricity utility. In practice, staying grid-tied often makes more sense, particularly if you live in an area with significant climate variation.

Most solar batteries for home use, 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 the solar potential is at its lowest. According to 2021 EnergySage Marketplace data, the average solar shopper offsets approximately 97 percent of their annual electricity use with solar – a significant amount, but not enough to go truly "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 compared to the benefits of staying grid-tied.

Grid-tied 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 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 the financial capacity to invest in a solar battery backup, which will add thousands of dollars to your solar installation.

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 go entirely off-grid, you can still install a solar battery backup with your PV system and use a hybrid solar system. We'll explain some of the situations in which hybrid solar systems make the most sense:

You're not eligible for net metering.

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, so you won't receive a total bill credit for solar electricity you send back to the grid. If you live in California, net metering 2.0 means 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 cases, you can benefit from storing your excess solar energy at home even though you're still connected to the grid.

You have peak electricity rates.

When you can access utility net metering, installing a hybrid solar system can still make a lot of sense to maximize off-peak electricity prices. Thus, when your solar panels are overproducing, you can store them in your storage array or the grid, depending on the context of peak pricing. Then you can pull from the grid only when prices are below market average at off-peak times. For example, during warm summer months, when panel production is high but so is household energy use, you can store all extra panel production in your batteries to be less grid-reliant when energy prices are surging.

You want protection from power outages.

In addition to making it easier to manage your solar electricity generation and use it 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. Want to start comparing quotes for solar or solar-plus-storage systems? Visit the EnergySage Marketplace to receive customs quotes from our network of pre-vetted installers.

This post originally appeared on Mother Earth News.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
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  • 100% free to use, 100% online
  • Access the lowest prices from installers near you
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