By Karen Schaufeld
It is rainy here in Northern Virginia, and the forecast calls for rain for at least another five days. Kind of gloomy, to be sure, but it reminds me of the oft-misunderstood “rain with solar panels” situation.
Many people think that when it rains, solar panels don’t work, but – while that seems logical – it just isn’t true. In a short post by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), they explain that (while obviously more effective in direct sunlight), solar panels still work even when light is reflected or partially blocked by clouds. According to the SEIA, “Rain actually helps to keep your panels operating efficiently by washing away any dust or dirt.”
What becomes more important in this situation is net metering. According the group, net metering comes into play for solar users during rainy days because, “If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods where the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output.”
As of 2013, 43 states, including Virginia had net metering policies in place. In the Commonwealth, according to the Department of Mines Minerals and Energy (DMME), net metering is offered for solar and wind up to 20 Kilowatts for residential customers and 500 Kilowatts for non-residential customers. A big impediment to homeowners is the upfront capital cost of purchasing solar panels. A typical home installation my cost $20,000 upfront. A solar array reduces or eliminates electricity bills for the next 25 years and pays the homeowner back many times over.
In other states, homeowners can contract with solar companies to “lease” their roof. In this scenario, the solar company owns the solar panels and reduces the electric bill to the homeowner, often by 20 percent or more. Unfortunately, Virginia law currently prohibits homeowners from taking advantage of these arrangements. We continue to lag behind because of the way state policy is enforced and the way utilities in the Commonwealth are regulated.
This is even more unfortunate for us given that Virginia is a rural state with millions of acres of farmland. We need a stronger net metering policy that would allow residents with land and farmers to “harvest” the sun by installing solar arrays that exceed the 20 kw limit and then use or sell the excess to neighbors or back to utility companies at the retail rate. We tried to make that happen with SB 779, and we plan to continue to push for this in the coming months.
Do you agree? Should you be able to lease your roof and participate in net metering? Should a farm be entitled to make the sun a crop?
Share your thoughts for how Virginia can improve its renewable energy policies with us!