Can I Use Solar Panels Without A Battery?
With all the solar battery buzz, you might be wondering if they’re essential solar equipment. Can you even use solar panels on your home without a battery? The short answer is, yes you can. There are advantages to having solar battery backup in certain situations, but it’s not essential for everyone.
Here are some settings in which solar plus battery can help, and some in which sticking with simple rooftop solar panels could be the way to go.
Grid-Tied: The Grid is Like a Giant Battery
Early in the morning (just before sunrise or when sunlight is still faint) and during the evening (when sunlight is fading) are times with lower solar production, but higher energy needs. You’re waking up and getting ready for the day, or making dinner and doing homework with the kids. That’s when you’ll need a lot of power, but when solar panel production is just getting momentum or tapering off.
During these times (and especially at night) people with solar power often draw power from the grid, which acts as a giant energy backup system. When the sun’s shining you use your fresh, solar generated power, when it’s not you draw from the grid.
This kind of setup is called a grid-tied system. This could be considered a way to "store energy" without needing a battery system.
You’ll probably produce even more energy than you need midday, when the sun is shining fully. If you live in a state with net energy metering, you can send that excess power back to the grid and earn credit. This is essentially “storing” that energy on the grid to use later. When you need power at night, your system kicks into reverse and pulls the power you need. Even if you don’t produce extra electricity, you can still pull from the grid if you’re connected to it.
If you have your own battery installed, you don’t need the grid much, if at all. You store your own energy and pull from that. The grid is a backup to the backup.
Hybrid Systems: When a Battery is Most Useful
A battery backup system might come in handy the most for people who
Live in areas with an unreliable power grid
Live in a region with a lot of natural disasters
If you simply like the idea of being completely independent of the grid or using 100% clean energy, a battery is probably your answer. While it would be nice to only pull your own clean energy back from the grid, that’s not necessarily how it works. When you pull grid power, it’s from a general pool, which could include sources from fossil fuel plants.
Hybrid systems are solar with battery banks and grid connection all working in concert together. The batteries are set to maximize using your own solar power (for some savings in Time Of Use rate areas), and are available for when the grid goes down. In normal scenarios, if your own solar and battery generation isn't enough, you'll have grid power to draw from.
Off-Grid: When a Battery is Required
If you live in a remote, isolated area without a central utility grid, you will need a battery storage device to capture your solar generation for later use. This is the essential if you want to have the lights on at night when your system isn't generating.
When You Might Not Need a Solar Battery
If you’re fine with drawing from the grid and not particularly worried about power outages, you might not need a battery. Most outages in the U.S. are fixed within a few hours or a day or two at the most.
A typical solar battery’s storage capacity is sized to provide electricity to critical loads for about one or two days in case of a power outage. So, while a solar battery could smooth out that power loss, it’s a matter of weighing the cost of a battery versus the benefits to you.
Using solar power alone without energy storage and just pulling from the grid will still significantly reduce your carbon footprint. But if you’re bothered by the idea of pulling power from fossil fuel plants at all, another option is selecting to use only renewable energy sources from your utility company when your panels aren’t producing.
These renewable programs aren’t available everywhere yet, so check with your utility provider to see if it’s an option for you.
Lastly, although batteries themselves can qualify you for state rebates, such as California’s SGIP, some state and local rebates and incentive rates are only available for systems connected to the grid. So, if you were counting on tax breaks and incentives, make sure you know whether or not you qualify if you go completely off-grid.
If you get a battery and stay connected to the grid, you’ll still qualify. Just be sure you understand the stipulations of any programs you’d like to take advantage of before taking the leap from grid-reliance.