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Electrical Components: Smart Meters, Net Metering, and Data Monitoring – What Do They All Have in Common? Part 2 of 2

In yesterday’s blog post we explored Smart Meters and Net Metering in some detail (check it out, here: https://suntexllc.com/energy-components-electrical-components-smart-meters-net-metering-and-data-monitoring-what-do-they-all-have-in-common/), however today we’ll get to the heart of why any of this should matter to you. Of course, even if you’re not a data scientist, it doesn’t hurt to explore your curiosity in energy consumption to determine how your energy consumption currently looks and ways to improve upon it and ideally, reduce it.

Sometimes you need more energy (for example, during the holidays when you’re cooking a feast and need to power your electric stove a little longer) and you shouldn’t hold yourself hostage to a certain number of kWh per month. However having a good understanding of your energy data can help you improve your bottom line in numerous ways!

Data Monitoring

Now for my favorite piece of the energy management puzzle: Data Monitoring. While the “what is it?” question may be a little more intuitive to answer for data monitoring, there are a few other questions worth exploring here, such as: “Who has access?” and/or “What are they monitoring?” and perhaps most importantly, “How are they using it?”

Let’s explore these questions one-by-one:

Who has access to energy data? 

Data Monitoring

Typically your Retail Energy Provider (REP) needs access to your energy data for the very obvious reason of calculating how much to bill you each month for your energy usage. However, what might be less obvious but no less common, is that your REP will also send your data to the Electric Grid (managed by ERCOT, in Texas – for a very detailed look at the data ERCOT monitors, check out the Hourly Load Data archives here: https://www.ercot.com/gridinfo/load/load_hist), so that they’re able to forecast how much energy will be needed from the grid at any given time.

Ideally, this would also allow them to forecast additional energy needs from the grid during an emergency, however in Texas we know this isn’t always the case, or at least if they’re able to predict it, ERCOT still might not do anything to avoid energy outages (see an in-depth look at this problem in our prior blog post, here: https://suntexllc.com/texas-senate-following-the-bills-where-are-we-now/).

Beyond these two governing bodies, and particularly if you produce renewable energy on your property, it’s likely that your energy is shared with a third party monitor, such as the solar or wind energy company that installed your system. We’ll get into the nuts and volts of why they monitor your data in the paragraphs below, but it is a good practice to set this up as soon as your system is installed so that if there is any issue in energy production, they’re able to see it and fix it before you get your next energy bill.

What are these energy monitors looking for; and how are they using my data?

Data MonitoringWhile we briefly discussed the answer to this question above, it really depends on whom is doing the monitoring. For example, your energy company will use your energy data in order to bill you for the electric service they provide each month, however what if you have 100% solar offset on your bill, and thus your energy bill is $0 (or close to it)?

Even when your energy bill is offset by renewables, your REP still monitors your monthly consumption and production, and in some cases will also still charge a Grid connection or Transmission fee (so that they’re able to pay for services needed to make sure you’re able to remain connected to the grid).

While I don’t love the idea of paying for something I don’t use, it’s certainly helpful in the winter months or during a rainy week to remain connected to the grid since your solar panels won’t likely produce enough electricity on those days to completely offset your usage, and I certainly don’t want to pay for the total cost of running my own transmission lines to the local power plant!

Our energy grid consists of lots of moving parts. These moving parts must coordinate succinctly in order to function properly, and at a very basic level, ensure that there is enough energy production to meet the energy consumption demand in the marketplace. When they’re not failing miserably at this, which in all fairness is a majority of the time, ERCOT monitors your energy data in order to maintain Grid power and avoid grid failures. What does this look like? Check out their website to learn more about exactly what ERCOT does, and how it helps regulate the energy market in Texas:

https://www.ercot.com/services/client_svcs/acctmgmt

This leaves third party monitors. During my time in the solar energy industry, I’ve had the opportunity to see how this is done first hand, and I can safely say that energy monitoring has drastically improved over the years! Irig would imagine at some point in the past 150 years since public electricity was implemented, particularly since this came before computers were invented, there was some log book of energy consumption and energy production that power plants used to regulate energy distribution in their respective service areas.

Since then however, and in just a few short years, with the invention of computers, smart meters, and smart inverters, energy monitoring has gone from excel spreadsheets to master databases with rigorous privacy regulation.

In order to collect your energy data, third party monitors must obtain your permission, however it’s often in your best interest to grant it. I recognize that working for SUNTEX I may have some bias here, so don’t take my word for it, check out the following links to learn more about why sharing your energy data may be beneficial to you:

Of course, if you decide to go off grid with an energy system, generator, and battery storage option, you can avoid sharing your energy data with anyone, even though it will likely still be accessible online for your periodic review. While some energy monitoring devices are more precise than others, you’re typically looking for the following:

  • Annual consumption: how does the energy consumption for my home stack up against other homes of the same size? Could I save money by offsetting some of that consumption with renewable energy sources?
  • Monthly consumption: how does this stack up month-to-month and why? For example, in Texas we use a lot of air-conditioning in the summer months, so it seems likely that energy consumption during these months would be higher.
  • Hourly consumption: particularly if your Retail Energy Provider (REP) uses peak-hour pricing for your electricity bill, you might analyze your hourly consumption in order to determine whether or not you’re using energy in your home most efficiently, or whether this could be improved. For example, check out the Austin Energy electricity fee schedule here (keep in mind that your REP likely has something similar, so be sure to search “[REP name] + peak hours” if you’re curious to see what this looks like in your area): https://austinenergy.com/wcm/connect/1a559c04-2286-4e22-bd16-1cde50aff0ff/COA-RatesAndFees-FY22.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CVID=nPpTOmF.

While we’re always happy to help if you have any questions about this process, or how to analyze the energy usage in your home, we are experts in this particular field! So give us a call for a free energy consultation, and even if you don’t go solar, we’re eager to teach home owners how to read their energy bill and manage their energy consumption. Give us a call today!

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Electrical Components: Smart Meters, Net Metering, and Data Monitoring – What Do They All Have in Common? Part 1 of 2

Smart Meters

With any new purchase undoubtedly comes new vocabulary, and buying a house or upgrading your home to include a solar-panel system certainly fits this rule. For any new homeowners out there, or for our customers whom are trying to learn more about these products, this week we’ve written a brief explanation of some of the electrical components you see in every home, and how to read these devices. Today’s blog will build upon your foundational knowledge of the electric meter (see blog post from earlier this week, here: https://suntexllc.com/energy-components-the-electric-meter/), and why understanding the difference between an analog electric meter and a newer, smart-meter might be important to you in the near future.

Smart Meters

Smart Meters (photo from Geopal.com – click here for more information)

As we’ve mentioned before, a “smart” component implies that it can not only serve it’s main pupose, whatever that may be, but that it also communicates data and information back to another device. For the direct quote, check out our previous blog on smart home components, here: https://suntexllc.com/product-deep-dive-smart-products/): “the term “Smart technology” implies an important distinction – that the appliance or electrical device can be controlled by an app, remotely.”

However understanding what a Smart Electric Meter is capable of is perhaps one of the most critical pieces of information for someone wishing to ‘Go Solar’ in Texas. Of course, for the expert opinion on the matter, we turn to SmartMeterTexas.com: https://www.smartmetertexas.com/home. Because we’ve already discussed what an Electric Meter does in the previous SUNTEX Blog Post mentioned above, I won’t go into too much detail here on what this equipment does (the short story is that Electric Meters measure your electric consumption, or how much energy you use in the home each month).

While this website mostly applies to those living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and thus some of the information will be irrelevant to you if you live elsewhere, there is a very helpful guide on how to read a smart meter, as well as a couple of important things to look out for, namely the ESID (or the Electric Service Identifier) and meter number (check it out here: https://www.smartmetertexas.com/Smart_Meter_Texas_Residential_User_Guide.pdf). Even just perusing the Glossary of Terms on pages 33 and 34 of this user guide will help you better understand what a Smart Meter is and why you might consider asking your Retail Electric Provider about upgrading your Electric Meter today.

If you’re still having trouble understanding the difference between a traditional Electric Meter and a Smart Electric Meter, don’t worry! Our friends at SmartEnergy.com are here to help with that exact quandry – check out the similarities and differences between these two types of meters, here: https://www.smartenergy.com/what-is-a-smart-meter/ (long story short, according to the article: “They [smart meters] provide up-to-date information and can do many things remotely that required numerous employees to handle in the past”).

Net Metering

Now that we’re experts on Smart Meters, we can move on to the most important question in today’s blog post: why should we even care about Smart Meters?!

If you kept reading beyond the chart within the SmartEnergy.com article, you already know at least part of this answer, for example:

“Shorter interims between energy readings allow you to see how much power you’re using at what time of day and where you’re using it,” AND, “All of the data is collected and analyzed by the provider in order to better understand usage patterns and how to better service their customers” (https://www.smartenergy.com/what-is-a-smart-meter/).

One of the largest advantages to having a Smart Meter however, is Net Metering. What is Net Metering and how does it work? For that question, we turn to our trusty source SEIA.org, who had this to say about it:

“Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a PV system on their roof, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods when the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output. Customers are only billed for their “net” energy use” (https://www.seia.org/initiatives/net-metering).

Basically, net metering is what allows people to ‘Go Solar’ since they’re able to produce energy during the day when the sun is shining on their panels, even though most of their energy consumption will likely happen at night (think lights, cooking dinner, AC/heat, and the numerous fans you have blowing while you sleep) when the sun is not shining and solar panels are not producing energy for your home. If your retail energy provider does not have a net-metering policy (or a Value-of-Solar policy that is similar to net metering), then solar may not be able to save you money in the long run. See the diagram below for a visual representation of how net metering really works:

What is Net Metering and How Does It Work?

Net Metering (photo from Solaflect.com – click here for more information)

Even if your home doesn’t have solar, net metering policies can help you determine when “peak hours” of energy usage exist and how to mitigate your energy use during those times and reduce your monthly bill. You might also want to review your baseline energy usage to see if there are appliances in your home that are consuming large amount of energy, and explore options for getting more efficient products.

While it’s not typically something you need to look at on a daily basis, it might not hurt to do some analysis and familiarize yourself with your typical energy cycle (especially on an annual basis, since this varies seasonally), since you might just be able to tell whether or not an appliance is broken and is consuming more energy than usual, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars in addressing the problem early!

Do you have energy insights you’d like to share? Add them in the comments below!

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Energy Components: Electrical Wiring

Electrical Wiring

Electrical Wiring (photo from Roman Electric Home – click here for more information)

I have been working towards getting my electricians license for years now, and while it’s a potentially a more lucrative position than getting a four-year degree and then starting to work, it is by no means an easy feat.

Electrical Wiring

Electrical Wiring (photo from GetBuilding.com – click here for more information)

You need two years of schooling to begin. Then, you can begin working as an apprentice electrician. After a couple years, and a few thousand hours logged in your work log, you can take a test and apply for your journeyman’s license, typically making a few more dollars per hour on each job. After a couple more years working as a journeyman (and a few more thousand hours), you can take your electrician’s license; subsequently (a couple more years working with an expert and logging a few more thousand hours…) you can take your Master Electrician’s license test.

For most people this test, as well as the entire process of obtaining a Master Electrician’s license, might take a few tries – even after having worked in the industry for eight+ years (minimum) already! However once you achieve this accolade, you are finally ready to work on your own, and since in many cases you’ll be handling dangerous equipment that could literally kill you, I guess it’s a good thing that you studied and practiced for so long before you set out to do the work on your own!

All that said, I am not yet a Master electrician (and when you come across one, you should definitely give due respect given what you now know about the process they took to get there), however I’d like to share with you what the professionals have to say about the wiring equipment used in solar panel installations; today’s focus: Wiring.

While any type of electrical wiring may seem daunting, and it certainly can be if you decide to DIY this component, when you’re working with a professional it becomes much easier. I’ve worked with electricians in solar panel installations for years, and with just a little bit of communication and creative problem solving, you can hide the necessary wiring components behind the walls, or within PVC or metal piping, while ensuring your project will have all of the wiring components connected efficiently.

Because I’m not the resident expert on electrical wiring of solar systems, or even simple appliances, I’d like to share with you a few links from the subject-matter-experts (SME’s) on the topic (click on the links below, or the images within this post to learn more also):

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Energy Components: The Main Panel and Breaker Boxes

How many times have you heard that when your power goes out you just need to “flip the switch in the main panel”? Likely you’ve never heard this before, since most people refer to these as “breaker boxes.” So what’s the difference?

What is a main panel?

Electrical Breaker Box

Typical Home Breaker Box (photo from The Prepper Journal – click here for more information)

Check out the picture to the right to get an idea – it’s likely something you’ve seen every single day without even really noticing it. I have many friends who vowed to hire electricians for everything when they moved into their first home, and in all honesty, this is not a terrible idea. Of course, there are a few things that you can DIY and hopefully this blog post will help you learn a little bit about how to do just that, or at least where to look as you get started.

How can we tell the difference between the main panel, and a sub panel? Take a look at the following link for a helpful explanation of the similarities and differences between the two electrical components: https://www.livewireelectricalcharlotte.com/2020/01/main-panel-vs-sub-panel-whats-the-difference/.

What is a Breaker Box?

This is another electrical component you’ve likely seen a million times before, but perhaps you never paid much attention to it before. Take a look at the photos within this post as examples – they’re often found within your garage, or laundry room, or outside of your home on the wall of the first floor – ideally somewhere that will stay dry even when it rains.

What do Breaker Boxes do? To learn more about the purpose they serve and how to read them, check out the following links:

Another good source of information I came across while doing research for this blog was familyhandyman.com – check out the following link to learn more about breaker boxes, also known as circuit boxes, and how to connect/disconnect them safely: https://www.familyhandyman.com/project/breaker-box-safety-how-to-connect-a-new-circuit/.

Please, please keep in mind that if you plan to look into these items in your home, especially if you decide to make changes or turn on/off your breaker box, that you do so safely! I would definitely recommend reading through the links provided above, as well as consulting YouTube, before attempting anything yourself, since the consequences for not doing so could be dire!

Main Panel vs. Sub Panel

Example Breaker Box (photo from LiveWire – click on the photo for more information)

The good news is that once you know what you’re looking at and what you’re looking for, you won’t have to hire a Master Electrician for every little thing in your home, and of course electrical project sizes and complexity vary greatly.

For example, almost every time there is a storm in my neighborhood, our outdoor plug trips, and the pump I use to circulate and clean the water in my pond stops working. Initially, I thought it had broken and was not looking forward to the large bill I anticipated to get it fixed. After consulting the expert however (aka my dad), he recommended that I look for the outdoor switch and simply “reset the breaker.”

I told him he had once again started speaking in a different language, and that I would have to pray for the survival of my goldfish until he returned to help me out. He laughed for a whole minute before finally explaining to me how to do this, and now, after doing adequate research and a little bit of *safe* testing, I’m the expert! Every time there is a storm and the pump stops working, I simply go into the garage and reset the switch to the outdoor plug, and my fish once again have circulating water.

Check out the following resources to see these processes for yourself:

As always, be sure to consult the professionals when needed! This week’s blog posts should really include Tim the Toolman’s “Don’t try this at home!” disclaimer, and one that should be strictly followed! However there are a few things you should also know as a home owner, that could save you hundreds of dollars in avoidable fees – just make sure you feel completely comfortable before making any changes.

There is no shame in calling an electrician, especially if you want to avoid “electrocuted himself” as the cause of death at your funeral. Just be safe, read and watch videos ahead of time, and if you don’t feel comfortable with what you’ve learned, consult the experts for help! At SUNTEX we have plenty of Electricians and contacts in the field, so reach out to us today if you have an electrical project in mind!

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Energy Components: The Electric Meter

Electric MeterHow many of my readers could turn off the electricity to your home, without looking it up first on what a former colleague of mine would refer to as, “the Julliard school of YouTube”? How many of you would feel confident doing it after looking it up?

When we bought our first home, my husband and I did two really important and likely very annoying things: 1) we asked the inspector about 1,000 questions about the power, wiring, and electrical systems in the home, which he gladly pointed out to us. The second important thing we did, and were grateful to have access to, was ask our parents to help us learn a little more about these systems, and what we might need to do to care for them.

To this day, I regret not having taken a home-economics class in high school, because I would imagine home maintenance is covered as at least part of that course, and it’s safe to say we were complete novices when we moved in!

So to help my fellow home owners, or anyone that might be curious about home-ownership in the future, this week we’ll discuss the electrical components of your home, starting today with the Electric Meter.

There are a couple of important components within every home that measure energy consumption, and/or allow you to power your light-switches and electrical components: the Electricity Meter, and the Breaker Box. If you know how these work then you’re ahead of the game, but for a quick refresher on Electric Meters or how to read them, please check out the following link, as well as the photos below: https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Electric_meter .

Now that you know what it is, let’s take a look at how to read an Electric Meter (check out the link above for guidance, but I’ve pasted the main steps below):

“Steps

  1. Start at the far right dial. Record the digit that the dial is on, or if it is between two digits record the smaller of the two.
  2. Now read the dial to its left, again recording the smaller of the two if it is between two digits.
  3. Continue until the far left dial is recorded, then read the recorded number normally.”

Electric Meters vs Smart Meters This is the same process your energy company rep will take in reading your meter, so it’s a good practice to compare your readings to what you’re seeing on your monthly bill from time to time, just to make sure you’re on the same page about the amount of energy you’re consuming.

Sometimes your electric meter will look differently in the one featured above. No worries there! It may be that your meter is newer, or older, or simply a different model all together. Take a look at the following link to learn a little more about these electric meters, how to read them, and how to determine whether or not an upgraded might be needed in your home: https://www.citizensutilityboard.org/five-things-need-know-new-electric-meter/.

We will build on this foundational knowledge to discuss Smart Meters, Net Meters, and Data Monitoring in subsequent Blog posts this week– you won’t want to miss out!

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