FROM THE CREW: Off-Grid, On-Grid, or Somewhere In Between

Cutting the cord to the utility

In a few, more-expensive utility districts, a milestone with its own buzzword has recently been reached: grid parity. That’s the time when the cost of making your own electricity with a grid-tied PV system becomes as cheap—or cheaper—than what the utility charges. Without batteries, grid-tied system costs are low enough to justify rooftop solar electricity purely on an economic basis.

However, as grid-tied PV systems are becoming more popular, some utilities are starting to penalize them—charging higher electricity rates and higher monthly connection fees, and supporting legislation attempting to hobble net-metering programs. To some customers, grid defection—leaving the grid by installing batteries and a battery-based inverter with a PV array—is looking more attractive.

Some say the utilities are worried about grid defection—if it takes off, their economic hit could be huge. Others say that a critical mass of disconnecting customers will never happen—Americans are too accustomed to the seemingly endless electricity in a nearly effortless grid.

While significant grid defection isn’t likely to happen anytime soon—it’s too expensive to justify in most locations—historically, Home Power readers have been early adopters in making changes. Inexpensive, more user-friendly batteries and the continued decreasing cost of PV systems may help drive change, too.

Instead of total defection, some utility customers are considering a middle road—load defection, which some folks define as picking and choosing appliances within the home to remove from grid power. This tactic is similar to the old “Take Your Bedroom Off the Grid” concept (HP60 and HP73), where homeowners would isolate electrical circuits from the grid and install a stand-alone battery-based system to power those circuits, usually with a PV system.

Another, larger-scale means of defection is the concept of neighborhood microgrids. The technology is already developed that, in the future, could allow neighborhoods to disconnect from their existing energy providers and create localized energy distribution systems, with PV arrays on every rooftop and energy storage strategically distributed throughout the microgrid. Rules to separate electricity distribution ownership from centralized energy production are being considered by utilities and regulators, and what they allow and disallow will be key to the implementation of microgrids within utility territories.

Comments (1)

Brewster's picture

This is something that I had been contemplating for sometime now. I was thing about taking my large appliances off the grid, then adding more as I go.

Show or Hide All Comments