Behind the meter, or in front of the meter. Where are you in your home?

Lots of people wonder based on the ECC blogs with the most traffic. Our descriptions of in front of, and behind the meter have been long-term hits. So let’s review this again.

A concept familiar to electric industry people is what is in front of the meter and what is behind the meter. As the electric consumer becomes a more active participant in electricity managing and buying, it is worth having a basic definition of the concept in mind.

A customer sitting at home or in a business is behind the meter (BTM). That electric meter is the electric front door – behind the meter, inside the door. The electricity, and the system to make and deliver that electricity, is in front of the meter until it goes through that meter.

Or here’s a basic way to look at it. An electric provider brings electricity to your meter to use; an energy system in or on the building is behind that meter. 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. There are rules for that. There can be homeowner (HOA) rules or other restrictions on a local level.

Net metering is the concept to understand. 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.”

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 from the report)

10 Mistakes I’ve Made Selling and Installing Battery Storage Systems”  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 become more active in energy choices, it is worth knowing this basic definition of what is in front of, and behind, the meter. (Our blog)