Buy Low, Sell High with Solar

Reporter:  Dawn Allcot

Third in a series of four posts on Smart Meters and Solar by EcoOutfitters featuring Scott Gordon, Vice President of  Residential Sales for HelioPower.

There’s a lot of false information out there about smart meters. Some groups claim microwave radiation from smart meters can cause cancer iStock_000018137706XSmalland other diseases, which is inconclusive but probably untrue. Other people say smart meters don’t work with solar power. But, in fact, solar customers may be the only people (besides the electric company) to truly benefit from these cleverly named digital electric meters. (If you’ve gotten this far and are wondering what a smart meter is, click here to learn more.)

Smart meters provide electric companies with information about your electric use: not just how much electricity you use, but when and how you use it too.

Smart meters are paving the way for states like California to introduce a billing model based on time-of-use. Simply: you’ll pay more for electricity you use during the day — and even more if it’s during the day and during the summer. But if you have a solar PV array installed, you’re not paying for electricity at all on sunny days. Net metering, which is the ability to sell back unused kilowatt hours on your electric bill to earn energy credits for times when your solar PV array is not harnessing the sun’s irradiance for clean, renewable energy, is one of the main attractions to a grid-connected solar array. It becomes even more desirable in a time-of-use world. Since solar panels work best during peak electric use hours, time-of-use billing gives solar customers the ultimate “buy low, sell high,” scenario.

“It’s energy-hedging,” says Scott Gordon of HelioPower, a leading California-based solar installer that has recently launched initiatives to educate consumers on the dangers and benefits of smart meters through videos, written content, webinars and in-person presentations.

Gordon explains, “In a time-of-use world, I get credit at the higher day rate, and I use those credits to offset my night power, which can be one-third to one-half cheaper, or even less.”

Net metering laws in many states mandate that electric companies buy back electric from solar customers based on dollars and cents, not kilowatt hours. If your state uses smart meters and has time-of-use billing options, find out exactly how you’ll be selling back the electric and the peak and off-peak rates. (Read more in HelioPower’s 10 Things About Smart Meters and Solar.)

More Power with Smaller Solar Arrays
If you are conservative about your daytime energy use, you can offset your entire electric bill. “What’s nice about this is now you can buy a significantly smaller system so you’re paying even less and saving even more,” Gordon says.

And if you want to turn on the air conditioner on hot summer days, run your home computer, or maybe even watch some TV, you have the freedom to do it. It takes a lot to make an average-sized array spin forward. Even if you don’t earn as many energy credits, you’ll still be paying lower, off-peak rates for the electricity you buy at night. It’s a gamble that you can only win!

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