Is home solar power as unsustainable as I think with net metering?

I’ve looked into solar and in NY the best I can describe it is if you go solar you are screwing your neighbors who are having your neighbors pay for your power bill. Yes I can’t see it other then that, you are screwing your neighbors and they end up having to pay more for you not to pay (or just pay for basic service flat rate which covers your account, and meter, but no power). It looks very clear to me, but others say otherwise but can not justify their statements so I’m asking here if what I think is happening is actually happening.

Here in NY solar panel installation after rebates and tax credits can mean a home owner maybe able to get them for free (if the tax credits are high enough for them to use them), or highly discounted. This basically means the neighbors, through taxation are buying your solar panels for you. Since the payback time for solar is typically 7 years or so, your neighbors have invested the equivalent of 7 years of power to, on paper, remove you from the grid for 25-30 years. That’s a lot but there is more…

Power is billed in 2 parts, supply (actual power production) and delivery (maintaince of the utilities grid). With some variance, they are about 50% 50% of the actual per kWh charge. Let’s look at delivery first. both the solar customer and non-solar customer gets power on demand, but through net metering one group is paying, while the other is not. This in effect is shifting the cost of maintaining the grid onto one’s neighbors. The solar customer has full use of it, and arguably more use and required grid upgrades for bi-directional purposes, yet doesn’t have to pay anything.

The second part is paying for supply. The customer is getting power on demand, yet not delivering power on demand, but power at their pleasure as payment instead. Utilities source power at a cost and sell it with a markup to stay in business, but instead of buying cheap power, they have to give full retail credit for the power they must buy instead. This raises the bill for one’s neighbors.

The net metering method seems to out of whack on so many levels (with the addition of the subsidies and tax credits), but no one seems to agree. Though those who defend net metering always seem to be solar panel owners. So what’s the SD on this?

I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about here.

Are you talking about a home that is entirely solar and forever off the grid, or a home with solar panels that, when solar isn’t working (at night, for example) they take energy from the grid and with the solar is working they don’t, or, if they’re not using all the power generated by their solar panels, even send the surplus into the grid?

I’m assuming you’re talking about the latter. In which case it could be argued that the solar powered home, when solar is working, is actually adding to the total power in the grid by either not drawing power or actually adding power back into the grid. Whether or not it does would require information and math I do not have at hand.

Solar works best in places with lots of sun - so, for example, in Arizona. Solar production would peak during the mid-day, which, with the popularity of air conditioning, is also a time of peak load to homes not drawing from the grid or even adding to the grid during that time is an asset, as it reduces overall demand on that grid which lessons certain problems. So it wouldn’t surprise me if, in Arizona or Southern California or parts of Texas those solar homes actually do add some incremental value and thus giving them the tax breaks makes sense. By investing in solar those people are helping their neighbors by helping the grid remain powered and stable.

Does this apply in other places? Not so much. I have investigated solar for my area and Northern Michigan. There are significant portions of the year when solar isn’t terribly viable (unless one lives a very power-restricted lifestyle). In those places yes, the neighbors are subsidizing the solar of their neighbors with solar panels in a way that benefits them little or actually costs them.

Note that I am not an expert on any of this, just a curious layperson, and if someone more knowledgeable drops by listen to them and not me.

The latter, where one uses the grid as a battery to draw from when needed and resupply from solar when you can. So a grid connected home.

So there are times when it is adding power to the grid, however the size of their array is set to basically negate their power usage to zero (not positive or negative), so while the solar customer uses power from the grid and supplies power to the grid, it zeros out.

Your points are all logically valid IMO. But …

Every subsidy of every nature involves everyone paying for something that only some people get. Ditto every provision of the tax code. You deducting your property tax payments from your federal or state income tax bill amounts to the renters subsidizing your housing. Etc.


As to grid maintenance …
The utility has a total bill to pay to maintain all their infrastructure, both backbone and last mile. But even ignoring home solar, each individual user’s actual maintenance needs are different, and so if we are using a fine enough magnifying glass, we immediately see that folks in dense urban areas are overpaying for last-mile maintenance, while folks in un-dense suburbs or far-flung rural areas are underpaying for their share of maintenance.

OTOH, older infrastructure needs more repair and upgrade than newer. So folks in older areas are underpaying vs. folks in newly constructed areas who’re overpaying. Etc.

Bottom line: Modern economic life is very much not charged a la carte. Instead, there are a vast number of ways each of us over- and under-pay for various goods, services, and taxes. The only hope is that the overall net comes out close to even for most consumers / citizens.

Recognizing of course that the original intent behind any subsidy is precisely to encourage behavior by government action that many folks would not otherwise take absent that action. Whether it’s solar panels, cash for clunkers programs, or the deductibility of property tax or IRA /401k contributions from income tax, they all started as ways for the government to nudge society towards a goal. By advantaging the people who use that subsidy, and of necessity disadvantaging those who don’t. Poor people (indirectly) pay me to contribute to my 401K each year. Ain’t necessarily right, but it is so.

Of course once subsidies get entrenched, they turn into clientelist special pleading. Human nature: it’s why we can’t have nice, or completely logical, things.

I pay for the children of the US to go to public schools. So be it.

Thank you, and others for this perspective. I guess it comes down to 2 things, 1 is I feel that it goes to far that the neighbors pay for their solar array and their power usage and would like to see it scaled back to one or the other, preferably the array for free, they can use their solar free (including storing it), or sell back the power at market rates. The second one, and perhaps the one most annoying to me is they seem to not realize, and outright deny that they are raising the power bills of their neighbors. At least in the. case of public schools most parents know and acknowledge that the neighbors are paying.

And BTW while you may pay for children to go to school that you may never have, you also most likely had the opportunity to partake in neighbor funded k-12 education, so you can consider that your payback.

Your arguments make sense to me, but this falls pretty far down on the list of things my neighbors do that annoy me, somewhat farther down than their regular loud parties.

With regards to solar power, I am less annoyed by the shifting of cost than I am with the ugly appearance: solar panels are blight on the suburban landscape, IMHO.

What do you mean by sustainable? Without a lot of math, they’re probably sustainable if you don’t consider ROI. But that’s not what sustainable is about, right?

ROI for me in Michigan still isn’t working out, though. I’m interested, and I try to make the numbers work, but paying the monopoly’s large scale efficiencies are still better for my virtual pocketbook.

Even if this is true, that is the essence of “legislation through purse strings” in tax and spend. Give rebates to those that do what the government wants and penalize those that do not.

As has been said, this is on purpose. If the subsidies are so good that you can get solar for free, then you should get it! Which is, of course, the point of the subsidies.

The logic behind it is the idea that solar has positive externalities. Every watt of electricity from solar is a watt less from burning fossil fuels. The argument can easily be turned around: why should I suffer the pollution and climate changed caused by all my neighbors who refuse to get solar?

Inevitably this descends into politics, because decisions about how to spend taxes and how government should behave are political.

I’m not sure I see the problem of net metering. If I produce electricity I can sell it to the power company, the same way power plant owners can sell it to them. I do see arguing about what exactly the net metering rate should be as legitimate, though.

Seriously, with a deal as good as the OP describes who are the saps not signing up and why not?

BTW there are real expenses coming up that everyone will have to pay for to deal with high peak demands, more power that needs to be produced somehow and transmitted somehow. More homes on solar distributed locally are that many fewer contributing to peak demand centralized production and transmission, maybe even adding some extra supply during those peak demand periods, saving everyone from the costs of adding more supply and transmission.

I suspect the math has been done and in non-zero sum gain.

FWIW looking for some of that math I found this.

Now that is actually explaining how solar plus storage is greater impact than the sum of its parts, but the point about effective load carrying capacity (ELCC) in general is what I am talking about. ELCC is key and having enough ELCC is a huge cost. Up to a significant point solar adds to ELCC in a very cost effective manner, saving those NOT with solar from bigger bills to pay for other means to increase it.

This is the part that had me look further into this. In net metering you don’t sell back power like the power plant owner can, but sell it for quite a bit more (5 times), and it’s mandatory that the power company has to buy it from you. This raises the power plant’s wholesale cost, which in turn raises the retail cost they sell it for. After all it’s the power company that does the delivery, not the solar owner.

Or to use my pizza shop owner analogy, if the power company sold and delivered pizzas (instead of power), people would call up and make their order, and the company would make (supply) and deliver within 30 minutes (delivery) the pies to the person’s front door. They would set their prices to cover their cost of supply and delivery and to make money to stay a viable business. But some customers, instead of paying in money for the pizzas they ordered throughout the week, would instead bake pies on Sunday, one pie for every pie they ordered during the week. when that stack of pies were ready they would place them outside their door, call the company and tell them to pick up their payment right now, which they have to and also deliver it to who ever else has ordered.

The expense of delivery is not insignificant, nor is the needed markup from wholesale pricing to retail to stay in business. How many businesses could stay in business if they had lots of customers buy, use and return for free their product? Now add to this that the company has to pay for shipping both ways?

Again I am not knocking the benefits of solar, just net metering. I think it goes too far, and can’t see why just buying someone a solar array, allowing them to use any solar they produce they can real time, and sell back excess power at wholesale rates is not enough.

And quite recently it appears that California at least is agreeing and ending net metering in this above form and transitioning to something more akin to what I see, which seems to verify my premise that net metering is unsustainable. https://www.centricabusinesssolutions.com/us/blogpost/changes-californias-net-metering-program-and-what-they-mean-solar-pv-system-roi

Depending on time of day, the expense of delivery and production can vary greatly.

Summer, mid day, sun blazing, ACs all running? The marginal cost to avoid brown outs is huge. Transmission lines overloading and all peakers blasting away. All needing upgrades. Keeping some demand off the grid, adding a wee bit of distributed supply is a huge savings. This is what you spend to meet. Or the system collapses.

Middle of night, little demand, trough, efficient base production having to run and needing someplace to go? Marginal cost of delivery and production? Low. Maybe zero.

Mid day power is fairly large, but not the peak in most areas. .In New England peak demand is about 7pm winter and summer about equal, so solar isn’t helping that (in the winter the sun has set hours before). But ironically mid day power price (when solar is producing the most) is peak price for power for retail customers who pay rates according to the time for day, which seems that solar is driving up the cost there.

I looked at the IOS New England (https://www.iso-ne.com/) site showing the peak information.
There is also a graph showing resource usage. Renewable energy is 8% of their mix, and solar is less than 1% of that 8%. So I do not think that paying for the roof top solar even at 5* the rate would be more than a tiny blip in the pricing schedule.

According to that data, power demands peaked at 5:30PM in the middle of the winter, and were a lot higher during the day than during the night. The Captcha generator is broken, so I wasn’t able to look up peak power demands in the summer, but I’d be shocked if it didn’t coincide with peak AC demands, which are during sunlight hours.

In the winter, solar isn’t helping a lot, but it’s also not generating much of anything, so it’s hard to argue that the net metering is costing your neighbors much.

Simply false.

Peak demands on systems, biggest threats to black and brown outs, all areas, is mid days in summers.

Yellow lines are summer by regions.

It is that demand that the system needs to built for. Every drop over the top those times is most costly.

Really? According. to your cite, peak in the northeast, northwest and CA is on or after 6pm year round (w/ mid Atlantic just slightly before during summer). This I would guess is the majority of US population. But yes from that it does appear summer demand is highest so that part I now agree with. So yes it does help with peak summer demand somewhat, but by 6 it’s less power from solar then mid-day, so whule every kW helps, solar is already waining.

Here is a cite that solar power production looks very minimal at 6pm: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0144598716629874

But also retail pricing is highest during the mid-day, not at the peak, why is that?

I have no idea who set retail pricing by hour, or what that was based on. My power costs the same all day long. But I have to point out that the sun is still shining at 6PM in July.

I think you are getting upset about phantoms. As best as I can tell, building up solar is helping, not hurting, with respect to overall costs to the power grid. And I’m sure you at least as capable of taking advantage of those subsidies as @susan has to partake in subsidized public schooling.