Design, permitting and installation

But with the help of smart meters and what’s known as time-of-use or time varying rates, consumers can take advantage of the fluctuations—and realize the savings on their utility bills.

Using a stock market analogy, think of it as buying a security when prices are low. For example, you can do your laundry, run your dishwasher, and undertake other energy intensive activities during the times of day when electricity prices are low. When electricity prices are high, you’ll turn up your air conditioning or down your electric heat.

New web-based or digital monitors display the prices as they change. Your smart meter will record your spending and you’ll be billed accordingly.

So your solar panel is installed, your inverter is working, and your smart meter is helping you use electricity wisely. You’ve plugged in your toaster and are buttering your toast.

Are you officially off-grid now? Sorry, but no.

Most American homes with solar panels remain connected to the central grid. This is both good and bad. It’s good because when the sun isn’t shining, you can rely on utility power. It’s a bad thing because if there is a blackout on the utility grid, your solar panels cease to work, too.

Unfortunately, homeowners aren’t always aware of this. Then when a storm knocks out utility power, they are astonished to discover they are left in the dark along with everyone else on the grid.

There is a way to avoid this, however. Homeowners are increasingly turning to what is known as solar plus storage or home micro grids. These systems include battery banks that provide back-up power. So when the utility grid goes down, your house still has power. These systems are growing in popularity as both solar panels and batteries drop in price.

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