If you’re considering investing in solar power for your home here in the Southeast, you may have a lot of questions about how it all works. For most of us, we are used to just flipping on switches, plugging in appliances, and then receiving a bill at the end of the month. The first two parts of the equation don’t change at all for solar users, but now you may be receiving a check rather than mailing one.
Despite all the talk of “getting off the grid” with renewable energy, most people aren’t going to be literally unplugging from the local utilities. The reason for this is the fact that the sun doesn’t shine at night. Your solar panels will be generating energy all day, but because you still want to use energy at night, you’ll have to have a steady supply available.
If you invested in batteries to store your excess power during the day, many can then switch from direct energy to stored energy and maintain their energy needs. The batteries are not practical for everyone though. It’s generally much easier to just stay on the grid and switch to using power from the utility when the sun sets.
In North Carolina, there are two basic arrangements people will have with the utilities. In areas serviced by Dominion NC Power, Duke Energy, and Duke-Progress Energy, they are under ‘net metering’ rules required by the North Carolina Utilities Commission. These provide for a simple agreement where a new meter is installed in your home which keeps track of how much energy you purchased from the utility during times of low-light versus how much you were providing back to the grid when your panels were at their most productive. If you purchased more than you provided, then you will owe the difference, but if you provided the grid more than you purchased then you earn credits that can be used towards another energy bill.
These credits can build up during times when you are producing a lot more electricity than you are using (say during a sunny fall with moderate temperatures). Then you can use them at times when you may be using a lot more than you are producing (say a cloudy winter where your heat is always running). The downside of these credits is they are zeroed out once a year at the beginning of the summer.
In areas of North Carolina that are not under these large utilities, they will likely use a “sell all” arrangement. In a sell all arrangement, your home will remain plugged into the grid as it was and a separate meter will be set-up for your solar array that also plugs into the grid. This separate meter keeps track of the power being provided to the grid by your solar power array. Every month you will be sent a check for however much energy you sold. This is like having your own mini-power station that helps make the energy in your area more green. The energy isn’t directly powering your house, but is contributing to the overall impact you have since you are doing your part to reduce the use of carbon by your utility.
As a bonus, a group called NC Green Power will send you another check for 6 cents for every kilowatt hour you produced. So you will get paid twice for everything you produce and get the peace of mind associated with helping to save the planet from our overuse of fossil fuels. That’s a win-win. Whichever arrangement you end up using (batteries, net metering, or sell all) you are part of moving the world in the right direction. We at Baker Renewable Energy are proud of our work doing the same and would be honored to help you determine which of these options would be best for your solar project.