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What is an ON-Grid Solar Power System?

All photovoltaic (PV) solar power systems generate power the same way: by using solar panels to convert sunlight into DC electricity. So, what makes grid-tied solar systems different?

Grid-tied solar systems are connected to the utility grid via a grid-tie inverter. The grid-tie inverter enables a two-way transfer of power between the home’s solar-powered system and the grid.

They don’t include any battery storage — they use the grid as a battery instead.

That means that when a grid-tied system produces more power than the home needs, the surplus power isn’t wasted. The system uses its connection to the grid to export the excess power to the utility.

It also means that the house doesn’t run out of power. When the solar panels aren’t producing enough electricity, the system can import the shortfall from the grid.

An illustration of how an on-grid solar system functions. The solar power generated is first used to power the home; surplus power is then exported to the electricity grid.

An on-grid system’s two-way relationship with the grid offers homeowners a major benefit: they can use it to take advantage of net metering.

Where available, net metering lets homeowners earn bill credits for every watt of excess solar energy they send back to the grid. These ‘payments’ allow the homeowner to dramatically reduce, or even eliminate, their utility usage charges.

On-Grid Solar Power System in the MORNING

As the sun rises, the family inside the home wakes up and prepares for the day ahead. As they do so, energy use spikes: they’ll be using microwaves, hairdryers, electric water heating and other power-hungry devices.

But it’s not just the family that has woken up — the solar panels on the roof have, too! As sunlight hits the panels, they start generating power. But the sun isn’t very strong yet, so solar production will be limited, and the home still has to import from the grid.

MORNING: The solar panels wake up, but solar output is low.

On-Grid Solar Power System at the NOON

We now enter midday — when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. This is when solar panels reach their maximum output.

This is also when electricity usage is at its lowest, as most — if not all — of the home’s residents are typically out for work, school, or errands.

The system is now producing lots of excess power. In an on-grid solar system, the surplus will automatically be exported to the grid in exchange for bill credits. In other words, you sell power to the grid and use the money earned to pay off your utility bill.

MIDDAY: High solar output means lots of excess power to export to the grid.

On-Grid Solar Power System at the AFTERNOON

It’s the afternoon and the sun is lower in the sky. There is now less sunlight directly hitting the solar panels, which leads to a moderate drop in solar energy production.

The home’s power needs are still relatively low at this time — after all, family members are likely still out, and lights aren’t needed yet. The system will continue exporting power to the grid in return for on-bill credits.

AFTERNOON: Solar output drops a bit, but there's still excess power to export.

On-Grid Solar Power System at the EVENING

The setting of the sun means that solar generation comes to an end for the day. Evening is also when energy usage peaks: family members return home and use the lights, home entertainment devices, kitchen appliances, cooling or heating, and more.

The energy transfer with the grid now switches direction — the home stops exporting and starts importing energy in order to meet the power demands.

EVENING: No more solar, so the system goes back to importing from the grid.

On-Grid Solar Power System at NIGHT (again)

At night, energy needs drop down. The power demand will be met entirely from the grid — until the sun rises and the on-grid solar system starts another cycle of producing and exporting.

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