What Types of Electric Meters Are Used with Solar Panels?

If you install solar panels in your home, you may need to change your electric meter.

Some electric meters only measure electricity going into your home. If you install solar panels, you may need a bi-directional meter, net metering system, or dual-meter system.

Keep reading to find out what type of electric meter you need to use with your solar panels.

Types of Electric Meters

There are multiple types of electric meters and electric meter systems, including single-directional, bi-directional, and dual-meter systems. You can also install net meters, smart meters, and time-of-use meters, among other types. 

Here are all types of electric meters commonly found in residential and commercial settings:

Single-Directional Meters: Single-directional electrical meters measure energy in one direction. A standard residential electrical meter, for example, measures electricity going into the home. The electric company uses this meter to track your consumption and bill you accurately.

Net Meters: Most solar panel systems use net meters. A net meter measures the amount of electricity your solar panels produce and compares it to the amount of electricity consumed by the grid. The net meter measures the difference between the amount you use and the amount you produce. 

Bi-Directional Meters: Bi-directional meters track electricity going in and out of the property. If your home uses electricity from the grid and produces electricity for the grid, you may need a bi-directional meter. A bi-directional system measures the electricity going into the home and out of the home, then calculates the net energy flow. During the summer months, you may have a positive net energy flow because you’re giving more energy to the grid than you’re receiving. In the winter, you could have a negative energy flow because the opposite occurs.  

Dual-Meter Systems: Dual-meter systems are similar to bi-directional meter systems, but the meters are independent of one another. Instead of calculating net energy flow, they calculate input and output separately from one another. 

Smart Meters: Smart meters use digital technology to track energy usage in real time. Over the last decade, a growing number of utility companies have begun to install smart meters. They can provide more detailed information about local energy usage, helping the utility company manage supply and demand more effectively.

Time-of-Use Meters: Some utility companies use time-of-use meters, which adjust prices based on the time of day at which you use electricity. If you want to consume electricity during off-peak hours when it’s cheapest, for example, and sell it back to the grid during peak hours to make the most money, then you need a time-of-use meter.  

Some jurisdictions use bi-directional meters with a net metering policy. Other jurisdictions require dual metering to calculate input and output accurately. Depending on your state and local requirements, your solar panel system may require you to install a bi-directional mete system or dual meter system.

How Net Metering Works with Solar Panel Systems

Most residential solar panel systems use a net meter to calculate incoming and outgoing power. 

Net metering can help solar panel owners recoup the costs of solar panels. You can sell excess electricity back to the grid, reducing your electric bill – or even generating a profit.

Here’s how your utility provider handles net metering with a standard residential solar panel system:

  • Most utility companies use a net metering system to compensate homeowners for the electricity they sell back to the grid. This net metering system tracks the power you buy from the grid versus the power you sell to the grid.
  • The average homeowner produces more electricity than they need during the summer months. You sell this excess electricity back to the grid.
  • The average homeowner also requires more electricity in the winter months than they produce. You buy this electricity from the grid.
  • Instead of swapping money back and forth, many utility companies use a credit-based system. The utility checks your electric meter for your net usage, then issues credits based on this usage.
  • When set up correctly, your solar panel system can balance your home’s electricity consumption all year long, ensuring you pay as little as possible for electricity, even though consumption varies.

Using net metering, your electric meter calculates the kilowatt hours you used and produced in a specific month, then issues a credit based on that amount.  

Other Types of Electric Meter Systems

Depending on your city or state, your utility company may use another type of electric meter system, including:

Buy All / Sell All: Under the buy all / sell all electric meter system, users can sell 100% of the energy generated by their panels to the utility company, then get 100% of their home’s energy from the utility company at the retail rate. Some utility companies use bi-directional billing for this purpose. Using this system, you don’t actually consume any of the electricity your panels produce; instead, you sell it back to the grid, then consume energy from the grid.

Net Billing: Net billing is increasingly popular in residential solar panel systems. Net billing is similar to net metering: with both systems, you use the grid to store excess electricity from your solar system, sell electricity when you have excess, and buy it when you need it. Unlike net metering, however, net billing uses money – not credits – to sell energy back to the grid at the wholesale rate.

Final Word: Contact Local Solar Contractors or Utility Companies About Electric Meters

Local solar contractors know the types of electric meters you need in your jurisdiction. 

Some states offer net metering and other solar compensation programs, while others use bi-directional meters, time-of-use systems, smart meters, or other advanced systems.

Contact your local utility company or a solar contractor to determine how your electric meter requirements may change after solar panel installation.

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