MAIL: Amnesty for Solar Guerrilla

Beginner
The old guerrilla PV array.
The old guerrilla PV array.
New legit net meter.
New legit net meter.
The old guerrilla PV array.
New legit net meter.

In 1999, I was Solar Guerrilla #0006 (see HP73). A few months ago, I got a call from a representative of my electric utility (it’s a public utility district; PUD) telling me that the new smart meter installed at my house last summer detected “reverse energy.” When they asked if I knew of a reason for this—and asked if I have solar panels—I saw no point in trying to hide (plus, the PVs are mounted out in the yard). I said, “Yes, but my charge controller was supposed to prevent that from happening.”

The caller, who turned out to be the energy services manager, asked if he could see the installation the next afternoon and drop off a net-metering application. I agreed, expecting that he’d turn around and get back in his car when he found out that it wasn’t a county-permitted, licensed-electrician-installed, AHJ-inspected system. During his visit, he asked about the system generation capacity and anti-islanding protections, and dropped off the six-page application, all the while talking like it was a done deal—just fill out the forms and send them in and he’d rubber-stamp them.

I filled out the application, including a one-line system diagram and a layout drawing showing the spatial relationship of the ground-mounted array, house, utility meter, and service drop, and sent it in via email the day after his visit. The next afternoon, I got an email from him telling me the application was approved. The email also included a copy of the signed contract.

It’s done—my system is legit with the utility! All I can figure is that the last 14 years wore them down. I ran out the clock, and now that they have all these darned smart meters that are ringing bells and flashing red lights down at the administration building, they are bringing everyone they can into the fold so that they can concentrate on more important stuff. Amazing! No permits, no inspections, no electricians, and most mind-blowing, no lockable disconnect!

Exactly one week from the initial phone contact, a crew of two workers from the utility’s meter shop installed a newer smart meter that can recognize reverse energy as net production. Afterward, I turned off my Frankenstein dump load controller and just let their meter sort it all out. I was catching 99% of the PV surplus before, so I didn’t expect to see a big advantage. Now, I’m entering the fourth month of net metering with a 38 kWh surplus.

Of course, I’ve also spent a fair bit of time since fiddling with my newly installed hydro project. If I’m going to get paid for stuffing electrons back into the grid, I’m going to get good at doing it. (They pay wholesale rate for any production over parity at the year-end even-up time.)

So, back in 1999, I was Solar Guerrilla #0006, and in 2013, I’m Owner-Generator #19 for the local PUD.

Solar Guerrilla #0006 • via email

Comments (7)

SG006's picture

Thanks for the compliments. This meter is what I call "version 5", as it is the latest in a progression of utility meter hacks I've built over the years. Right now, I'm working on version 6, which will be based on a Linux operating system and have a built-in web server and WiFi so readings can be fetched from any PC on a network.

The new version will be capable of storing energy production and use in a database, then using the data to create visualizations from the values, including charts and dials. I'm planning on integrating it with the Emoncms program from Open Energy Monitor (openenergymonitor.org). Being on a wireless network, it would be possible to have multiple meters interacting with the programming. For example, a remote array's production could be factored in separately from one mounted on the building. A heat pump, hot tub, or other load could be monitored, as well as sensors to integrate ambient temperature. direct solar hot water production, battery voltage, etc..

Right now, I'm just trying to get the v.6 prototype up and running, as version 5 requires me to go stand in the cold garage to see what the system is doing. Since v.5 is completely enclosed under the glass dome of the utility meter base, I use a infrared remote control (TV clicker) to control the screens and input values. Version 6 will allow me to adjust the programming via a web page with forms that can be filled out and submitted. The possibility of smart phone apps to read the meter hasn't escaped my notice.

Eventually, It would be great to be able to produce a commercial product. For now, it's relatively cheap entertainment for me.

Mr. Bruce Arkwright, Jr.'s picture

Wow, SG0006, yours is truly a 'Smart Meter', the utilities need to rethink and 'copy' your design for a 'smart meter', since theirs is so stupid. Or just keep our old 'analog meter' which truly works in both direction. Thanks for the story and info.

SG006's picture

Hello, Solar Guerrilla #006 here. If I had been one guerrilla farther back in the line, I'd have been 007!

The HP editors didn't quite get the caption on the photos correct. The pictured solar array is the current one, and the "legal net meter" is actually not the utility's revenue meter, but one of my own design, programming and construction, installed as a "sub meter" on my side of the utility meter. Here's some interesting design features:

There are six registers:

Daily Production (resettable)
Monthly Production (resettable)
Total Production (accumulating, non-resettable)
Daily Consumption (resettable)
Monthly Consumption (resettable)
Total Consumption (accumulating, non-resettable)

Daily values are displayed as Watthours, Monthly as kiloWatthours to the first decimal, and Total as kiloWatthours.

Additionally, it uses the register values to calculate Net values for Daily, Monthly, and Total, and displays the results in color-coded numbers, green for Net Production, and red for Net Consumption.

All six registers are stored in non-volatile memory, so they come back after a power failure.

Average Production/Consumption wattage for the last one-Watthour is prominently displayed in either red or green at the top of the display.

The meter has a real-time clock and records power fail and restore times. The yellow area at the bottom of the display is the "messages" area, and is used when resetting the registers, setting the clock, or acknowledging power failures.

The whole thing is designed to be a snap-in "personality module" for an Itron/Schlumberger Centron revenue-grade utility meter base, so it has absolute accuracy and UL listing.

I'm looking into being able to post a larger photo of the meter somewhere so you can see some of the display details.

This meter was designed to simply tally power in both directions. It ~could~ be programmed to provide other functions such as changing the settings on a grid-tied inverter, shutting down a hydro plant when utility parity was reached, etc. Almost anything is possible, given properly written code.

About the actual utility meter: My utility uses Landis & Gyr "Gridstream" smart meters. The one that they put in that was programmed for net metering dutifully counted up about 95 kWh before I had a good stretch of sunny weather. Before this, it had played cat-and-mouse, incrementing and decrementing the value around 100 kWh or so. When the sun came out and I "spun" it backwards to 95 kWh, the display quit displaying a simple single reading and instead began displaying two registers, one of "delivery" (power consumed from the utility) and "received" (power I sent back to the grid). The only way to get a proper calculation of where I was in net metering -vs.- parity was to subtract the received energy from the delivered, ~and~ subtract the 95 kWh that the meter was no longer displaying. This could have lead to a lot of confusion if I hadn't written it down.

Each month that my production exceeded my consumption, my electric utility bill indicated that I had consumed 9990 kWh, for which I was charged $0.00. To add to the confusion, when I began purchasing power last month after the PV energy fell off, the bill reported that I had consumed 45 kWh, but I was billed for $0.42, or 7 kWh, the actual value.

I have had numerous discussions with the utility, trying to get my mind around what it is that they do in the billing department, but my conclusion is that they don't really understand how to make any of this make sense to the net metered customers, they barely understand it themselves.

I can see why a utility might want two meters, it actually would be easier to keep things straight, and to explain what is going on to the customer. Without my custom meter, I wouldn't have a prayer at keeping the values understandable.

I can supply additional interesting information about this and relate a system for controlling a diversion load if anyone is interested.

Judy Merry's picture

Thanks for a gratifying Christmas Story - maybe some common sense in entering net metering.

Mr. Bruce Arkwright, Jr.'s picture

Yes, please, SG#0006, can you tell us more about this 'net' meter. There is only one meter for incoming & outgoing power? Do they charge for two readings? I always thought a two meter set up was a scam from from the beginning....

Frank Heller's picture

What is the make/model of the 'smart' meter? Can it halt the input from your solar panels and how?

Frank Heller's picture

What is the make/model of the microhydro generator and output w/variations? Will the 'smart' meter also control its out put as well?

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