Types of Solar Systems

GreenTec South Africa Installing PV solar panels on a roof

GreenTec hard at work on an installation

Types of Solar Systems

A lineup of deep cycle batteries used for energy storage in a solar solution

A Typical Battery Bank. Source: GreenTec

Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular among households for two reasons. Firstly it saves electricity bills. Secondly, (although not yet available in South Africa, but it is only a matter of time) it gives an opportunity of earning by sending unused electricity to the grid. If you are considering solar, it would be useful to know about the types of solar systems as it will help decide which one is the best for your household.

Residential solar power systems are basically available in three types:

  1. Grid inter-tied or On-grid solar,
  2. Off-grid, and
  3. Grid inter-tied with battery backup or Hybrid solar.

We have discussed each of them in detail in the following sections of this article. Have a read.

On-grid solar systems

As the name suggests, this type of solar power system is connected to home as well as to the traditional electricity grid. Additionally, the utility meter of the power grid is also connected to the solar system. So the power generation, usage in home and contribution to the grid during surplus production can be measured.

That means you can use the energy generated by the solar panels during the days when they get the maximum exposure to the sun rays. Likewise, when there are cloudy and rainy days, and the energy production is low, you can get additional supply from the grid. In short, you can switch the energy source for your home easily. Apart from this, there is a practice called net metering in which when you have extra power, you can sell it to the grid and earn credits (Eskom take note).

Pros and cons

The on-grid system is simple in design and hence is low-cost. However, it’s not suitable for the areas where power supply from the grid often gets cut due to low production or technical failures.

Off-grid solar systems

Exactly opposite to the on-grid, this type of solar systemis not connected to the grid. So when there is lower production by the system due to reduced sunlight, you can’t get electricity from the power supplier. In this situation, you either have to use batteries or a power generator.

Batteries can be used to store excess power which you can use during excess demand or lower power generation. Additionally, you can also use an electric generator as a source of electricity

Pros and cons

This type of solar system is very simple in design, easy to install and less expensive as it doesn’t have a connection to the grid. But you will need batteries and/or electric generator for use during excess consumption. This will be an added cost. So the off-grid solar energy systemis not recommendable in the areas where the power supply grid is available and the consumption is high.

A picture of PV solar panels on a residential roof, taken from the top

Aerial View of a Blockpower Installation

Hybrid solar systems

This type of solar system is basically an on-grid system but contains an additional component, i.e. battery backup. When you are living in an area where outage happens frequently, this type of solar power system is the best option.

The solar systems work best and produce more power during the sunny days. That means you may have to suffer from power shortage during the cloudy days. But by having a hybrid solar energy system installed in your home, you can get some power stored in the battery for later use. Additionally, you can always use a hybrid system normally, i.e. use and sell solar electricity during excess generation and get power from the grid during the low sunlight or excess demand.

Pros and cons

It’s noteworthy that while a hybrid system gives you flexibility, it also has some disadvantages. First of all, it requires an additional component, i.e. battery, making it complex in design. This makes it costlier than other residential solar power systems. Second thing is that the batteries often get discharged and need to be recharged. This affects the overall performance and life of the solar system in the long term.

How much do they cost?

Each solution and situation is different, but to give you an idea, check out our detailed blog on what you can expect to fork out for a solar solution.

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  1. Pingback: What does a solar system cost in South Africa? We've found out what you will need to fork out

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