What does happen when it gets cloudy? Do solar panels still produce energy? Will you run out of electricity?
Most solar electric systems in the United States are grid-interactive systems. That means the solar panels work with the utility grid to seamless deliver energy to your home. In the event that you are over-producing electricity with solar, the excess is fed back to the utility grid (and you get credit for later use). When you are not producing enough power for your home, like at night or during cloudy weather, the utility grid makes up the difference and delivers the needed extra power to you seamlessly. You will have no idea whether you are consuming solar or utility sourced power. All of this works via a system called Net Metering, which means you are only billed for the net amount of power delivered from the utility company each month.
From the homeowner’s perspective, all that matters is how much energy is delivered from the solar energy system (power over time). Clouds passing by will reduce the instantaneous power delivered by your solar panels, but on average you will produce a fairly predictable amount of energy over longer periods like months and years. Residential homeowners are only billed for net energy use, and the instantaneous power draw has no bearing on your bill.
From the utility company’s perspective, it’s important to predict how much power needs to be delivered at any given time throughout the distribution network. In that respect, utility companies have a difficult job, and have understandable concerns about solar power. However, it has been shown that at low penetration rates, the impact is manageable. It is important to note, however, that utility companies are still responsible for building capacity and being able to deliver enough power to meet your typical demand, even without solar power supplanting your usage.
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