The use of solar energy has skyrocketed around the globe. In the U.S. alone, there is now enough solar capacity installed to power 23 million American homes. As energy rates continue to surge over time, more and more people are looking for alternative sources of energy and ways to reduce their expenditure on electricity bills.
Clean energy sources like solar can help reduce waste and better manage how we consume energy.
However, as more and more home and business owners utilize solar panels, there are increasingly beneficial systems to utilize. Behind the meter systems are one of them, and it’s important to understand all that they entail.
If you’re looking to fully understand all of the elements of behind the meter systems, you’re in the right place.
What does ‘behind the meter’ mean?
To fully understand what ‘behind the meter’ means, it’s important to know what energy meters do.
Within a solar panel system, an electric meter measures the electrical energy use of a home or business. They provide accurate billing to customers, often communicating directly with the local power company.
Thus, ‘behind the meter’ generally refers to the position of an energy system in relation to its electricity meter. Seems simple, right? There are a few more elements of these systems to understand.
‘Behind the meter’ refers to energy production and storage systems that supply homes and buildings with electricity. The energy that is produced and/or stored by these systems is separate from the grid and does not need to be counted by a meter before being used, so they are positioned behind the meter.
Typically, residential and commercial solar panels are considered to be behind the meter, as well as those battery energy storage devices we defined earlier.
Some of the most fundamental components of behind the meter systems include:
- A solar array that helps capture energy from sunlight.
- Wind turbines to help capture wind energy.
- Behind the meter storage system to store electricity from the RE components and any that is bought from the grid.
- A control system to help manage the production, storage, and delivery of electricity.
So, what do these systems accomplish? Fundamentally, behind the meter systems aim to:
- Reduce the carbon emission and footprint of the building by generating electricity from renewable sources.
- Reduce the electricity bill costs or the amount of electricity purchased by the building.
- Take the building “off the grid” for some or all of the working day, reducing pressure on the local electric grid.
- Provide power conditioning and uninterruptible power supply characteristics for the entire building.
- Eliminate blackouts to the building and provide uninterruptible power supply during grid failures.
- Eliminate the damaging effects of brownouts on the building.
- Allow the owner to buy electricity at the lowest possible purchase rates.
Now that we know the basics of behind the meter systems, let’s explore how they differ from front of the meter systems.
Behind the meter vs. front of the meter
“Front of the meter” is a term you also may encounter when understanding your solar panel’s operation.
As opposed to behind the meter, front of the meter refers to a stand-alone system that sits in front of the energy meter, and feeds power directly into the grid system.
A stand-alone system can be an independent on-site energy load, allowing the owners to sell 100 percent of the power generated directly to the utility.
So what is considered front of the meter? Essentially, anything that provides energy that must pass through an energy meter before it can be utilized. All energy generation and storage systems, as well as the power lines that distribute the energy, are considered front of meter.
If your home or business receives energy from the electric grid, it comes from a front of meter system.
What is behind the meter storage?
Though we know that solar panels can still work in cold, snowy, or rainy weather, they are most efficient with access to unobstructed sunlight. Because of this, solar panel owners utilize some form of energy storage to capture and hold energy for later use.
Energy storage holds the energy produced during intervals of sunlight, ensuring that a household will not run out of power on days where weather is unfavorable. Many power system operators, utilities, and developers utilize different forms of energy storage.
One example of such storage is a battery energy storage system, a device that charges or collects energy from the grid or a distributed generation system, and then discharges that energy later to provide electricity when needed.
So, what does this have to do with behind the meter systems?
Behind the meter energy storage is a type of unit that can store energy generated by a behind the meter generation system, such as a wind turbine, a solar PV, or Combined Heat Power (CHP) unit, and then release it when it is needed.
Solar panel owners can utilize energy storage that is behind the meter, meaning that it is connected to the energy distribution system on the customer’s side of the utility’s service meter.
Behind the meter systems do not sell power back to the grid, but instead use it all for the building it’s tied to.
Behind the meter advantages and disadvantages
While there are many reasons why behind the meter systems are favorable for use in some buildings, there are a few drawbacks as well. Let’s dive into the benefits.
- Behind the meter systems help to directly reduce the amount of energy purchased by the building, which is estimated to cut electricity bills costs by 80%.
- Behind the meter system allows the user to access electricity from renewable energy sources, typically both wind and solar. It has the grid which acts as a backup. Owners can also access electricity from the energy stored within the battery or behind the meter storage system.
- Behind the meter smart controllers continually monitor all the energy sources as well as the load being drawn. It can help to regularly determine the amount of electricity being generated and drawn as well as the ‘state of charge’ of the storage system. Behind the meter systems then use the information to receive energy from renewable sources, supply energy directly from the storage system to the load and if necessary, and buy electricity from the grid when the grid electricity supply price is lowest.
In addition, solar energy is not just tied to the load of the building, and the system owner can create an additional source of income regardless of whether the building is occupied or not.
- In instances where any excess energy is fed back into the grid, it helps to balance power supply and demand, even as it generates additional revenue in the process. Though in some jurisdictions that have a Feed-in-Tariff, it is generally prohibited to have a single system that can both sell electricity to the grid and also use it internally.
Though behind the meter systems have a lot to offer, there are a few drawbacks that are important to know. Excluding backup generators, behind the meter systems have a single source of energy: the electric grid.
Since the building is limited to a single source, it poses several disadvantages. The owner must accept:
- Whatever price structure is imposed by their jurisdiction.
- Whatever brownouts are happening in the location.
- Whatever blackouts that location experiences.
- Random and damaging power ‘spikes’ that can affect or even destroy electronics.
What are ‘behind the meter’ energy systems?
There are a few common types of behind the meter energy systems to be aware of: microgrids, on-site generation, and on-site energy storage.
Microgrids are small grids that can run independently of the national electricity grid and are used to power a small number of buildings. They typically consist of generation, a transmission system, and sometimes battery storage.
Microgrids can be powered by distributed generators, batteries, and/or renewable energy sources like solar panels. A microgrid is beneficial to communities for a few reasons.
Namely, a microgrid can provide backup support for the national grid in case of emergencies. It can also be used to cut costs, use less, or adopt more sustainable energy sources.
On-site generation refers to any energy generation on your property which can be used on the premises, including home solar panels or small wind turbines.
It is a form of decentralized energy, enabling a home or business to make and use its own energy at a particular location, rather than buying that energy through the grid. In some cases, a business may be able to sell any surplus energy it makes back to the grid.
Examples of on-site generation include solar panels, wind turbines, and diesel generators and other traditional equipment fired by fossil fuels.
On-site energy storage
On-site energy storage refers to energy stored in a battery that goes directly from the battery to the home or building.
These resources can serve as both consuming power while charging, and electrical generation by releasing power while discharging. Energy storage comes in a variety of forms, including mechanical, thermal, and electrochemical (or batteries).
Energy storage systems typically contain these components: storage technology, power conversion (to convert the form of the incoming and outgoing energy), heat management, and software and controls.
Behind the meter: final thoughts
All in all, behind the meter is a technology that can significantly change the future of power generation across different industries. Energy costs make up a significant part of the household and national expenditure and, taking systems behind the meter could bring considerable benefits.
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