A grid tie inverter is a particular type of inverter that will allow you to take the electricity you generate with things like solar panels or wind turbines and sell it back to the power company.
The 1978 Federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) states that everyone in the US has the right to sell renewable energy to their local power company. This law was introduced in response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo and is equally relevant today.
The function of an ordinary power inverter is to convert DC electricity to AC so that it can be used in the home. They also work to convert 12 or 24 volt electricity to 120 volt, for the same reason. While inverters are an ordinary part of any renewable energy system, you can’t use just any inverter to sell power back to the utility company. The AC power that you get from an inverter is essentially the same as that which comes right from the grid: 120 volts, 60 cycles per second. However, it’s probable that the two sources of electricity are out of phase with one another. Your electricity may be cycling up while the grid’s is cycling down, and vice versa. A grid tie inverter will ensure that your inverter stays in sync with the grid.
Grid tie inverters offer other benefits as well. As a rule, electricity flows from higher voltage to lower voltage. This is the principle under which battery charging, for example, works. The battery is connected to a charger that outputs at higher voltage, and the electricity flows to the location of lower voltage: the battery. This is why a 12 volt battery takes a charger of over 12 volts.
Therefore, moving electricity back to the grid requires electricity which is of a higher voltage than the grid’s electricity. This is another way in which a grid tie inverter comes in handy, as it keeps track of voltage levels as well. Your excess higher voltage electricity will flow out to the grid, and your power meter will run in reverse.
It’s not surprising, considering their extended functionality, that grid tie inverters are more expensive than ordinary inverters. However, a grid tie inverter will give you the opportunity to actually make money using your renewable energy system, so it’s worth the investment. Anyone using wind or solar energy should strongly consider going with a grid tie inverter.
For more information about the components of solar power system, read Solar How To.
If you want to build your own DIY solar charger instead of using a plug-in charge, read DIY Solar Charger.
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