A Primer About Residential Energy Generation And Net Metering

One of the new ‘en vogue’ ideas to save the planet has been to install residential renewable electric generators to one’s home with the idea to sell some of the excess energy back onto the grid.  Many states, including Kansas, has adopted the idea with a net metering solution.  That is to say, using a meter to works both forward and backward.  If the residence uses a kWh then they are charged for a kWh, but if it generates a kWh that isn’t used in the home they can sell it back on the grid and the meter moves back one kWh. 

That’s a pretty neat idea, right?  Each home can have a little windmill or solar-panel just pumping out CO2 free energy and the people of the home can make a couple of bucks and sell electricity to their neighbors!  That’s really cool, until you think about it. 

There is two problems with this, one is for all the residential generation and the other is more specific to the net metering solution.  I’ll address the net metering first.

When one uses a net metering solution, in essence, they are selling electricity for the same price the utility is.  But, they aren’t providing the service the utility is.  Much of what goes into your utility bill covers not just the cost of the energy to the utility but also the wages for humble slaves such as myself and linemen etc.  Also, it covers the cost of maintenance.  What many people don’t realize, is that maintenance and upgrade is a never ending process.  Equipment wears out.  Oddly, even the line itself wears out.  Normal contraction and expansion of the metal due to temp changes and wind tends to stretch the line.  After a while, the line will no longer conduct electricity in the proper manner because of the sizing changes.  Businesses and residential loads change and move.  Often, this means that the type and size of the conductor isn’t proper for the load change, so, it must be replaced from time to time.  Poles rot and have to be replace, trees grow into the line, and so on…..  All of this costs a lot of money.  So, when a person sells back electricity to the utility at the same price as the utility is selling it, the utility is taking a huge loss per kWh sold to it.  If this novel idea become prevalent and widely adopted, utilities will go broke, and then there won’t be a grid to sell energy back to.  It is an insidiously stupid idea. 

But, what if we don’t adopt a net metering solution and meter separately the in and out energy and sell back to the utility somewhere closer to what the utility pays their provider?  That wouldn’t be bad, would it?  Well, maybe not.  Sort of.  But, the problem with this gets just a little more complex.  The problem with selling energy back from residential is that the large generation plants can’t plan or gauge how much they will generate.  For solar panels, they generate throughout the day.  But, most of the day time consumption is base load consumption.  The peak doesn’t happen until towards the end of the day and into the evening.  So, what occurs is that the heat generated is wasted.  So, for solar, there is very little net gain, and it doesn’t even do what the greens want it to……. it doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions.  It simply lessens the the total reimbursement for generation.  In other words, as a whole we get less bang for our buck.  The problem with residential wind generation is similar.  Even though wind doesn’t really have time boundaries such as solar, it is much less consistent.  So, the generation plants, in order to ensure supply of the demand still generate the necessary electricity.  So, any residential wind energy sold back to the grid doesn’t do anything other than waste energy generation.

When considering these posits, it is important to remember, with electric generation and consumption there are two different events that can cause very bad things to happen.  One, would be the occasion that if supply doesn’t meet demand.  This causes blackouts.  Conversely, if supply of electricity on the line actually exceeds demand, things will go boom.  The energy has to go somewhere.

To summarize, the residential generated electricity sold back to the grid isn’t conserving much of anything.  Nor, does it reduce emissions in any measurable amount.  But, we do subsidize these things quit nicely.  Turns out, instead of saving us anything, we get to pay for some of our electricity twice!  Kinda gives you a warm fuzzy, no?  😐


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10 Responses to A Primer About Residential Energy Generation And Net Metering

  1. kelly liddle says:

    I am from Queensland Australia and this is the current feed in tarriff in my state so doesn’t sound so bad to get the system in Kansas if they only pay 100% . “Customers participating in the Scheme will be paid 44 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for surplus electricity fed into the grid-almost double the current general domestic use tariff of 22.76c/kWh (Tariff 11 inc GST as at 1 July 2011).”

    • suyts says:

      Wholly crap! 44 cents per kWh? That’s insanity! I’d be interested to know what it takes to participate in such a program. The Aussie dollar to the U.S. dollar is 93 cents, so it’s essentially a 1:1 comparison…… my utility roughly charges 11 cents/kWh to our residents.

      But, the part I was pointing out, is that these schemes are essentially useless, and in the end, the customers without such devices will end up paying twice for the same electricity…… or, in your case 3 times.

      • kelly liddle says:

        Hey that 11c/kWh sounds really good about half the price. I am surprised how much more expensive it is here.

      • suyts says:

        I’m surprised, too. I would have thought Australia’s pricing would have been more in line with the U.S.’s That said, there are parts of the U.S. where the price would be closer to your 22 cents/kWh .

  2. nofreewind says:

    This entire alternative energy electricity thingy is so stupid it defies belief at times. What is really nutso is that the grid big shots don’t sit down with the politicians and tell them how insane all of this is. Of course they would likely loose their jobs for not being politically correct because a power plant/grid is not a private entity anymore, but highly controlled and influenced by the gov’t. Another thing is what do they care? They just raise the rates and people pay whatever it is. Also, the grids can expand because they get extra departments, extra workers and which results in more power, money and influence. It becomes a growing business, even though they are just selling air – literally nothing. The nothing being the kwhr’s of alternative energy. Of course, it’s not completely wasted, just mostly wasted and the energy that is created and used is at a great cost to our society. This subject, along with global warming, endlessly fascinates me – because it is such a easily researched example of the corruption and stupidity in the world we live in.

    One of the most stupid things i ever heard was Senator Markey, whose name was on the failed cap n trade bill, and is on Congress energy committees, said that wind/solar will get us off foreign oil. When any moron should know wind/solar is for electricity and very little oil is used to create electricity. And even more crazy is the people, supposedly intelligent, college degrees, good jobs, people of influence and prosperity, who believe this nonsense hook, line and sinker. They Believer All Of it!!

    • suyts says:

      I don’t think they are that stupid. But, maybe you’re right. In the scenario you presented, there is only one of two choices.

      It is, either, they are so stupid as to believe wind and solar effect our oil imports, or, they are intentionally attempting to mislead the American people. There is no other way to perceive this.

  3. nofreewind says:

    Anyway, thanks for your blog! Job Well done!!!
    I work in health care, and see similarly idiotic politically nonsense taken as Fact.
    All to the detriment of the public.

  4. nofreewind says:

    Since you are an expert in this field maybe you answer this question. Does a grid constant adjust their output for both changes in demand and supply. Or do they just have enough spinning reserve going at all time, so that these small couple percent variances are lost in the shuffle. Say regarding a turbine farm.

    • suyts says:

      Well, I’d be hesitant to use the word expert. The electric world from start to finish is a huge field. And there is much I don’t know. The proper word escapes me now, but, yes, the output is constantly adjusted to meet the demand with a regulator type of device. But, the fuel use continues at a constant.

      I’ll try to clarify…….its probably easiest to consider one form at a time. Let’s take nuclear power for instance. The energy output is a constant, but what goes out on the line is only what is demanded……. you can’t put more energy out there than what is needed or else bad things happen. Coal operates in much the same way. They bring a fire up to a point and that’s where they’re at. This is one of the points of my post. And is going into the next part of the thought that I haven’t yet finished articulating. But, predicting demand and available supply is paramount in generation. In a traditional energy mix, the base load is either coal, nuclear, or in some cases hydro. The peak demand would ideally be covered by nat gas generation, because its is much easier to adjust. But, when we throw a turbine farm into the mix, it kinda screws everything up. It would be useful for peak demand, if we could mandate wind blowing at a specific time of day, but we can’t. Therefore, gas generation must be kept up and on line even if the wind is blowing, in case the wind quits blowing. Savings from wind generation only occurs when a specific amount can be guaranteed. Texas got burnt this winter when the wind quit blowing and they didn’t have enough total generation available.

      So, in many ways, bringing wind generation onto the grid is wasteful and is excessively redundant. The opposite of efficiency.

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