Why is my electric bill still high?

High Bills After Going Solar

Why do we still have high electric bills after going solar?  That’s something a lot of people in this region are asking lately.  Most of us are simply using a lot more energy than we did before. In addition to staying home due to the COVID Pandemic, the summer months are also a time when we tend to use a lot more energy.

This energy need is rarely covered entirely by the solar energy your system produces during these hotter months. How your solar works and how Net Energy Metering (NEM) works are both something that was probably addressed during the initial visit with your solar energy consultant. If you don’t remember all those details, here is a recap of some of them so you can understand why your bill could still be high especially, during the summer months.

The solar panels that are installed on your roof, carport, ground mount or other mounting plane, turn the sun’s energy into power you can use in your home. No matter how big or how small your system is, that solar energy hitting your panels is constant. What your solar energy system actually produces for you is based on the technology you have. This is everything from how many watts each panel produces, their efficiency in hot and cold temperatures, as well as the efficiency of the inverters in your system which, converts the DC power that your panels produce into the AC power you use in your home.

All of this is additionally modified by the direction and pitch of your panels, how sunny it is and the time of the year, and the length of the days. The shorter the days (Winter for instance) the less power is generated. The longer and still cool (eg the Spring) the more power you produce.

During the summer months and especially after the Summer Solstice (around June 21st), the days start to get shorter but the summer heat lingers. Shortening days mean progressively less energy produced due to less daylight. Also, summer heat lingers, which decreases the efficiency of most panels.

More Heat Means More Electricity Use

When it gets hot, we run our refrigerated air conditioners more.   As the summer months roll on in our desert climate, we stay indoors more often and turn those thermostats down in an attempt to stay comfortable.   The more we use the AC, the more electricity we use.    But if we have solar, shouldn’t our production cover our higher summer demand?  Not quite.   How we produce and use energy is never the same.   Nor does it ever seem to be in sync.    We produce it during the day and still need it at night when the sun is no longer shining.  Sometimes it’s sunny and sometimes, although not often, it’s cloudy.    This is why it is great to have Net Energy Metering (NEM).

NEM Explained

Net Energy Metering (NEM) is the method used by the electric utility to credit solar energy producers for the energy their systems produce but have not used during the day.  Your system produces energy which flows into your house and is usually not entirely consumed.   What is left over needs to go somewhere and that is either into a battery or energy storage system (ESS) or out into the electric grid.  The grid is owned and maintained by the electric utility which, in our case is El Paso Electric (EPE).   That energy is distributed among the energy users nearest to your home, your neighbors.

In trade for using this energy, the electric utility applies a credit for your unused energy against the energy you use at night.  This process happens every day and essentially, you never pay for electricity unless you end up using more than you produce.

The True Up

What most utilities do is keep track of that excess energy and roll your credits from one month until the next.   This is a lot like the rollover minutes you get on your mobile phone plan.  As long as you are producing more than you use, those credits keep accruing and covering any shortfall you might have in the following months.

At the end of the year, the electric utility will balance your account and either buy that excess credited energy from you or charge you for the shortfall.

Most electric utilities that honor NEM perform this “True Up”  once a year.   El Paso Electric does it once a month.  EPE cashes you out at the end of the month and you start anew the following month.  This means that you are starting from scratch that next month and if it’s summer, you are almost certain to have an electric bill you will need to pay for your energy shortfall.

If you have ever looked at your electric bill after going solar, this can get a little confusing at times.  So don’t be afraid to contact your solar consultant and ask for him/her to explain your bill to you again.

COVID and your electric bill

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have found ourselves working from home.  The kids have been home from school longer than usual and everyone is using more electricity.  Anyone who has kids that stay home from school during the summer knows what this is like.   COVID just has multiplied that energy impact.  Read our past post, COVID-19 and Your Electric Bill: What’s the connection?  There are also more articles on the web on similar topics such as Pandemic Electric Bills Are Searing Hot as Families Stay Home…

If you have solar, you already realize it saves you money and the planet all at the same time. Going solar feels good on all fronts. With that said, how do we manage our costs and our still high electric bills?  You keep track of it!

Knowledge really is power

The more you know, the better you can be about meeting your energy needs.   If you know how much money you have in the bank and how much income you receive, you can plan for what you are able to spend.   Your energy is the same.  If you know how much you are producing and know how much you are using, you can better plan where you need to make changes to conserve more or what you will still have to pay for.

The main tool for managing your energy production and consumption is system monitoring. It combines hardware and software that is installed with your solar system and monitors not only the energy your panels produce but also the energy you are using in your home. Knowing when you are using more will help you track down appliances that might be going bad such as the compressor in your refrigerator or your HVAC system. Usually when something is going out, it draws more power. You can also see what times of the day you are using the most energy.

Most solar energy systems come with some kind of energy monitoring.  Not all of them however, come with consumption monitoring which, tracks the energy you use in your home. You usually have to pay extra for this but the knowledge you gain from being more aware about how you use energy is worth it.

In a recent blog article, we talked about how to understand the info displayed by our Solaredge Monitoring app. You really can learn a lot from it. Monitoring can give you a great point of reference for a discussion with your energy consultant at your installation anniversary. How has your system been performing?  How am I using that energy?  What can I change or improved?  Your monitoring can also alert you to when something is not working the way it should.

Case Study

Recently, I spoke with one of our customers about his high summer bill.  He wanted help determining if the high electric bill he received from EPE was correct.  Up until now, he has had a pretty low bill after going solar.

Using his energy consumption and production numbers from his monitoring app, we were able to validate his bill and set his mind at ease.  He really did use more electricity in the previous month.  In advance, I would like to thank him for allowing me to share this information.

In the above bill excerpt you can see that EPE charged the customer for 1203 kWh of electricity during this billing cycle and his bill was $138.31.   He and his wife thought the amount was much higher than what they had been paying for prior.  What we did next was look at the information in their Solaredge Monitoring App.

We opened up the app and changed the reporting dates to match as closely the dates as displayed on their electric bill.  From the resulting information, we could see how much energy their system used which, was 2.24 MWh (megawatt hours) –the equivalent of 2240 kilowatt hours.  Kilowatt Hours is the measurement the electric utilities use to calculate how we pay for power.  1 kilowatt hour is the equivalent of 1000 watts used over an hour. His system produced 1.08 MWh which is 1080 kilowatt hours. Let’s look at those numbers.

Energy Produced 1080 kWh
Energy Consumed 2240 kWh
Difference -1160 kWh

The customer’s electric bill was for 1208 kWh which is pretty darn close to what the monitoring illustrated (1160 kWh).  The variation is usually based on the difference in the dates or an overlap of production or consumption amounts from one day to the next.  Bottom line?  He used more energy than he produced and this is why he had a high bill from electric bill.

What it would have looked like he not gone solar

The real eye-opener is that if he did not have solar on his house, instead of paying EPE $138.31 for 1208 kWh of energy, he would have paid for the full 2240 kWh of energy he used which would have been $255.36.  

You can bet, he is glad he has solar.  Let us know what you think about that!

If you forgot to add consumption monitoring to your system

If you had production monitoring installed with your solar energy system but did not get monitoring for your consumption, it is never too late to add it.  Visit our online store and add it to your system.   You can get $80 off the price when you enter the coupon code:  HotSummer.  If you are unsure if you added it or not, just contact  us.  We would be glad to help you.

About the author
Alan Morgan

Alan is a solar and sustainable energy advocate. He has served the renewables industry for over 5 years for companies such as Solar City and Tesla and now acts as the Director of Business and Market Development for Solar Smart Living.