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Algae bloom in the Arabian sea. Norman Kuring / NASA

Ocean dead zones quadrupled in size since 1950, while low oxygen sites around the world increased tenfold, threatening large swaths of marine life, scientists warned in a study released on Friday.

"Major extinction events in Earth's history have been associated with warm climates and oxygen-deficient oceans," the analysis published in the journal Science stated.

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Beijing successfully lowered air pollution levels following a crackdown on polluters last year, bringing China's capital in line with air quality targets, according to Chinese officials.

The announcement Wednesday by the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau followed a 2013 plan that ordered the city to reduce the yearly average concentration of particulate matter to less than 60 micrograms. According to the bureau, the capital succeeded by reducing PM2.5 concentrations to 58 micrograms per cubic meter—a reduction of 35.6 percent from 2012.

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PavloBaliukh / iStock / Getty Images

Through net metering programs, homeowners who have installed solar energy systems can get utility credits for any electricity their panels generate during the day that isn't used to power home systems. These credits can be "cashed in" to offset the cost of any grid electricity used at night.

Where net metering is available, solar panels have a shorter payback period and yield a higher return on investment. Without this benefit, you only save on power bills when using solar energy directly, and surplus generation is lost unless you store it in a solar battery. However, net metering gives you the option of selling any excess electricity that is not consumed within your home.

Generally, you will see more home solar systems in places with favorable net metering laws. With this benefit, going solar becomes an attractive investment even for properties with minimal daytime consumption. Homeowners can turn their roofs into miniature power plants during the day, and that generation is subtracted from their nighttime consumption.

What Is Net Metering?

Net metering is a billing arrangement in which surplus energy production from solar panels is tracked by your electricity provider and subtracted from your monthly utility bill. When your solar power system produces more kilowatt-hours of electricity than your home is consuming, the excess generation is fed back into the grid.

For homeowners with solar panels, the benefits of net metering include higher monthly savings and a shorter payback period. Utility companies also benefit, since the excess solar electricity can be supplied to other buildings on the same electric grid.

If a power grid relies on fossil fuels, net metering also increases the environmental benefits of solar power. Even if a building does not have an adequate area for rooftop solar panels, it can reduce its emissions by using the surplus clean energy from other properties.

How Net Metering Works

There are two general ways net metering programs work:

  1. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your utility company, and a credit is posted to your account that can be applied to future power bills.
  2. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your home's electricity meter. Modern power meters can measure electricity flow in both directions, so they tick up when you pull from the grid at night and count down when your solar panels are producing an excess amount of electricity.

In either scenario, at the end of the billing period, you will only pay for your net consumption — the difference between total consumption and generation. This is where the term "net metering" comes from.

How Does Net Metering Affect Your Utility Bill?

Net metering makes solar power systems more valuable for homeowners, as you can "sell" any extra energy production to your utility company. However, it's important to understand how charges and credits are managed:

  • You can earn credits for your surplus electricity, but utility companies will not cut you a check for the power you provide. Instead, they will subtract the credits from your power bills.
  • If your net metering credit during the billing period is higher than your consumption, the difference is rolled over to the next month.
  • Some power companies will roll over your credit indefinitely, but many have a yearly expiration date that resets your credit balance.

With all of this in mind, it is possible to reduce your annual electricity cost to zero. You can accumulate credit with surplus generation during the sunny summer months, and use it during winter when solar generation decreases.

You will achieve the best results when your solar power system has just the right capacity to cover your annual home consumption. Oversizing your solar array is not recommended, as you will simply accumulate a large unused credit each year. In other words, you cannot overproduce and charge your power company each month.

Some power companies will let you pick the expiration date of your annual net metering credits. If you have this option, it's wise to set the date after winter has ended. This way, you can use all the renewable energy credits you accumulated during the summer.

Is Net Metering Available Near You?

Net metering offers a valuable incentive for homeowners to switch to solar power, but these types of programs are not available everywhere. Net metering laws can change depending on where you live.

In the U.S., there are mandatory net metering laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Most states without a mandate have power companies that voluntarily offer the benefit in their service areas. South Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states with no version of net metering or similar programs.

If net metering is available in your area, you will be credited for your surplus energy in one of two ways:

  • Net metering at retail price: You get full credit for each kilowatt-hour sent to the grid. For example, if you're charged 16 cents per kWh consumed, you'll get a credit of 16 cents per kWh exported. This type of net metering is required by law in 29 states.
  • Net metering at a reduced feed-in tariff: Surplus electricity sent to the grid is credited at a lower rate. For example, you may be charged 16 cents per kWh for consumption but paid 10 cents per kWh exported. Feed-in tariffs and other alternative programs are used in 17 of the states where retail-rate net metering is not mandatory.

Note: This is just a simplified example — the exact kWh retail price and solar feed-in tariff will depend on your electricity plan.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about net metering and other solar power incentives in your state. You can also look for information about solar incentives by visiting the official websites of your state government and utility company.

Other Financial Incentives for Going Solar

Net metering policies are one of the most effective incentives for solar power. However, there are other financial incentives that can be combined with net metering to improve your ROI:

  • The federal solar tax credit lets you claim 26% of your solar installation costs as a tax deduction. For example, if your solar installation had a cost of $10,000, you can claim $2,600 on your next tax declaration. This benefit is available everywhere in the U.S.
  • State tax credits may also be available depending on where you live, and they can be claimed in addition to the federal incentive.
  • Solar rebates are offered by some state governments and utility companies. These are upfront cash incentives subtracted directly from the cost of your solar PV system.

In addition to seeking out solar incentives available to you, you should compare quotes from multiple installers before signing a solar contract. This will ensure you're getting the best deal available and help you avoid overpriced offers and underpriced, low-quality installations. You can start getting quotes from top solar companies near you by filling out the 30-second form below.

Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Net Metering

Why is net metering bad?

When managed correctly, net metering is beneficial for electricity consumers and power companies. There have been cases in which power grids lack the capacity to handle large amounts of power coming from homes and businesses. However, this is an infrastructure issue, not a negative aspect of net metering itself.

In places with a high percentage of homes and businesses using solar panels, surplus generation on sunny days can saturate the grid. This can be managed by modernizing the grid to handle distributed solar power more effectively with load management and energy storage systems.

How does net metering work?

With net metering, any electricity your solar panels produce that isn't used to power your home is fed into your local power grid. Your utility company will pay you for this power production through credits that can be applied to your monthly energy bills.

Can you make money net metering?

You can reduce your power bills with net metering, using surplus solar generation to compensate for your consumption when you can't generate solar power at night and on cloudy days. However, most power companies will not pay you for surplus production once your power bill has dropped to $0. Normally, that credit will be rolled over, to be used in months where your solar panels are less productive.

On very rare occasions, you may be paid for the accumulated balance over a year. However, this benefit is offered by very few electric companies and is subject to limitations.

Anjo Kan / Shutterstock

Energy companies and other businesses are no longer liable for accidentally killing migratory birds, the Trump administration announced Friday in a decision hailed by industry insiders.

A legal memo by the U.S. Interior Department reverses a longstanding agency practice and last-minute ruling released by the Obama administration in January 2017. The Obama-era policy meant that oil, gas, wind and solar operators could face prosecution for accidentally killing birds.

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Indian officials have just rolled out their newest weapon to fight air pollution—an "anti-smog gun."

The $40,000 vehicle-mounted cannon sprays fine water droplets at extremely high speeds. Its manufacturers say this will flush out deadly airborne pollutants in one of the world's smoggiest capitals. Delhi's government tested the cannon this week in Anad Vihar, one of the most polluted parts of the city.

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Elephant at Réserve Africaine de Sigean. Pauline Guilmot / Flickr

Japan's failure to prevent illegal ivory exports could weaken China's coming ban on domestic ivory trade, conservationists said Wednesday.

The warning—made by Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring group—comes just more than a week before the Chinese government will ban ivory retail sales and follows the closure of ivory factories in the country last March.

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Polllution in Shanghai, China on Dec. 5, 2013. leniners / Flickr

China unveiled the details on Tuesday of what is soon to be the world's largest carbon market, two years after China's president Xi announced the initiative.

Although the market launch date wasn't revealed, observers saw today's announcement as a noteworthy step. "This is like the pyramids of Giza for climate policy," Nathaniel Keohane, the vice president of international climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, told ClimateWire.

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An entrance to the Naval Air Station Key West Truman Annex was flooded by Hurricane Ike. U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Kutyba / Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. military is neglecting to plan for climate change-related risks facing hundreds of overseas facilities, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office.

In addition to failing to plan for and incorporate climate change's risks into project designs, the report found that many facilities are not consistently tracking costs incurred by extreme weather. The Defense Department has identified climate change and its effects as threats to facilities, but a gap remains between determining threats and implementing solutions, the study found.

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The Trump administration violated the law by withholding funds from an Energy Department program that supported research and development of advanced energy technologies, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on Tuesday.

The GAO said the Trump administration had violated the Impoundment Control Act by not spending $91 million that was intended for the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Administration officials planned to cancel half of the unspent $91 million and use the other half to shut down the program.

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Cap Sciences / Flickr

The amount of electronic waste around the world grew to a record 45 million tons in 2016, according to a United Nations-backed study released on Wednesday.

To put that in perspective, the weight of last year's e-waste was equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers, according to the study by the UN university, the International Telecommunication Union and the International Solid Waste Association. The amount of e-waste—defined as anything with a plug or a battery—rose by eight percent since 2014, the time of the last assessment.

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Twenty companies including Unilever and the Virgin Group announced on Tuesday that they will phase out usage of coal in order to combat climate change.

The companies announced their decision at the One Planet Summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. Coming a month after the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, the announcement puts the companies in a position similar to the "Powering Past Coal Alliance," a partnership of 26 nations founded in Bonn by Britain, France, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica and the Marshall Islands.

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Whitelee Wind Farm in Scotland. Ian Dick / Flickr

Climate change will harm wind energy production in some parts of the globe and favor it in other regions, according to new research.

The global study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, explored the impact of temperature rises on wind energy, projecting an overall southward shift in wind power.

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Scene from Ed R. Levin County Park in Milpitas, California. Don DeBold / Flickr

Receding ice cover in the Arctic ocean could produce more droughts in California, according to a new study.

Published last week in Nature Communications, the study found that sea ice loss in the Arctic—of the proportion expected in coming years—could set off an atmospheric effect that will steer precipitation away from California. Notably, the study linked Arctic sea ice loss with the development of an atmospheric ridging system that also played a central role in the state's 2012-2016 drought.

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