It wasn’t that long ago that consumers had only two choices when it came to clean energy: they could tie themselves directly to the grid or they could opt out of the traditional utility altogether. Today, there is a third option that is far more attractive: grid-interactive power. Those deploying high-end and mission-critical systems should consider the preparedness, control and independence benefits that come with this recent advancement in renewable energy.

To do that, start by asking five key questions:

1. What purposes were served by off-grid systems?

In the early days of renewable energy, remote sites embraced off-grid photovoltaic (PV) systems to harness energy where the utility grid was inaccessible or too expensive. In these settings, PV modules and inverter/charger power conversion systems had to be totally reliable, since there were no backup systems available.

2. What were the benefits of grid-tied systems?

Grid-tied applications became increasingly popular over the past 10 years. This energy approach uses PV modules with high-voltage string inverters to convert direct current from the modules to alternating current of the grid, feeding the energy directly to the grid. Users who adopted grid-tied systems enjoyed incentives from federal and state programs, as well as from feed-in-tariffs that made PV systems more cost-effective than utility-delivered power.

3. What is grid-interactive renewable energy?

The availability of grid-interactive PV systems means that energy consumers can tie to the grid when it benefits them and disengage when it does not. Unlike grid-tied systems that are required to disconnect if the grid goes down, grid-interactive systems can continue generating power from their PV modules, battery backup systems and other energy sources such as wind turbines or generators.

4. What are the benefits of moving to grid-interactive systems?

Grid-interactive renewable energy systems empower users to embrace renewable energy without risking the outages that sometimes accompany off-grid power generation. Grid-interactive systems generate energy first from renewable sources: solar, wind power or hydro. When those are unavailable, grid-interactive users have the option of switching to the electric utility grid. With two equally available sources of power, grid-interactive energy users get more reliable power and lower costs, while also furthering a more sustainable energy future.

5. Why hasn’t grid-interactive been more widely adopted? 

While grid-interactive is not the dominant choice of energy consumers today, that is likely to change – soon. Grid-interactive inverters allow users to get the best of both off-grid and grid-tied systems while avoiding the reliability pitfalls of those all-or-nothing methods. By providing clean, reliable backup power in the event of a power outage, grid-interactive inverters address many of the most difficult energy questions. These include the issues of more frequent and longer lasting outages, pressure to reduce dependence on coal and nuclear power, and the lack of reliable utilities in developing parts of the world.

The return on renewable power investment is attracting the attention of integrators and building owners, who want to reduce their energy costs and increase the reliability of their power sources. Grid-interactive systems meet those demands, while making renewable energy accessible and attractive to more consumers.

Mark Cerasuolo is a senior marketing manager at OutBack Power.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.