Renewable Energy
All things energy, from solar and wind power to efficiency and off-grid living.

Growing Up as an Off-Grid Child

I grew up living off-grid and without electricity, as my parents consciously did not want to be burdened with bills. We did have a phone (which we took off the hook after 5 p.m.) and a truck, which both cost money but were used for business purposes. We used kerosene lamps and candles for light and had a woodstove for heating and cooking in the winter,and a gas stove for summer cooking.

We didn’t have regular refrigeration, running water, or a laundry machine.We hauled our water from a spring,which also doubled as a cooler for our fresh vegetables and food. For bathing, we set up a solar shower with a black tank, which was gravity fed. In the winter we heated water on the stove for doing dishes and for taking baths.

Our family’s lifestyle (four kids and parents) was very simple and unhurried. We canned and dried a lot of our own food, although we did make a trip to town to do laundry and shopping every two weeks or so. Town trips were always exciting, as I remember buying a cooler-full of perishables such as cheese, ice cream, sour cream, other dairy products, and some of the more perishable vegetables. We had our own goats and chickens for fresh dairy. On town trips we’d pick up a large block of ice and, once home, store everything in an unpowered refrigerator to keep it from spoiling.

For entertainment, every person in the family was allowed to choose one hour of TV a week, which we watched on a little four-inch screen, a 12-volt DC television hooked up to our truck battery. (To this day I rarely watch television.) In place of regular TV, we were all very much into listening to the radio, including BBC broadcasts from London, on our shortwave radio, which operated on D-cell batteries.

Here Comes the Sun

When I was 14, I bought a truck-mounted camper to move into myself. It was a completely self-contained home, wired for 12-volt DC, including a fan, a CB radio, lights, and a propane stove and heater. I did build a small room where the cab of the truck would have been and installed a small woodstove there in order to use less propane for heating.To supply power for the 12-volt DC system, I charged an extra battery in our truck as we drove it around. It was a hassle to constantly hook up the heavy battery in the truck, so at some point I horse-traded for a 2-watt PV module and a copy of the last free issue of Home Power magazine. I noticed that I had to charge the battery less often once I hooked up the little PV cell. I soon became obsessed with getting my hands on a larger PV module.

In the summer when I was 15, I hustled any paid work I could get, this in the poorest county of Tennessee. I picked pimiento peppers (which paid by the pound) and suckered tobacco plants (while absorbing enough tar and nicotine to make me sick). I even got a job picking rocks out of a field, but I eventually saved up the $400 or so to buy a Kyocera 45-watt module.

So, at 15 years old I legitimately went off the grid, solar powered. I couldn’t afford a charge controller and figured I would use enough power to keep from overcharging the system, but I soon destroyed my old battery. It was an old car battery, but as I learned more, I bought a deep-cycle marine battery and a charge controller. Later I learned even that wasn’t a true deep-cycle battery, but it did work for a couple of years before it failed prematurely. So, finally, on my third try, I bought the proper batteries and they lasted for eight years. Those batteries were true deep-cycle, 6-volt DC batteries wired in series for 12-volt DC.

And the Beat Goes On

For four years my whole system consisted of one 45-watt module, one charge controller, and two 6-volt DC batteries wired with fuses between each component. This was enough to power a DC fan, a CB radio, a shortwave radio, and lights, which were repurposed halogen taillights. Eventually I wanted to watch movies, so I bought a DC to AC inverter to power a TV and VCR, but it drained my batteries too quickly. The 300-watt inverter was only 80 percent efficient, so I lost at least 20 percent of my power in the conversion process.

At the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Wisconsin, I bought a new 100- watt module, but ended up trading that for three used 50-watt ASE America modules. This meant I had to buy a bigger charge controller to handle my “new” modules, which I did. My system, slightly expanded, has operated as my primary power for 18 years. Although the system is still hooked up, it has not been getting proper maintenance or use since I moved to town a few years ago. Despite having off-grid electricity I found myself increasingly driving to town—but in retrospect, moving to town has made it so my travel is more “off the grid,” with walking and bicycling, even though my electricity no longer is.

Utilizing my off-the-grid mentality has resulted in my footprint being small and simple. I have an on-demand gas water heater, a solar-powered attic fan, minor passive-solar design, LED lighting, and a gas heater and stove. Everything except my fridge is on a plug strip so that it’s turned off when I’m not directly using it. When I travel even for a few days, I clean out and unplug the fridge so everything is off when I’m not there.

The fact is, everyone can start shifting his or her mentality towards off the-grid living by not wasting energy. My current energy usage is so low that for less than $2,000 dollars in investment, my on-grid home can become zero energy on an annual basis. By producing more energy than I use, I feel I will then be back to being a truly awesome off-gridder.

Aur Beck is the chief tech for Advanced Energy Solutions Group of Carterville, Illinois (, and is a NABCEP-certified solar PV installer. I look forward everyday to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there. He has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Top 5 Benefits of Going Solar in 2017

Solar Installers On Rooftop 

Solar energy is the largest renewable energy resource available to the Earth, and we need to start taking advantage of it. Solar energy is created by absorbing sunlight to create photovoltaic power, and be used for all the ways you utilize electricity — from charging a flashlight to powering your entire home. Here are five benefits of going solar in 2017.

You Can Save BIG

Most homeowners deal with stress about their electricity bills, because they have no way of battling the cost. The good news is that while electricity costs are increasing, the price of solar is decreasing. Installing solar panels can seem like a large expense if you don’t consider the lifetime savings.

Solar power for your home is one of the smartest and safest things to invest in. Their durable design ensures that they will last the average homeowner anywhere from 25-30 years. Not only do they save you money on your energy bills, but they require little to no maintenance at all beyond annual check-ups.

Solar Can Increase Your Home Value

In addition to the savings that come with reduces energy bills, solar owners can expect to receive a large return on investment if or when they decide to sell their home. Finding a home with solar panels is a great bonus feature that studies show many buyers will increase their budget for.

Solar Panels Can Shield Your Roof

Quality solar panels are strong and extremely durable. They will block your roof of any UV light coming from the sun that can otherwise contribute to cracking, decaying or warping. The installation of solar panels also allows you to protect your home from harsh weather conditions, such as heavy rain, hail and snow. Solar will protect your roof from all of these stressors and can save you from spending excess money on roofing repairs.

You Will Help Employ Thousands

According to The Solar Foundation, we can expect to see a 10% increase in jobs in the United States due to solar installations alone in the next 12 months — more than 285,000 jobs this year. According to a report published last year by the United States Department of Energy, the solar industry employed over 40% of the Electric Power Generation labor industry while the entire fossil fuels labor industry employed around 20%. More solar users = more solar jobs.

You Will Protect the Environment

Solar energy is a renewable resource which means that unlike fossil fuels, we will never run out. Unlike other fuel sources, solar energy does not produce greenhouse gas emissions. When you choose to go solar, you are helping the environment by lowering energy-related pollution and eliminating this contributor to climate change from your home.

Photo by Sunnova

Brooke Soldo is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, she connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the United States. Connect with Brooke on Twitter and Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

DIY Solar-Powered Home Office: The Freedom to Work from Home

Are you ready to ditch your commute and kiss a portion of your power bill goodbye?

Would you like to work from home, but not in your home where distractions are many and free space is limited?

Then this solar home office is the perfect summer project for you. Reduce your impact on the environment and on traffic too.


Like many folks living rural, I have a home based business. I run a small publishing company. With the power of the internet it’s never been easier to work remotely.

A Better Way to Work

Today’s modern office environment is terrible for human health and happiness. Poor air quality and poor lighting. Not to mention the cost. A small office can run between $350-$500 a month. Over time that adds up! My office has saved me $9600 in rent in the last 2 years alone and that isn’t even including the power bill or gas to commute. 


I call this project Solar Station. It’s an affordable, portable approach to solar power with the added benefit of extra space. It’s much easier to justify the cost of solar energy if you can derive multiple benefits. And a big plus is the ease of maintenance. Solar panels work best when they are clean, but who wants to climb all the way up on your roof to do it?

I get a lot more done when my work environment is separate from my living environment and the family appreciates it too. 

DIY Friendly Design

With a couple trips to the home improvement store and a few online purchases you can replicate this project in a few weekends. 

It features:

600 watts of 12 volt solar panels
450 amp/hr battery bank, 6 batteries in total
2000 watt inverter
Wood paneling and bamboo flooring

Watch the Build Video

Ebook plans with specific measurements, materials list and a wiring instructions are available at credit Ben Peterson

Ben Peterson is an award winning renewable energy researcher, designer and author. You can follow his latest projects at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Future is Bright for Residential Solar in Nevada

Rooftop Solar in Nevada

Consumer demands for access to solar in Nevada brought about the nearly unanimous passage of a new law that goes beyond bringing back net metering. Nevada is now the first state in the nation to legally guarantee “the right to self-generate energy.”  NV Energy, the state’s largest utility launched an unexpected war on solar in 2015 that seemed like an apocalypse for the Nevada solar industry. The passage of Nevada State Assembly bill AB 405 marks the return of a top market for residential solar and sets an example for states in the heat of the net metering debate. Compromises have been made, but in essence the bill reinstates net metering at almost full retail rates in Nevada, and it’s being hailed as a victory for the rooftop solar industry.

At the center of the battle for solar in Nevada is net metering. Net metering ensures that homeowners who install solar and produce more energy than they use are compensated for the excess energy they feed back into the grid. The price which homeowners are compensated for this energy is incredibly important in determining how the economics of home solar pan out, and most net metering debates boil down to two points opposing points of viw of view: 1) that homeowners pay the retail rate for electricity from a utility, and should be compensated for any electricity they produce at that rate and 2) that utilities pay the wholesale rate for electricity, and shouldn’t have to pay homeowners the retail rate for energy they feed back to the grid. As can be expected, price drops in net metering rates can cause significant problems for homeowners who have installed solar, and Nevada provided a case study of how destructive net metering drops can be when homeowners with existing panels aren’t grandfathered into their previous rate.

The surprise decision by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in December 2015 to upend the state’s net metering policy threw the solar industry in the state in disarray. Going against the conclusions of their own report, the Commission took the stance that net metering did not benefit the public and immediately slashed compensation. With the recent reversal, net metering has been reinstated at a rate of 95% of retail utility prices for new installers, with a reduction to a floor of 75% as the number of installations increases statewide. This is the key compromise of AB 405 that is intended to please both utilities and proponents of solar. Prior to 2016, net metering in Nevada was at a 100% retail compensation rate. Ensuring that compensation rates were comparable to retail rather than lower wholesale rates was a huge victory for the solar industry.

With the ups and downs of the past 18 months put to rest, many homeowners are looking to harness the sun as soon as possible, and this month, companies such as Tesla and Vivant Solar have announced that they are returning to Nevada immediately. This should continue to cement Nevada as one of the top states for solar in the nation - as of 2016, there was already enough solar installed in the state to power 372,000 homes. The state ranks fourth in the nation for overall installed solar capacity at 2,268.7 MW. Currently, 8% of Nevada’s electricity is generated by solar, but that figure could soon be much higher – especially if we assume that the development of solar in Nevada will follow industry-wide trends. Consider the following: Prices for solar panels and installations have dropped by 64% in the last five years, and the fact that recent polling showing that 89% of the American public want to see more solar energy. When the Nevada Public Utilities Commission restricted incentives in 2015, several prominent solar installers in Nevada pulled out of the state at a cost of 2,600 jobs.

Although 2015 was a horrible year for the solar industry in Nevada, at the federal level, it wasn’t all lights out for the solar industry! At the end of the year it did bring about a lengthy extension of the federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The ITC is in full effect for 30% of installation costs through 2019, when it will be phased out over two years. Whether the looming expiration of this generous incentive will cause a second boom in home solar installations in Nevada after the rapid growth we anticipate due to the reinstated net metering laws remains to be seen, but it would be expected as homeowners tend to rush to take advantage of expiring incentives.

In addition to bringing net metering at close to retail rates back to Nevada, AB 405 helps disarm a common critique of solar energy - that there has been no economically feasible way to store power produced during the day for use when the sun isn’t shining. That is simply an outdated argument in 2017. Battery technologies have matured and costs have come down with the Tesla Powerwall 2 selling for under $6,000, and other solar battery manufacturers following close behind. Recognizing the rising importance of batteries for homeowners who install solar, AB 405 provides new protections for solar-plus-storage customers. The bill makes it tough for any extra fees or utility interference to be applied to those who have battery storage for their excess energy at home. Home solar-plus-storage equals the ability to go ‘off the grid’ if desired. Imagine a sleek solar roof connected to a solar battery in your garage, accompanied by a non-existent monthly electric bill —and importantly, the ability to move past fears of future changes in net metering compensation.

As states continue to experiment with the best policies to promote the development of distributed solar, net metering regulations will surely come up again and again, and Nevada’s experience likely will inform many future policy decisions. We see AB 405 as a huge win for the people of Nevada and the solar energy industry in general – well done, Nevada!

Additional reporting for this article provided by Justin Fischer.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Solar Rooftops and Tesla’s New Solar Roof

tesla - solar roof home

Photo by Tesla

Do you like the idea of going solar but don’t like the look of traditional rooftop solar panels? Then Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, has a prospect for you — the Solar Roof. With a Solar Roof, the solar panels are built-in to individual roofing tiles which are then used to cover your roof as normal. Then, for the lifetime of your home, your roof itself will be generating clean, renewable energy for you and your family. For many, especially those constructing a new home, this is an option that makes solar practical and attractive.

The idea of a solar rooftop has been around for a while — it’s a concept known as Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). This means that the photovoltaic system, or solar panels themselves, are an intrinsic part of a building’s construction. This integration allows homes to utilize solar power while still maintaining a specific design aesthetic that might not be possible with traditional solar panels. However, previous attempts at solar tiles have been bulky and unsuccessful. Musk announced Tesla’s take on the solar rooftop last year, and just recently finalized pricing and started accepting orders.

Type of shingle. With the Solar Roof, you can choose from four different types of tile: Tuscan, Smooth, Textured, or Slate. These tiles are not only indistinguishable from standard roofing tiles, but they are exceptionally durable. Tesla is so sure of the strength of their tiles that they are offering a lifetime warranty on them. You can rest easy knowing your investment will be protected against the elements.

Cost. So what will this all cost you? Well, that’s where it gets a little complicated. You can check out Tesla’s website, plug in your address, and they will provide an estimate for your house based on location and square footage. There are many factors that go into what the final price will be — everything from where you live to how many stories your home is.

Integration with non-solar shingles. One of the main factors that determines how much your Solar Roof will cost is the percentage of your roof that will actually be covered in solar tiles. It is not possible for 100% of your roof to have solar panels, because it is a fire hazard and because most roofs have areas that are not conducive to absorbing solar rays. The rest of your roof that is not covered with solar tiles will instead have “dummy” tiles that look identical but do not have solar capabilities. Tesla will automatically recommend a certain percentage cover for your house when you use their online tool.

Solar Tax Credit. The average American home is about 2,500 square feet, which produces a cost estimate on Tesla’s website from anywhere between $30,000 and $70,000. These prices at face value are fairly high compared to a normal “dumb” roof, but there are several factors that offset the cost and could make the Solar Roof a smart investment for your home. First of all, Tesla calculates the amount of money you will save in energy generation over 30 years with your Solar Roof. Depending on energy prices and the amount of sunshine where you live, this number could be over $100,000. Secondly, the Solar Roof will qualify for the federal government’s solar Investment Tax Credit (SITC). This is an incentive program that provides homeowners a tax credit of 30% of the cost of installing new solar systems — including the Solar Roof.

Integration with Powerall battery. Tesla is also recommending that homeowners invest in their Powerwall 2.0 battery pack with the installation of a Solar Roof. This battery allows you to choose when you want to use the solar energy you have generated, and also allows you to have continued electricity during power outages that affect the rest of your area. The optional battery and installation will run you about $7,000, and is a good option for those looking for personal energy independence and stability.

For now, Solar Roofs seem to be a solid investment for people constructing a new home who have money to invest upfront. Depending on the cost of solar where you live, the long-term energy savings could allow you to break even on this investment and start earning money well before 30 years. While it may not currently make financial sense to homeowners everywhere in the country, the prospect of solar panels that are as beautiful as they are practical is an exciting look into the future of renewable energy.

Ryan Willemsen founded Solar to the People to help "shine light" on the solar industry for the benefit of homeowners. Connect with Ryan on Facebook and Twitter. Read all of Ryan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Can Solar Panels Survive Hurricanes and Withstand Hail?


Like any outdoor equipment, solar panels are subject to the changing weather. Depending upon where you live, your panels may experience heavy rain, high winds, or even hail. In this article we’ll examine how solar panel systems stand up to intense weather conditions, and what government organizations and industry groups are doing to improve their products and protect consumers from weather-related solar panel damage.

How Well Do Solar Panels Withstand Hail and Hurricanes?

As a whole, solar panels are durable and hold up very well in inclement weather. A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on 50,000 solar energy systems installed between 2009 and 2013 indicates that only 0.1% of all PV systems have been reported as affected by damaged or underperforming modules each year. We’ll briefly examine two types of weather that have the potential to damage solar systems – hail and hurricanes.

Solar Panels and Hail

Solar panel manufacturers test their products to ensure that they are capable of withstanding hail storms. In most cases, solar panels are tested and certified to withstand hail of up to 25 mm (one inch) falling at 23 meters per second (approximately 50 miles per hour).

In fact, not long ago, NREL’s main campus in Golden, Colorado was hit with a severe hailstorm just last month. Of over 3,000 panels on or adjacent to the roof of a net-zero energy building, only one panel was broken during the storm. To get an idea of the intensity of the storm, the same weather system left shattered car windows and dents in vehicles and home roofs around the Denver area. The single broken panel appeared to have been hit simultaneously with several large hailstones in a very concentrated location, leading to micro-cracking of the surface glass. The conclusion: hail may be an impressive physical force, but solar panels are well-equipped to withstand impacts even from large hailstones.

Solar Panels and Hurricanes

With high wind speeds and heavy rain, solar panels may be at risk of being dislodged from their spot or damaged by high volumes of water. However, similar to hail, solar panels are typically tested by manufacturers to ensure that they can survive hurricanes. Most solar panels are certified to withstand winds of up to 2,400 pascals, equivalent to approximately 140 mile-per-hour winds.

As with hail, real-life extreme weather events have demonstrated solar’s durability in hurricanes. During Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey was hit especially hard. New Jersey also has one of the highest solar power capacities in the United States. In the second quarter of 2012, just before the hurricane hit, the state had installed 103 megawatts of PV capacity. Analysis after Sandy hit revealed little to no damage to PV systems from the storm. According to a spokesperson for a solar system installer servicing over 200 customers in the regions of New Jersey hit hardest by the storm, a few metal casings covering wires from the panels were damaged by flooding, and one very large system had just two panels come loose.

How Solar Stakeholders are Ensuring That Your Panels Can Withstand Extreme Weather

In addition to the hail and wind certifications that solar manufacturers offer for their products, there are several organizations and initiatives within the solar industry currently working on making solar panels more durable, long-lasting, and cost-effective. Here is a brief overview of some projects in the works.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which aims to bring down the general cost of solar energy for all Americans, also supports initiatives to improve durability in solar panels. The SunShot Initiative funds NREL researchers to participate in the International PV Quality Assurance Task Force, or PVQAT, which focuses on designing solar energy technology standards.

PVQAT has 12 individual task groups working on implementing their approach to PV component and system quality and bankability. Their three-pronged approach looks to establish a rating system for PV modules based on climate and application of interest, a guideline for factory inspections and quality assurance during manufacturing, and a comprehensive certification of PV systems. Combined, these efforts ensure that modern solar panels will be manufactured with the highest durability standards available.

Additionally, the Durable Module Materials Consortium (DuraMAT), a group of national research laboratories and universities, is focused on improving the physical materials and designs of PV modules. DuraMAT is part of the Energy Materials Network (EMN), a Department of Energy program working on decreasing the time to market for materials critical to clean-energy technologies.

Install Home Solar Panels to Ensure a Reliable Energy Source for Years to Come

Solar panels are one of the most durable and reliable energy technologies in the world, and industry efforts mean that they are becoming more resistant to severe weather damage every day. Installing a home solar energy system ensures that your home can produce its own power, even during severe weather events. When you register for the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can find the solar installer that’s right for your home or business, and compare offers side-by-side to find the best deal for a long-lasting, sustainable, and reliable energy system.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Sell Your Excess Solar Power Back to the Grid with Net Metering

Net Metering Solar To The People

Photo by Solar to the People

If you have solar panels installed on your home, in all likelihood during the summer they produce more energy during the daytime than you use — probably a lot more. Net Energy Metering (NEM), or net metering for short — allows you to profit from this excess energy. To net meter, you use your existing energy meter to track the number of kilowatt hours (kWh) you send back into the power grid, which your utility company then credits against your energy consumption. This results in a lower energy bill, as you can roll over your electricity credits from the sunny summer months to the cloudier months of winter.

You might think your utility company frowns on individuals producing power — that would make you a competitor, right? — or that doing so requires special equipment. In fact, many state and local governments give you the right to connect the grid.

And as the Solar Energy Industries Association explains, sending energy to the grid helps the utilities maintain a liquid energy supply. This means everyone gains energy that’s more reliable during peak hours and far less wasteful.

If you’re concerned that net metering is technically complex or a hassle, think again. Your existing energy meter is likely bidirectional, which means you already have the equipment you need to meter the energy you return to the grid.

Further, it’s common practice for solar installers to set up net metering for their clients, which means that your primary concern as an end user is to understand how you will receive compensation, and to feel good about becoming a clean energy producer.

To get you started, Solar to the People has written an easy to understand primer to net metering, and PG&E has provided a simple visual guide.

Do All Utilities Allow Net Metering?

In 1978, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) created a protected class of “small power production facilities” — that would be your solar-powered home or business — with the Public Utilities Regulatory Act (PURPA). While the act establishes fair energy rates for consumers and guarantees some rights, FERC’s guidelines leave most regulation up to the states. This means the amount of energy you can sell, how much you’ll receive, and the form of repayment varies widely by state and your utility company.

On the plus side, 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted clear net metering policies. The Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) has provided a map of which states have mandatory NEM policies, and those without.

Even if your state lacks clear regulations, many municipal and local governments require utilities to buy back energy, and provide credits to the utilities to offset their costs for doing so, so even if you don’t see your state listed in the map, make sure to check with your local government!

New York Solar Installation Crew

Photo by Kasselman Solar

Net Metering Benefits Your Community and the Environment

When a community’s energy needs grow, the usual response is to build a new power plant. Whether this plant is fueled by nuclear power, coal, a dam, or a wind farm, the process always carries steep environmental costs. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Though humanity’s energy demands are escalating, the truth is households consume the vast majority of power at certain times of day and seasons, while offices and factories have peak demands at different times. For example, most households consume less during the day because the adults are working and the kids are at school, while homes in areas with cold winters consume less energy in the summer, when they don’t require heating.

Simply put, by connecting solar-powered homes with a power-hungry grid, a community can offset its energy needs without building a costly power plant, and at the same time, reducing the cost of solar panels. That, in a nutshell, is why the government encourages net metering.

How to Start Net Metering

As mentioned, your home or business is likely connected to the grid with a bidirectional meter. Assuming that’s the case, getting started with net metering only requires a simple application to your utility company if you choose to have panels installed. While most installers will provide this service for you, if you’d like to learn more, the applications can be found on your utility company’s website, or on the website of your state or local energy agency.

For example, in California, all three major utilities — PG&E, SDG&E, and SCE — offer several options for crediting solar customers’ generated energy, and California provides a useful guide to applying for net metering on its Go Solar website.

One catch is that utilities limit the size of the power system you can connect to their grid, essentially to prevent people from setting up a commercial solar plant on their property. However, it’s highly unlikely your home or business solar power system comes anywhere near that limit.

How to Receive Credits from Your Utility Company

Credits. While net metering can greatly increase the savings generated by your solar system, note that the utility typically provides rebates in the form of credits. Most utilities allow you to use credits to offset your current energy bill, roll-over credits into the next year, and a few allow you to convert them into a cash rebate at the end of the year.

Tariffs. Simply put, a “tariff” is in the context of net metering is the price paid per kWh. Many states and utilities allow individuals who export more energy than they consume to receive money for this net surplus at the end of the year, as energy credits aren’t much use if you don’t owe the utility anything for consumed electricity. The rates are stipulated in a tariff schedule provided by your utility. Additionally, a tariff schedule may offer alternative repayment options, such as a system for transferring excess credits to additional utilities accounts, or for refunding tenants if you are a landlord of a multifamily property through a process known as Virtual Net Energy Metering (VNEM).

Another Way Solar Pays

If you have solar, chances are you can be saving even more money by net metering. If you don’t, net metering offers one more financial incentive to install a solar system. After you’ve installed your solar system, net metering is usually as simple as filing an application with your utility company.

And provided you live in the 43 states with mandatory net metering policies — and the many more cities with even more advantageous policies — you will be fairly compensated for providing reliable, clean energy to your neighbors.

Ryan Willemson founded Solar to the People to help "shine light" on the solar industry for the benefit of homeowners. Connect with Ryan on Facebook and Twitter.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.