A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

18 February 2017

Net meter my photovoltaic panels? Never!

My headline poses and answers a hypothetical. Apart from a few stand alone solar powered walkway lights, I do not own photovoltaic panels. My roof and yard are not well configured for a PV array, and the capital investment is not yet within my reach.

But when the day dawns that I can afford a PV system, it’s not going to be hooked up to the utility grid. That’s the last thing I want: spending my money, then turning control of my system over to a utility company in exchange for potentially reduced reliability, a payback period longer than my remaining lifetime, and still lights out if the grid goes down.

I want to get off the grid, not tie myself more closely to it. I want to be able to flip the utility company the bird, and revel in the glory of being energy independent — even if I have to pay a premium that net metering would avoid.

That’s probably not possible in the Flathead on a PV only, or even PV plus wind, basis, at least if one is trying to avoid a multi-megabuck investment. From November through February, our days are too short and cloudy, and Ol’ Sol is too low, to assure a sufficient supply of electricity from the sun and wind, even with oversized panels, turbines, and batteries. Some kind of backup generator, diesel or perhaps a fuel cell, is necessary.

My neighbors, many of whom burn wood, might not complain if I built a small, wood fired steam turbine driven generating plant in my back yard, but I suspect they would draw the line at a smelly diesel chugging away during Christmas dinner.

The only alternative to reverting to the grid during the winter is shutting down my house and spending my days in the desert southwest, or perhaps in Chile’s Atacama Desert, where the skies are not cloudy and gray, at least not often enough to defeat PV systems.

That I might do. Heading south always, always, beats submitting to the utility company.