We know we need more renewable energy to have a fighting chance at reducing greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid fully baking the planet. But for many people, rooftop solar is not an option. They may not have enough sun exposure, they may rent their place and not own their roof, they may be in a condo or apartment without ownership of the roof, or they may not use enough electricity to justify installing solar.
So enter “virtual” net metering. For those who don’t know, basic net metering is the primary incentive program for rooftop solar, where excess solar power a building owner generates beyond his or her needs gets sold to the utility for retail credit (i.e. the meter “spins backward”).
But with virtual net metering, the customer can get the benefits of this retail credit with a solar installation that’s not directly on the property. Typically the panels would be installed somewhere nearby with good solar exposure and possibly more room for panels. And with this arrangement, solar customers can co-own a solar panel array with neighbors and others, allowing for economies of scale to take hold.
Dick Munson at EDF lists the top five reasons why virtual net metering is better than plain ol’ net metering. It’s worth reading them all in full.
Of special note, California has authorized virtual net metering for certain multi-family dwellings, although the state could certainly do more to expand this program. Munson’s list makes the case for why it’s important for the state to do so. Eventually, these community solar plots can be coupled with energy storage to allow whole neighborhoods to go “off the grid” and be their own utility via a neighborhood microgrid.
But it all starts with a virtual reality.