Your home electric meter is a gateway. A critical point for your power. Like your front door, what is inside the house is yours. You are behind the meter (BTM) in electric industry parlance.

The utility’s electricity, and the system to make and deliver that electricity, is in front of the meter until it goes through that meter.

Seems to be an easy and understandable concept. It was. It is changing. That is because customer roles are changing.

Customers are becoming, in some places, more than consumers. In some places they produce power. Customers use power or sometimes sell it back to the utility.

This is a good time for consumers to understand what changes may be coming down the line as homeowners.

Background…

In front of the meter are utility generation facilities, distributed energy resources (DER – large-scale solar or wind, for example) feeding the grid, substations (right), and transmission and distribution lines to homes and businesses.

It isn’t just hardware. Importantly, utilities coordinate the system to generate and distribute electricity. That is a critical role. The grid cannot just have power dumped in ad hoc. The grid has to maintain a balance of input and output to operate.

The kind of things BTM: Small energy generation systems (think rooftop solar, left) and storage. These are systems usually not owned by a utility and are intended for on-site use. (Well, kind of: Selling back excess BTM power is possible in some areas, but there are regulations.)

There may be homeowner association rules or other local restrictions for residences, too.

Solar energy systems are top-of-mind for home energy systems. There are a lot of companies pitching various kinds of home solar systems. Consumers need to do careful research. Here’s the Department of Energy overview of solar.

Wind energy is a home energy possibility, though less obvious than solar. Here’s a Department of Energy overview of personal wind systems. (Photo, right, from DOE web page)

A concept that homeowners will need to know is net metering. It is an electricity billing mechanism that allows consumers who generate electricity to sell it to the utility. It is especially important with renewable energy sources like solar, which is non-dispatchable (can’t be tapped at any time, only when there is sunlight).

Here is how Duke Energy describes the concept: “Duke Energy customers who generate electricity from their own renewable facility may be eligible to offset their retail bill through ‘Net Metering.’ Through this arrangement you can use the electricity you generate while receiving service from Duke Energy. The nameplate capacity of your generating facility cannot exceed the lesser of your estimated maximum annual kilowatt demand or 20 kW for residential or 1,000 kW for nonresidential.”

Dominion Energy in South Carolina has a good overview of solar and net metering. (Image left, check the link)

There has been a lot of debate and discussion about net metering. The debates are about what prices are used, how the consumer gets credited, regulations on taking energy, for instance. Advice for customers who want to consider this – talk with your utility company first. Do a lot of self-education about the possibility among various sources. It is a nascent energy possibility and will change a lot in the next few years.

Energy storage is the beneficial companion for BTM generation. Stored electricity can be used to meet the consumer’s electricity needs, or it can be injected back into the distribution grid, says a report from the International Renewable Energy Association. Consumers who want to learn about energy storage may find the report useful. (Diagram, right, from the report)

10 Mistakes I’ve Made Selling and Installing Battery Storage Systems” looks at the complications of home battery systems – installation, maintenance, software, wiring, and other issues. This article is a good introduction to home storage. Also important for the consumer is what do you want the system to do – just be back-up in a storm or use the storage for buying and selling power?

Electric customers are at the beginning of a journey. Their role in the power system is changing and will require a significant self-education to make their most of their home energy use. As consumers become an electric user who becomes more active in energy choices, it is worth knowing this basic definition of what is in front of, and behind, the meter.