As solar panels are almost constantly getting rays from sunlight, sometimes more energy is produced than used during the daytime. Instead of billing you for the entire sum of energy produced, the excess energy you didn’t use is then stored inside the grid. Your electric company will then give you “credits” for this extra energy, which offsets your cost of energy. This credit is based on the net number of kilowatt-hours returned back to the grid. Later, you can use these credits during times that your panels aren’t receiving sunlight (thus producing less energy.) This process is called “net metering”, a highly effective billing method that allows solar users to sell their energy back to electric companies. Net metering allows your system to basically run in reverse.
Because your energy bill fluctuates from being used by both your system and the grid, this benefits not only your day-to-day energy usage but also your seasonal usage. For example, in the summertime (in most places) you’ll be relying on more solar energy than not. That means, come wintertime, you’ll be able to use more energy from the grid than from the panels. Because this fluctuates so often, your electric company won’t send a check out to you; instead, they’ll just credit you for the next bill. If your panels did not produce enough energy, you’ll have to buy electricity from the utility company to make up the difference of what you weren’t able to produce.
System Size Matters
This is why finding the right size panels for your property is crucial. If you were trying to save money in the initial installation fee and purchased a smaller system, you really wouldn’t save in the long run since you’ll end up paying more in electricity bills. You want to rely on net metering as much as possible, since it’s the most beneficial element of the solar package deal.
Can I Still Go Off the Grid?
Since net metering relies on both the solar panel system and the grid to make the magic happen, going off the grid would mean losing these benefits. You could certainly do it, and receive energy during the daytime, but you’d have no energy to use in the night - and would have thrown away any excess energy produced in the daytime.
Net metering benefits both you and the electric company. It’s provided in most states. We’ve provided a comprehensive list of states it’s available in the US below. Check to see if your state makes it available to you.