Net metering programs serve as an important incentive for consumer investment in on-site renewable energy generation. Net metering enables customers to use their own generation from on-site renewable energy systems to offset their consumption over a billing period by allowing their electric meters to turn backwards when they generate electricity in excess of their demand, enabling customers to receive retail prices for the excess electricity they generate. Without net metering, a second meter is usually installed to measure the electricity that flows back to the provider, with the provider purchasing the power at a rate much lower than the retail rate.
Net metering is a low-cost, easily administered method of encouraging customer investment in renewable energy technologies. It increases the value of the electricity produced by renewable generation and allows customers to “bank” their energy and use it a different time than it is produced, giving customers more flexibility and allowing them to maximize the value of their production. Providers may also benefit from net metering because when customers are producing electricity during peak periods, the system load factor is improved.
As of November, 2010, net metering was offered in 43 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico (see map of state net metering rules from DSIRE). For a more detailed description of state net metering policies and links to the authorizing legislation, see the DSIRE database, which is a project of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council funded by the U.S. DOE and managed by the North Carolina Solar Center.