Why We Don’t Do Grid-Tie

We have installed quiet a few grid-tie systems, but we are no longer accepting new grid-tie projects. This allows us to concentrate our efforts on stand-alone solar systems that provide grid independence. Click on the link below if you want to know more about why we have removed grid-tie systems from our offerings.

GRID-TIE solar systems (often called grid-interactive or grid-direct) harvest solar energy from the sun and convert it to electricity to feed your electrical loads. In their simplest form, they have a single purpose; reduce the kWh you purchase and therefore, reduce your power bill. Solar grid-tie is fully capable of offsetting every kWh your house consumes. However, reducing your power bill is another matter.
The popular narrative is that you can produce enough solar power to eliminate all, or a significant part, of your bill and perhaps even generate some income. This is true where the utility elects or is mandated to use net metering. Net metering subsidizes solar at the expense of the rate payer or the tax payer. It is losing popularity – even in California.
There are no utilities in Alabama or southern Middle Tennessee that use net metering. Here is how it works here:
The utility operates under a franchise from the state and can’t prevent you from having a solar system. However, if you connect your system to theirs (grid-tie by definition), you have to sign and abide by their interconnection agreement. They are under no obligation to make the interconnection financially lucrative for you.
You get to consume any kWh your grid-tie system produces. You don’t purchase this kWh from the utility nor do you pay taxes on it.
The utility is not obligated to purchase any kWh you produce and don’t consume. But most will pay you the “wholesale”, or offset rate. This is roughly equivalent to the cost they pay for a kWh. In my opinion, this is a fair deal.
If you are an Alabama Power customer, you will also pay a Capacity Reservation Charge (CRC), roughly $5.50 per month for each kW of your inverter’s rating. This fee is approved by the Public Service Commission. Think of it as you wish, but it has the effect of removing all financial incentive for owning a solar gird-tie system. I suspect other utilities will eventually enact something to the same effect.
If you are not subject to a CRC, your grid-tie solar system MAY break even somewhere between 10 and 15 years.
If you want a solid solar investment that will reduce your power bill, consider heating water with the sun. A solar water heater costs less than an equivalent solar grid-tie system and will break even in the 7th year.

Why I prefer diesel over LP Generators

My preference for diesel strikes some as odd, inasmuch as they will have an LP tank for other appliances. LP stand-by generators are very popular, so why not? Here is my reply to a recent inquiry.

You can use an LP generator if you like. Here are the reasons I prefer diesel.
1. Diesel engines are low maintenance and long lasting. The machines I have built use Kubota Tier-4 engines. The engine has an air filter and a fuel filter. I recommend an oil change every year and replacing all fuel lines every 3 or 4 years. You can pass this thing down to your great grandchildren. By the way, I also specify a brushless alternator. Think low-maintenance.
2. Diesel engines are non-carbureted. Carburetors are a royal pain. My bend pushes me to lean toward bullet-proof systems that deliver, last, and require little in return.
3. I’ve not found a quality LP generator that can be recoil started. The bullet-proof formula requires a generator that can be started from a battery OR via recoil. Start batteries die. Pull ropes are a good backup. Think options.
4. Diesel is a stable, non-volatile, high-btu fuel. I include a 55 gal drum filled with treated fuel, along with a hand-crank iron transfer pump. If you maintain your fuel, it will last 10 years and provide you with between 4 and 5 years of support.
5. An LP generator will be in competition for fuel with all your other appliances that use LP. Your battery DEPENDS on a reliable generator. If your power system depends on LP and something interrupts the supply, you lose.
6. LP engines are very popular in stand-by generators. Off-grid demands a back-up generator. It is a different machine. Generac makes an 8kW propane standby generator and an 8kW propane backup generator. The latter costs twice as much. It is more than twice the machine (but still does not meet my specifications). LP generators can’t be made to meet the bullet-proof formula; Single cylinder, air cooled, diesel, starts from a battery or a rope, and has a brushless alternator.
7. But your requirements don’t have to match mine. It depends on your reason for wanting grid-independence. If you want bullet-proof to be part of the package, an LP generator will be a chink in your armor. If you are not interested in armor, don’t worry about the chinks.