Updated: Apr 12
“Going solar” doesn’t have to mean immediately transitioning to 100 percent solar power. A household can marry solar power and traditional electricity for a more efficient, dynamic power system. Understanding how solar panels work with electricity can help you learn which solar power system could be right for you and how to use both types together for maximum energy savings. Integrating energy from the sun could be the best thing you do for your home.
How Does Solar Power Work?
To grasp how solar and electricity work together, you must first know how solar power works to provide energy. It starts with installing custom solar panels onto your home or business. The panels use conductive materials such as silicon to create chemical reactions that convert photovoltaic (PV) cells, or solar cells, into electric current. The installers will angle the panels on your property to absorb the most sunlight possible. Every day, when the sunlight hits your solar panels, the PV cells will convert to electricity that then goes through an inverter and other safety devices to turn into usable power.
Combining Solar and Traditional Electricity
Your system will connect to a net energy meter that stores and calculates all the electricity your solar panels produce. If you don’t use solar energy at the same time as your solar panels produce it, the energy will return to the electrical grid through the net meter. If you need more energy than your panels produce one day – say, if it’s cloudy out – you will source the electricity from the grid through the meter as you normally would. Your home is connected to both sources of electricity – solar panels and the traditional grid. Your primary source of energy will be photovoltaic. Once you expend your stores of solar power, you will switch to traditional.
How Seamless Is the Transition Between Power Sources?
When you switch from solar to traditional electricity on cloudy days or at night, you will not notice a change. There will be no interruption in your electricity services, such as a brief power outage. The transition is completely seamless, drawing power from the grid instead of the solar panels through net metering. Your home or business will not face any power interruptions during this process. People who live in places where electrical grids are not efficient or reliable (e.g., rural areas) may do better with a battery-backup system to store excess solar energy instead of the grid.
How Does the Electric Company Bill Customers?
One of the main reasons people invest in solar panel systems is to decrease their monthly utility bills and keep costs consistent. If you go completely off the grid, for example, and energize your home with 100 percent solar energy, your energy would be free (other than the costs to purchase or lease and install the system) and you would never have to worry about utility companies raising the price again. Using both solar and traditional energy can give you a taste of this lifestyle. Your monthly energy bills can decrease thanks to solar panels and the net-metering system.
If you’re part of the net-metering system, your company will only bill you for the energy you take from the main utility grid. In many cases, you won’t have to pay for the energy you use because your company will buy the excess solar energy your home produces. Most homeowners with solar panel systems qualify for credits on their utility bills for the surplus power they produce. This can discount your monthly bills or even make them free.
How to Make the Most Out of Your Solar-Grid Power Combination
Using solar power and traditional electricity together is a cost-effective way to enjoy the perks of sustainable solar energy. If you can’t afford to go completely off the grid with a large solar panel system, taking energy from both sources is still better than relying solely on the utility grid. You will still enjoy lower energy bills, solar tax credits, a smaller carbon footprint, and impact on the environment less. Maximize the returns on your solar panel investment with the following tips:
Reduce overall energy usage. Pay attention to how you expend energy. Take steps such as turning off lights when you leave a room, running the dishwasher and washing machine with full loads, and unplugging appliances when not in use.
Invest in storage batteries. Storing the solar energy your panels produce in your own batteries can make this energy usable for your household in the future. Instead of selling it back to the grid, the batteries will hold the energy until you need it.
Install panels where they make the most sense. You might use appliances and lights more than other electrical components in your home. Talk to your installers about using solar panels to generate these portions of power to reduce your dependence on the main grid.
Ask your utility company about receiving credits for the excess solar power you sell back to the grid. You may or may not qualify depending on the company, your system, and your state laws, but there are many ways to make the most out of your solar energy system. Oh, and don't forget to acquire a satellite-based estimate of your solar savings; you can get one here in a matter of seconds.