Do I need a smart meter for solar?

Fast read

Installing solar panels on your home means you need to change your electricity meter and of course, it will also have a big effect on your electricity bill. The new meter is going to be a "smart meter" which at regular intervals checks what you consume and also if you export any solar. The new meter will be what is called a smart meter. 

This technology allows you to use the solar your system generates in the house 1st and then export any excess solar system output. 

Your new electricity meter records this excess generation, before it enters the grid. If your solar panels generate more electricity than you use at any given point and you send it back to the overall grid, your electricity retailer will credit your bill for the exported kWhs, which your smart meter recorded.  

How to read a smart meter with solar panels and do I need one?

Considering installing solar panels in your home, how will it affect your electricity meter and monthly or quarterly bill? The good news is that solar energy can help you save money on your energy bills while decreasing your reliance on the grid. Here’s a closer look at how your electricity meter works when you install solar panels and how a smart meter can assist you in tracking your energy generation and consumption.

A new solar compatible smart meter is needed

The rules regarding the electricity meter changeover vary between different regions of Australia. Usually, when your solar system is installed, your electricity retailer will replace the electricity meters in your meter box. This should happen within 2-3 weeks after the installation of your solar system.

In some instances, the installer has the qualifications to change a meter over, and in such an instance, the smart meter will be swapped over as part of the installation, or very soon after.

These new solar meters, called smart meters, are able to measure and record the amount of solar electricity exported back to the grid (not used in the house), for which you will usually receive a feed-in-tariff payment on your electricity bill.

This payment for exported solar usually applies to residential systems. Large commercial systems sometimes are not allowed to export, as the grid in their area cannot handle the extra exported load.

The new smart meter will also record the electricity the home or business gets from the grid. For the imported electricity, you will be billed the same way and the same amount per kWh as you would be for the electricity you would buy without having solar.

smart meter
Fuse board with attached smart meter, to track generation

Exported and imported power will be measured

Smart meters can record both the exported and imported power in a half-hour period, which the old dial meters could not do. They can also remotely send metering information back to the energy retailer/network provider for analysis and calculation of electricity bills.

The time-specific measurements allow energy retailers to charge time-of-use tariffs for electricity used. This means that you may get charged different electricity rates at other times during the day and week based on the peak electricity demands on the grid and better reflect the cost of generating and supplying electricity.

While this allows your energy retailer to charge premium rates for high-demand periods, e.g. 7 pm to 9 pm, it also allows discounted rates for electricity use within off-peak/low-demand periods such as around midnight or 2 am. There is also a shoulder or standard energy rate for medium-demand periods.

The different electricity charge structures of time-of-use can be a little scary for some consumers, who are wary of the risk of higher charges during peak price periods.

In practice, it allows consumers who become aware that they are charged different rates at different times of the day to move activities like dishwashers and washing machines to the less expensive periods of the day and therefore achieve lower electricity bills.

How does net metering affect my electricity bill?

Across the country, all States offer smart metering for solar arrangements as described in the previous section. This is where exported electricity is recorded, and a feed-in tariff (FiT) is paid.

This “payment” will become a credit applied against the monthly or quarterly electricity bills and subtracted from the other charges, such as the supply fee and the electricity consumed during the night.

The FiT amount paid has reduced over the past decade from premium rates (from 30c to 60c per kWh at earlier times), in most cases, 5-10c per kWh today.

As explained by the energy retailer, this reduced amount is meant to align with the wholesale cost of electricity. Consequently, it is asserted that this lower figure more accurately reflects the actual value of the electricity to both the electricity company and the grid.

When you buy electricity from the grid during periods of no solar production, you will be billed at the prevailing market rate, typically ranging from 28 to 40 cents, depending on your State and region. Commercial businesses, with often lower negotiated rates, may have different terms with their electricity company.

Does my electricity bill show my solar generation?

The solar power you make and use within the house when it is generated is not recorded by your electricity meter. This information is stored in the monitoring program of your solar inverter. So you will not be able to see the actual overall solar generation from your PV system within your electricity bill.

As such, your electricity bill will not be a good measure of how well your solar system is working because the more electricity you use in the home, the less solar electricity export will be shown on your electricity bill.

To see the full benefit of solar and the savings, you must ensure good quality monitoring of your solar generation and electricity consumption. Nevertheless, your inverter solution will record these details, which can be monitored through the inverter’s app. This can also be provided by specialised monitoring services like Solar Analytics.

electrician analysing energy meter
Your electricity meter, if it is the older style version will need to be monitored and inspected to get the electricity bill meter readings. correctly

How do I monitor my electricity generation and use?

Your solar panels will be linked to a solar inverter solution, be it a string inverter, micro inverter or optimiser with an inverter. This inverter solution will convert your panels’ direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity used in your home.

Furthermore, the inverter can continuously monitor the amount of electricity generated by your solar panels and send this data to a monitoring system, which can be viewed via their website or smartphone app.

This monitoring system will track your solar energy consumption and generation in real-time, enabling you to determine how much money you save on your electricity bill. You can also use the monitoring system to track your solar panels’ performance and determine how much electricity you generate daily, weekly, or monthly.

There may be an additional charge from solar installation or special software companies for access to complete information and the inclusion of consumption monitoring, which usually requires different equipment.

We highly recommend accessing both generation and consumption data. Having visibility of this information will increase your understanding of when your solar system generates electricity, how much it generates, as well as when and how much electricity you are using. It will also help you to become alert when there is an issue with your solar system.

This will allow you and your family to decide and change how you use electricity, and maximise your solar system’s benefit.

Is a smart meter available everywhere?

Smart meters for solar are now available in all states and networks, but the specific rules and regulations vary from State to State and from one network to the next. Some States have more favourable smart metering policies than others. This can impact the financial benefits of installing a home solar system & batteries.

What is gross metering?

Gross metering was the system used when solar was first installed in volume in Australia around 2006 to 2008. This means that the system measured and exported all the solar generated without passing through the house. So the homeowner in such a metering set-up never used their own solar power. All electricity was exported, but the feed-in-tariff earned from these exports was a massive 60 cents in NSW per kWh and a decent 44 cents in Queensland. So solar system owners didn’t mind such a setup as they earned a decent credit from their system.

Often such PV systems were only 1 to 1.5 kW only – so the output per annum was around 1500 kWh – earning the owner around $900 for example in NSW. But this is now all in the good old past.

In summary

Solar panels installed on your home can help you save money on your electricity bills and reduce your reliance on the grid. Smart meters for solar panels allow you to track the electricity generated and used by your solar panels and receive credit or payment for any excess generation. While smart metering is available in most states, the specific details vary.

Your local solar professional will be able to explain the local guidelines to you.

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