Power To The People; May 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Schneider; 1 Page(s)
After an environmentally conscious home owner installs solar panels on the roof or a wind-driven generator in the backyard, clean electricity flows for free--but only while the sun shines and the wind blows. One way to cope with this intermittence is to store energy in batteries. But a growing number of utility companies now allow home owners a less expensive option. They can deposit the excess electricity they produce into the power grid and withdraw it at later times using just their standard household electrical meter, which can run equally well backward or forward. Permitting such "net metering" gives a single home owner a privilege normally exercised only among giant utility companies: trading electricity generated at one time for the power required at another.
Net metering should help spur smallscale production of renewable energy. Otherwise, a home owner receives only the so-called avoided cost for any electricity exported to the power grid, and this rate is just a fraction of what the utilities typically charge residential customers. But with net metering, individuals can get, in essence, the full retail price for the electricity they generate, so long as they buy it back during the same billing period. (Any surplus production at the end of the month still earns only the wholesale price.)