Net-metering does not equate to being “self-reliant”

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Net-metering vs feed-in-tariffs? If you want to be truly self-reliant, you have to go off-grid.

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Producing as much electricity over a month as you consume doesn’t automatically mean you are self-reliant. (Photo by Transition Heathrow, CC BY 2.0)
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Energy Transition

Over the past month, Craig Morris has commented on the debate surrounding net-metering (NEM) versus feed-in tariffs (FITs) several times in this blog. Today, he signs out of the discussion by pointing out that neither constitute going off-grid.

Producing as much electricity over a month as you consume doesn’t automatically mean you are self-reliant. (Photo by Transition Heathrow, CC BY 2.0)
Producing as much electricity over a month as you consume doesn’t automatically mean you are self-reliant. (Photo by Transition Heathrow, CC BY 2.0)

As an American living in the EU, I sometimes marvel at the ability of Europeans to adopt best practices from each other. Likewise, I marvel at the tendency of Americans to label foreign best practices un-American.

When a representative of solar organization TASC recently rejoiced on PV Tech at the demise of FITs in Gainesville, he mistakenly described the policy as forcing you “to sell all your energy [he means ‘electricity’] to the utility.” I’ve already talked about why that description is wrong, so let’s focus on the next two sentences:

That’s not an American way of doing business. We have a long history of self-reliance and that’s why net metering is the American Way.

Apparently, Germans are not self-reliant, and their dependence on the nanny state even reaches into energy policy – except that the claim makes no sense. NEM is no more self-reliant than FITs.

 NEM is such a bad policy that not even this TASC video can praise it. Here, we learn that net-metering is when “utilities get paid” for the excess electricity to export to your neighbor “even though they didn’t produce it.” The next sentence does not follow, however: “so the solar customer gets fair credit for contributing to local energy supply.” And when the video says that “utilities are monopolies,” it is speaking of the US market. Germany has competition. So if competition is good, the TASC must love Germany.

Take a look at the “solar PV” curves in this chart created by energy expert Bernard Chabot on power production data from March 2013 in California (PDF):

Renewable Energy Production California in March 2013

Now compare that curve to data on Germany, you can also visit inverter manufacturer SMA’s websiteAgora’s website, and from the EEX power exchange. (Note that the curve for California is available from a French energy expert, not from any official state website.)

In all cases, you will find that solar power production unsurprisingly starts when the sun goes up, stops when the sun goes down, and peaks for a few hours around noon time. Keep in mind that California and Germany have different policies to support solar, but the different laws do not affect the time of solar power production. That depends on the weather, not on the law.

Now let’s apply this to an average household. The parents get up and go to work, and the kids go to school. The kids come home in the afternoon, and the parents are probably also home by suppertime. There is almost no power consumption during the day, when your solar roof produces the most. Whether you use net-metering or feed-in tariffs, you depend on the grid to the same extent.

If you want to be truly self-reliant, you have to go off-grid. Net-metering is a course way of calculating independence; if you produce and consume the same amount, NEM misleads you into thinking you are independent, when in reality you still export almost all of the power you make to the grid and buy most of what you consume back from it – because consumption and production do not take place simultaneously.

By completely uncoupling consumption and production, FITs avoid this confusion. But most of all, they provide true independence – the freedom not only to make your own power, but to receive proper compensation for it. If only more people outside Germany realized the energy freedoms (PDF) that Germans enjoy…

Source: Energy Transition. Reproduced with permission.

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. jimbeau11 5 years ago

    You’re right – the “self-reliance” angle is definitely overplayed, and from a technical perspective, rather misleading, since our electricity system, from coal plants to rooftop solar, is intricately interconnected, both literally and figuratively.

    TASC isn’t making serious arguments – they’re making political arguments, and that’s their job. The TPO companies, which TASC (often misleadingly) speaks on behalf of, don’t want to transition to a FIT because it makes the transaction more complex and more costly for customers from an administrative perspective (you have both a utility bill and a separate payment for your output, instead of netted bill).

    That being said, I don’t think they’re wrong about that. I don’t think a FIT is the best way to go either. It does not let individual customers benefit from the energy conservation properties of letting the PV system supply you with electricity (e.g. the reduction of your load from the grid) since it’s buy-all sell-all, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a brilliant and appealing technology to an increasing number of people.

    Better still, I would say, is to apply a charge or a credit to PV customers, based on subtracting the utility’s lost revenue from the grid benefit of PV, and let the chips fall where they may. Either way, the utility is getting back the revenue they deserve, and solar is being compensated at the level it deserves based on its cost-avoiding characteristics.

  2. Miles Harding 5 years ago

    I think you’ve missed a big part of the argument, Craig:

    Not stating the actual meter arrangement leaves us to guess that FIT means two meters to allow import and export energy to be separately measured and accounted.

    I take issue with the following:
    “Net-metering is a course way of calculating independence; if you produce and consume the same amount, NEM misleads you into thinking you are independent”
    This should read “… coarse way of calculating the potential for independence …”

    Ignorance is a curable condition, so no consumers should think like that. It is our job to educate them to make informed choices.

    “By completely uncoupling consumption and production, FITs avoid this confusion.”
    This is not necessary for the very reasons you state; generation and use are frequently poorly aligned. I have Net metering with a feed-in tariff through a bi-directional meter and this arrangement nicely demonstrates the schism between production and consumption.

    Self-reliance is an expensive option, all those batteries and really powerful inverters if you don’t slay your peak consumption demons, not to mention solar panels or wind turbines sufficient to meet demand in the least sunny part of the year.

    I have a number of friends and associates that have gone off-grid. The rural ones do this because the mains power supply is tenuous, unreliable and/or expensive to connect, the city ones, I suspect like myself, are more ideologically driven.

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