Solar & Net Metering
When it comes to solar power, there are some common misconceptions. At MLEA, informing our members is one of our top priorities, especially in matters that have a financial impact. Before purchasing a solar array, it is important to consider the misconceptions about common reasons for installing solar panels.
While it may be true that a solar array could save you money, there are additional costs to take into account when deciding on whether to implement a solar system such as:
This is true only if you have a battery bank system installed with you solar system. This usually doubles the cost of installing a solar system. Whether the power is on or off, law requires the installation of an automatic switch that will shut off your solar generation in the event of a power outage. This provides safety to the lineman as they work to restore power to the electrical grid.
When a solar system meets an electrical grid, net metering is born. Net metering is a system used when a customer of our cooperative installs a solar system but wants to remain connected to the electrical grid. A special net meter is installed on the house to determine how much power is used vs. how much electricity is generated from the solar system. Additional cost is required for the Moon Lake Electric service fee as the net meter cost more to purchase. Any excess power that is generated and not used by the customer is purchased by Moon Lake Electric and is credited back to the customer.
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Solar energy systems work when sunlight hits a solar photovoltaic module (solar panel or PV panel) and causes electric current to flow. The current produced from the PV panels are controlled and regulated by an inverter, which converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), needed for use by household appliances. The electrical panel is where the power gets distributed throughout your house; any excess electricity may be sent from the panel back to your cooperative’s power grid. A solar system connected to the power grid in this manner is known as a net metering system.
Cost plays a major role when one is considering investing in solar power and can affect the rate of return dramatically. Third party solar providers are in the business to make money off of the consumer. They have overhead costs which include marketing, installation, equipment, employees, etc. All of these costs are passed on to the consumer which then drives the cost up for solar power. The cost for a solar array depends on the consumer’s electric needs. It is not uncommon for consumers to pay around $9,000 for smaller to average sized homes, while larger homes that consume more power could cost upwards in the $30k-to $40K range depending on the size. Keep in mind you are still on a net-metered system. (You are still dependent on the grid.) A consumer who wants to be totally independent from the grid would need to purchase batteries, which usually doubles the cost of any solar array. The life of the battery usually lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 years, depending upon the manufacturer. Many consumers cannot afford to pay for their solar array upfront, which forces them to amortize the solar equipment over a longer period of time. Not only is the consumer paying for the equipment; they are paying interest on the equipment that is supposed to save them money.
Before choosing a solar system be sure that your home is as energy efficient as possible; you may want to get a home energy audit to help determine which improvements will be most beneficial. Investing in energy efficiency provides a faster return on your investment. By improving your home’s energy efficiency first you will reduce your overall energy use and may reduce the size of solar system that is needed Because solar systems can last up to 30 years, make sure your roof is in good condition before installation. Research solar and solar contractors thoroughly before investing in a solar system; get at least three quotes before choosing one. Check for state and federal laws concerning tax breaks for solar installations. This could potentially offset the cost of installing a solar system (varies between states).
Solar electricity generation depends on several factors such as weather conditions, location, time of the year, what type of solar panels you own, and how efficient the panels that you own are for the area where you live. To help figure an estimate of how much solar energy can be generated where you live please use the calculator on pvwatts.nrel.gov. Battery-backed or grid-independent systems use on-site energy storage to store excess energy produced during the day for use at night or when the sun is not producing enough power. Most people opt for grid-connected systems for reduced cost, maintenance, and high reliability. With this type of system, your cooperative continues to provide energy to you when you need it 24-7. Your system will not collect sunlight at night and on cloudy days. That means, you will continue to draw electricity from your cooperative during these times.
During night time and cloud days, solar systems will generate little to no energy. At this time you must rely on either a battery backup bank or get power from the electrical grid. On average, solar systems will only generate about 10 - 20% of their normal power generation on days with cloud cover. Additionally, the weight of a heavy snow can compromise the structure of your solar panels and will prevent power from being produced.
Grid-connected solar systems shut down to prevent backfeeding electricity into de-energized power lines that may have fallen or that line crew members may be working on. It’s important to have this shut-down feature to prevent injuries and even death to those working on the line. This means that during a power outage your solar system will not be generating power for your home. The only way to have power during a power outage is if your solar system was installed with a battery backup bank.