I wrote the material below quite a while back and it somehow fell through the cracks. I have since gone through a couple of variants of a Zero Export Grid Tie system, including a new one this past weekend…and the power company’s meter hasn’t budged since! Read this to get up to speed and there will be more on the latest changes.
The season is changing and so are the solar connections at the Solar Shed.
Grid Tie can be the cheapest way to get into solar and can even turn a profit for you in some places. In other places, the system is rigged.
A much cheaper way to do Grid Tie is a Zero Export Grid Tie (ZEGT) system, using solar power mixed with grid power to run your loads, but not to back feed into the grid. I call this “house tie solar.”
Why is this even a “thing”? Why not just grid tie, using the grid as a virtual battery? Straight grid tie with net metering is a great deal where you can get it. Daryl, in Texas, has a great deal on grid tie and his huge system actually makes him an income stream. A lot of places you can’t get it, though. A lot of places where you could get it have changed the deal. Bruce, in Pennsylvania, ran into this. He’s the one who reminded me of ZEGT.
Let’s say you live in Alabama. I think a recent article said they have $50/month tie fee and it is going up! Here in Scenic West Bogia Heights, Florida, that’s sort of the same sort of deal, but ours is higher if you can even work it out. You pay for a bunch of extra metering equipment and an electrician to install it. Your solar system has to be signed off by a certified tech. Then, on a monthly basis you have your basic $40 connection fee and a $60 solar fee. That a hundred bucks of power bill before anybody gets any power.
Turn on the juice and all the power that you make and don’t use at the time goes to the power company for less than 4 cents. At night, you get to buy your own power back for 13 cents. I am no math genius, but I think under these conditions it will cost you more to have solar power than to go without. Maybe we should run some numbers on this.
Let’s say you use 1500kwh per month. You build a grid tie power system that can supply 1500kwh per month. At 13 cents that’s $195 from the power company. Now let’s figure that the a/c and fridge and the miscellaneous loads (like the clock you can’t set on the DVD player) will use 500kwh in real time, reducing the intake from the power company to 1000kwh, which at 13 cents is $130. 1000kwh of your excess daytime power went to the grid at 4 cents per kwh. You get a credit of $40 off the $130 net grid import, so you have to pay $90 for your power. You also have to pay another $100 for the meter and solar fees. That makes your bill $190 with your grid tie connection. Without it, your bill would have been $195 plus the $40 meter fee, or $235. Ok, so you did save $45. Did I mention that West Bogia Power and Light also requires that you buy a multimillion dollar insurance policy to indemnify them should your dinky little power system damage their grid! The average squirrel can cause more damage to their system than a proper grid tie system can! Hold on, now, I have a solution or two for you.
First of all, and this costs little or nothing, change your ways. If you use more of that solar power before it leaves the house, then they don’t pay you 4 cents and charge you 13 on the power that goes out and comes back. If somebody is home during the day, do the laundry and baking then, instead of in the evening. Set the thermostat for more run time during the day instead of at night. If no one is home during the day, is someone close enough to come home and start the dryer? If nobody can make it home during the day, start a crockpot meal before you leave for work and set a water heater timer to heat during the day. Look into smart appliances that can be controlled with a phone app while you are away!
Having shifted your loads a bit, you are now burning 1000kwh of solar and 500kwh from the grid. You are also selling 500kwh to the grid. That comes to 500 x 13cents to buy, 500 x 4 cents to sell for credit or $65-20= $45. Now add in the various fees and the bill comes in at $145.
Let’s review. Your bill without solar would be $230. Your bill with the first grid tie example would be $195. Changing the routine a bit the bill with solar is $145. OK, I think we are getting somewhere. What else can we do?
The availability of ZEGT can help get new prospects into solar and can help get folks who have had the rules changed on them get back into a profitable state.
Let’s go back to our example, only now no power is backfed to the grid. We CAN make 1500kwh, but we still only use 1000kwh during daylight hours. We discard the excess capacity because we are not exporting to the grid.
As with the previous example, we are importing only 500kwh from the grid. Again, that’s $65 for power, no credit for exported power, $40 for the meter fee and NO SOLAR CONNECTION FEE. That makes the bill $105!
Let’s try that in the example before changing our ways with power consumption. I believe we were using 500kwh of solar, dropping what we buy from 1500 to 1000kwh. That’s $130 for the power you buy, plus the $40 meter fee, for a total of $170 as opposed to the $195 you were billed when the power company was “buying” your excess power!
As usual, your mileage may vary. Your power company may charge more or less, pay more or less and have different requirements and fee structures. Zero Export may or may not be for you. A lot of you have banged on the calculator and are now wondering what it is going to take to build your new ZEGT system or convert your existing GT system.
If you have an existing GT system, RTFM. That’s right, read the fine manual for your GT inverter. Many, especially those made in the last few years, have this capability built in if you add a device to monitor the power line and report back to the inverter. These go by various names, often coming in the form of a power meter or electricity meter, originally intended to just let you monitor your system. Two current transformers slip over the grid lines coming into your breaker box. They connect to the “meter”. The meter has an RS485 (or other communications standard) that connects with the GT inverter. A few changes are selected from the inverter’s menu and now the inverter knows when the solar power need to get in and out of the mix to match the consumption, when possible, but not overdo things and send power out. Hence, you can tell your power company to pull the extra meter and discontinue grid tie.
If you do not find anything on export limiting in your manual, check out a company called ELGRIS. They have an export limiter that they claim works on a lot of GTI models and may have one for yours.
Now for new solar users, hold on. There are reputedly some inexpensive modules that will do the trick and installation is pretty easy. I say reputedly because I have not personally tried it, but I have heard good things. I have ordered two units and will quickly get them installed on my minigrid for testing the ZE claims. If that goes well, then I’ll go live with them and report results, like whether or not the power company busts me for backfeeding. Tom got a visit from the power company within 2 hours of inadvertently backfeeding his system, so going up against West Bogia Power and Light with these new gizmos is a really good test.
I’ll let you know.