NET METERING; Four reasons "Net-Metering" is no longer our friend...
by, 2014-06-21 at 09:30 PM (8592 Views)
Fees not based on use
Despite the recent plunge in the cost of distributed generation sources such as solar PV, the utility grid is still critical to maintaining our quality of life. The cost to maintain and upgrade this infrastructure should be borne by those that use it the most. Net Metering policies run contrary to this approach. Imagine two solar homes… home A manages it’s use to sync with power available from their PV array, as such they import and export very little minimizing use of the grid. Home B does nothing and their grid use is significantly higher than home A. Both homes USE the same NET amount of electricity so their electric bills are identical but home B USED the grid significantly more than home A… shouldn’t home B have a higher bill to reflect its increased use of the grid?
Limited Deployment of Solar PV
While at first hailed as the first step toward making solar PV the dominant source of energy, Net Metering policies are now beginning to hinder this progress. I have yet to encounter a Net Metering policy that encourages the installation of solar beyond what the residence or business consumes on a yearly basis… most on just a monthly basis. The premise of Net Metering is in the name… any exports are simply subtracted from imports. Export what you import and you owe nothing other than perhaps a connection fee. But what if your exports exceed your imports… would the utility then pay you for the excess power? Sometimes… but this is beyond any net metering policy and if the utility pays anything it’s usually at wholesale rates which are often 75% less than retail. There are many places that simply can’t accommodate sufficient solar to offset their use. If we wish to make meaningful progress toward a carbon-free future we must encourage residences and businesses to install as much solar PV as they CAN not simply a sufficient amount to offset their own use.
Delayed development of Demand Response and Storage
With Net Metering, absent any TOU policies, there is no financial incentive to maximize “self-consumption”. Common quips against solar include weaknesses such as “not being available at night”; obviously using the energy when it’s available and storing it in batteries will solve this problem but solutions are unlikely to be developed and deployed without the incentive to do so.
Suppressed utility support
While it’s certainly possible that organizations opposed to renewables such as ALEC would fight solar no matter what policies are in place, Net-Metering gives them more ammunition. Somewhat in line with basing fees on use… Producing 1500kWh, exporting 1500kWh and importing 1500kWh for a connection fee of $7 may be sustainable when 1% of the customer base is self-generating but NOT if we hope to achieve much higher levels of distributed generation. Utilities are seizing on this fact and adding or attempting to add onerous fees. Arizona now charges $0.70/kW installed and Xcel in NM recently increased their fee for production from $0.026/kWh to $0.033/kWh… yes, NM charges a fee for self-generation. We need a policy that allows utilities to continue to be viable businesses. Eliminating the need to purchase and maintain a 40kWh+ battery by making a practically infinite “battery”… i.e. the grid, available is a very meaningful service and they should profit from it.
The grid is good… it improves efficiency… maintaining and upgrading the national grid will be much less expensive and more effective than collapsing into millions of nano-grids. How much we contribute to it’s maintenance should be commensurate to our use. If we want Solar PV to continue to grow net-metering should be replaced with a feed-in-tariff.
A final thought… some people think the solution is to go off-grid. Imagine if you could only have as much money as you could carry in your wallet… you couldn’t have a bank. Anything you earned that wasn't spent and couldn’t fit in your wallet was lost. That’s a little like what going off-grid means. It means if you go out of town for a fews days your solar panels sit idle instead of powering your neighbors house. It means installing a battery bank several times the size of the one you would otherwise need. It means that your peak use is limited by the size of your inverter… I like being able to charge my Model S from 0-100% in <4 hours when I need to and I think it would be foolish to buy a 20kW inverter just to use the extra capacity a couple times a month.