The Coronavirus + Record Temperatures = Increased Energy Use at Home
By Bill Johnson, President, Brilliant Harvest
For those who have installed solar photovoltaic energy systems, there are many benefits, including significant savings on utility bills, greater peace of mind about energy security, and a feeling of pride about reducing their carbon footprint. However, this year there are two new considerations that may impact their overall energy use. With the added – often significant – energy demands resulting from people staying home due to the coronavirus and warmer than average temperatures, those who utilize solar power may be asking at year’s end, “Where did my net metering credits go?”
When consumers generate electricity from their solar array for their home or business, it reduces the amount of energy they need to purchase from the utility and lowers their monthly electricity bills. Under Florida’s net metering rules, if their system produces more energy than they need, the excess power is sent back to the grid and they are given full retail credit for the energy. The energy produced is deducted from their monthly bill or credited toward a future bill, as long as it’s in the same calendar year. (Click HERE to learn more about net metering in Florida.)
In a typical year, consumers with large enough solar arrays can build up net metering credits in the spring months. This is because HVAC use is usually lower due to cooler temperatures and, with fewer or no afternoon thunderstorms, solar production is at its highest levels of the year. They can then use those credits during the summer, helping them to save on often excruciating air conditioning costs. However, this year, there are a couple of factors that have changed the normal annual energy equation and, unfortunately, this may cause people to incorrectly conclude that their solar energy systems aren’t producing as much energy as they used to.
The first factor is the coronavirus. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Florida is the fourth-largest energy-consuming state, and it uses almost eight times as much energy as it produces. (Data as of October 2019.) Residential usage accounts for 28% of total consumption; air conditioning contributes tremendously to that total. With (many) Floridians staying home due to the coronavirus, daytime home energy use is much higher than normal, as air conditioning, appliances and electronics (such as computers and televisions) are used more continuously.
The second factor is that, according to NOAA (National Centers for Environmental Information), the average global land and ocean surface temperature for January–March 2020 was 1.15°C (2.07°F) above the 20th century average of 12.3°C (54.1°F). This was the second highest January–March period on record and we hit an average of 71.1° (compared to 64.3 historically) in March – THIS IS AN ALL-TIME RECORD! I can tell you that my family had the AC running in January this year.
With both consumption and temperatures up, solar users may find that their utility bills for the first third of this year are higher than usual, leaving less – or no – credit to work with for higher-consumption summer months. In some cases, folks are actually paying an electric bill for the first time in years. Please understand that this does not mean their solar production is down! We always tell folks that solar production does not equal energy consumption; this year, more than ever, we must understand the difference.
To get a better understanding of your solar production, it’s important to look at your solar monitoring system and compare this year with last. Of course, if you do see that your solar production is down and you don’t think it’s weather-related, then please call us because there may be an actual issue with your system. But if your utility bill is up, that does not automatically mean that your solar array isn’t working properly.
While we can’t offer much in the way of solutions for this challenging convergence of issues – this year has presented us with many unique and thorny problems, to be sure! – we did want you to be prepared for the possibility that your bills may be higher than expected.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us. We’re always happy to talk solar!
Read more: Spring cleaning for your solar energy system