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Grid Connected or Grid-Tie

Imagine a situation where water is more expensive than it is now, let’s say it costs around £2 per litre. Actually this may be about the price we currently pay for bottled water, but in this theoretical example we’re imagining that all the water we use in the house for showering, washing, cooking, etc has to be paid for at a rate of £2 per litre. Under these circumstances it’s perhaps some people would collect water from their roof and possibly purify it for their own use. Of course it would depend how expensive the equipment would be to buy and install, how reliable the equipment was, whether the water tasted OK, how much it rains, etc. It’s probably fair to say that if a reasonable capital outlay supplied a decent quantity of good water that was basically free, then folks may well consider it. So you know where this example is going! Every day, solar energy pounds down onto our roofs (and in fact on all our land) as solar electromagnetic radiation (light is electromagnetic radiation). For a reasonable capital outlay you can install energy collectors (solar panels) on the roof that collect the sun’s light energy and convert it into useful electrical energy.

Unfortunately, there’s something of a cloud hanging over this idea as it stands. One obvious problem with our water collection scenario is that it might not rain for several days or perhaps weeks (yes, even in the UK!). Of course at other times there will be absolute downpours, and you can bet your bottom dollar that will be when nobody in the house is particularly using water. What would our roof water collectors do? Well one choice is to build a storage reservoir big enough to hold enough water to last for rain free periods. This will work, but obviously has the downside that the reservoir would require additional capital, space and maintenance. However, if someone is in a remote area with no other source of water then this is probably the only sensible option available. Another solution might be described as ‘grid connected’ or ‘grid-tie’. In the grid connected arrangement, the householder would remain connected to their mains water supplier, but would only use water from the water supplier’s grid at the times when insufficient water was being collected from the householder’s roof. In our imaginary scenario with water being very expensive, it would also be quite expensive for water suppliers to pump water long distances through their pipe networks due to losses from water leaks etc. In this case the water company would possibly agree to also purchase excess water of a given quality from the householder at times when more water is falling on the roof than the house can use. The money paid to the householder by the water company for this excess water would offset the charges for any water that the householder bought from the water company during dry times. To make use of this arrangement the householder would need to install a pump/purification unit to ensure that during times when excess water is available to sell back to the water company, the pump can push the water back along the property’s supply pipe back to the main water grid. Here it will be available to be used by others in the vicinity through their normal mains water connections.

Whilst grid connected water might well be a little farfetched, and raises all sorts of practical questions (hygiene not least), it usefully demonstrates how the principle of electrical grid connection works. Suffice to say the method works extremely well for user generated renewable electrical energy from sources such as photo-voltaic solar panels. The equivalent to the pump/purifier unit in the water example is known as an invertor in the electrical world. Electricity companies in the UK, as well as many other countries, are required to buy electricity generated from a range of renewable sources. Although it’s possible to use rechargeable batteries as reservoirs of electrical energy, grid connection generally makes energy storage unnecessary, greatly simplifying and reducing the cost of solar PV installations.

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