Around the world, renewable energy technology is becoming more affordable and easier to use. As more homeowners and businesses embrace on-site renewable energy generation, the term “net metering” is often mentioned, leading some to wonder…what does it mean?
A Balanced Account
On its most basic level, net metering is an accounting process. Every building connected to a grid, whether a home or a business, has an electric meter. This meter measures and records how much electricity is pulled from the grid. In cases where a building also has on-site solar generation, such as rooftop or carport panels, a bidirectional version of that meter can be used to measure how much electricity is created on site and returned to the grid.
If you think of energy use as a bank account with a starting balance of $0.00, over time, a customer without any on-site renewable capacity would pull electricity from the grid and their balance would drop into the negative. They’re not adding anything to the system, they’re only taking energy out. A customer with solar panels is generating energy during the daytime, when the sun is out, and is putting electricity back into the system, adding to their “account” over time.
Paid in Full
Net metering is the process of accounting for a customer’s net use and production of electricity, and of allowing customers who produce their own electricity with solar panels to receive credits on their bill for any excess electricity they generate but do not use. As many customers with solar panels could attest, peak generation occurs in the middle of the day, while peak energy use could occur in the evening, when they’re home. This mismatch of production and use means that, on a monthly basis, some customers with solar panels may end up a with a positive balance – they may have given more electricity to the grid than they used.
In Virginia, net excess is carried forward from month to month and at the end of a year-long period, customers may roll over any excess credit or work with their electric utility to receive a direct payment in place of their credit.
The Fine Print
Many customers with net metering arrangements wonder whether they can use electricity generated from their solar array when the power goes out. After all, they have the ability to draw energy from the sun, with or without the grid, right? When the power goes out, the inverter that connects a solar array to the grid switches off, and the panels are no longer able to supply electricity. This protects utility workers who may be out working to fix the power lines by ensuring solar arrays aren’t feeding electricity into the lines.
Consider Net Metering
If you are thinking of pursuing solar power at your home or business, take the time to talk with your utility provider about net metering and your options for connecting to the grid. In lieu of installing battery storage for the electricity produced by your solar panels, net metering allows you to support the broader network of electricity customers with the clean energy produced at your home or business and to receive credit for your excess power – doing well by doing good.