99% Of 2012 US Solar PV Installations Were Net Metered

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In the United States, 99% of solar photovoltaic installations were net metered, signifying that net metering in the United States is preferred by far over the alternatives, which are off-grid solar and on-grid but not net metered solar.

Solar PV panels
Image Credit: Solar Energy via Shutterstock

I knew that net metering was popular, but I didn’t know it was that popular! The new data from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) indicates that annual solar power in the US surpassed 2 gigawatts (GW) for the first time in 2012 (hitting 2.4 GW, or 2,400 MW). Cumulative capacity is now reportedly at about 6.1 GW.

Utility-scale solar accounted for nearly 50% of the growth, adding 1.1 GW in 2012, 250% more than in 2011.

The total capacity of the newly installed net-metered systems in 2012 was 1.5 GW, bringing cumulative net-metered capacity up to about 3.5 GW.

SEPA is a very utility-focused solar association. Its latest report also lays out the utilities with the most solar power capacity:

  1. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) — 805.6 MW
  2. Southern California Edison (SCE) — 194.6 MW
  3. Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) — 144.5 MW

The top utilities for solar power capacity per customer are quite different, however:

  1. The municipal utility for the City of St. Marys, Ohio — 563 watts per customer
  2. Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, Hawai’i — 282 watts per customer
  3. Bryan Municipal Utilities, Ohio — 276 watts per customer

In the United States, owners of net-metered solar PV systems are paid the same rate for the electricity they generate that they pay for electricity from their utility companies.

However, outside of the US, that varies. Sometimes utilities will pay far less for residents’ solar power than they charge for electricity.

One example of this is Jamaica. The government just started allowing residents to sell solar electricity, and utility companies pay $0.25 USD per kWh of solar electricity, which is far more than Americans get, but they usually charged $0.40 USD per kWh (this fluctuates a bit).

So, rather than net-metering, some may be better off with an off-grid setup in Jamaica (and other countries that have such policies).

Net-metering helps by providing customers with a low-maintenance, battery-free alternative to off-grid solar systems. Off-grid systems have to be backed up with batteries or other generators for when the sun isn’t shining.

The cost of replacing batteries is extremely high (often over $0.25 per Wh, or $250 per kWh). Off-grid setups, however, are not affected by power outages. Imagine having power all throughout a hurricane or blizzard without the noise of a gas-powered generator. This is a big plus in some areas.

Also, with an electric vehicle, you wouldn’t have to worry about finding fuel in the aftermath of a disaster either, because it is falling out of the sky!

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Nicholas Brown

Has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is: Kompulsa.com.

Nicholas Brown has 594 posts and counting. See all posts by Nicholas Brown

10 thoughts on “99% Of 2012 US Solar PV Installations Were Net Metered

  • You describe net-metering as an opposite of off-grid. This is like putting paying an apple with credit-card as an opposite of eating a banana.

    Off-grid /autonomous PV vs grid-connected PV is a question of technical layout.

    Net metering is about the financial aspects of a grid-connected PV plants, it means that you have one kWh-meter for your house and it is allowed to run backwards at moments that you produce more power than you consume. An alternative is a feed-in-tariff where your PV system has its own kWh-meter and you get a certain price per kWh for all the power produced by your system. Of course some mixed versions are also imaginable, fore example when you get a feed-in-tariff only for your surplus power.

    Net-metering for your grid-connected PV system is not a consumer choice. It is determined by country/state laws and/or utility regulations. For example in Germany it is not allowed.

    • Exactly what I was thinking.

    • I had a second comment that seems to be hanging in the spamfilter.

        • not finding anything there. must have already been purged. sorry. 🙁

          • No biggie, It was just saying that the wikipedia article on net-metering is much clearer than Nicholas’ self-reference.

  • This article is overly simplistic and therefore misleading. The systems that I design are grid connected, but only use the grid as a backup generator. The first backup source is the batteries that are automatically maintained with the proper charging regime even if the the solar is insufficient. The amortized cost of the batteries is less than $15/month. http://www.lightontheearth.org/prefab-solar.html . Solar provides 99%+ of the energy used when sized correctly.

    I call this integrated solar appliance, Solar Freedom. In the works is the next generation, Solar Freedom Plus, which will feed surplus solar energy that is not used to charge the batteries or self-consumed to be fed to the grid in return for compensation.

    A couple of years from now comes the ultimate integration, SunPax that will reduce the materials and installation costs of such systems to the lowest possible level. http://www.lightontheearth.org/sunpax.html

    • Reading between the lines your system uses the grid to keep the batteries charged if there is not enough sun. From this I conclude that the aim of your system is mostly to have a uninterupted power supply, not so much financial optimation or ecological optimation. This makes sense in countries with lots of grid failures like India and the USA, but not so much in the civilised world. 😉

      However, the combination PV, grid-connection and batteries can also make sense in countries with a reliable grid. For example in Germany the feed-in-tariff is now lower than the consumer price of electricity. This means that, when batteries become cheap enough, it is more profitable to store surplus PV power in your batteries for later use, than to export it to the grid.

      I am a bit sceptical about your 99% solar usage. To deal with seasonal variations in the PV power you would need either an extremely large battery, or an extremely oversized PV system. Ofcourse, if you count the grid as storage you can get any percentage you want, but in that case: why would you need batteries.


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