Producing your own solar power is exciting. You now have free renewable energy when the sun shines – and Saskatchewan is the sunniest province in Canada.
But what do you do at night and on cloudy days? In the early days of solar power, you needed a bank of batteries to store the power for those times. Sometimes even the battery bank was not enough to survive weeks of cloudy weather so a backup generator was another necessity.
Now net metering, a program offered in Saskatchewan by SaskPower, offers a much easier and environmentally beneficial answer to this problem.
5 Benefits of Net Metering
Net metering is a program that allows you to connect your solar power system to the utility company’s system. This means that you can feed back any extra solar power you produce to the utility company for credit.
1. Financial Credit for Extra Solar Power Produced
You will receive a credit for your excess solar power at the utility’s going rate for electricity. When there is not enough electricity from the sun, the utility company will supply your electrical needs. You will pay only for the difference between the power supplied by the utility and the power produced by the solar panels. Typically, extra solar power that you produce can be banked for up to a year at which point the utility company has some arrangement for handling any excess. For net metering, a bilateral meter is installed that records the solar power you have produced and fed back to the grid as well as the power you have used from the utility. When you produce more than you use, you are effectively “spinning the meter backwards”.
2. No Battery Storage System Needed
With net metering the utility company essentially “stores” your extra solar power for times when you don’t have enough. This means that you don’t really need an expensive battery bank, unless you want a small battery backup system for power outages. When you have a grid-tied system like this your power will go down when the utility power goes down. This is for safety reasons, to protect the repair crew who are not expecting any power generated in the lines when they go out to repair the problem.
3. No Backup Generator for when Solar Power is Not Available
Another expensive part of early solar power systems that you won’t need is the backup generator. Generators are expensive, noisy and need fuel (gasoline, diesel, natural gas or propane). The electrical utility is there as your backup when solar power is not available.
4. Seasonal Storage – Solar Power Produced in Summer Saves on Winter Costs
One of the frustrations of off-grid systems which are not connected to the utility is that the extra power in the summer months can’t be stored for the winter. Battery banks typically store power for only 3-5 days. When the batteries are full there is no way to store the extra energy. But, with net metering, you are feeding back your power over the summer and you get credited for it in the winter – now you have seasonal storage.
5. No Maintenance – Solar Power Without Hassles
With net metering, we have now eliminated the batteries and the backup generator – the two components of a solar power system that require maintenance and have the shortest lifetimes. The only components you need for a grid-tied net metering system is the solar panels, which produce the power, and an inverter that converts the DC power from the solar panels to the standard AC power produced by the utility. Neither of these components requires maintenance. The solar panels, which have a 25 year warranty, are made from a semiconductor material and usually protected by a tempered glass front. The inverters, some of which also have 25 year warranties, are solid state and also maintenance free.
A grid-tied net metering system gives you the advantages of producing your own clean renewable energy without maintenance hassles and with very durable components.