Net metering vs. Net billing explained

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Net metering vs. Net billing.

In a perfect world, your home's solar system would precisely meet your electricity demands – nothing more and nothing less. In reality, there will be days when your panels produce more electricity than you use (sunny summer days) and days when they won't produce enough (shorter, cloudier days and nights). When this happens, net metering and net billing allow you to use the grid as storage, exchanging credit on your bill for the excess energy your panels transfer to the grid. When your solar system can't meet your energy needs, and you need to pull electricity from the grid, you can use these credits to compensate.

This article explains the difference between net metering and net billing compensation structures, different types of net metering and net billing, and where these programs are being offered nationwide.

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Key takeaways

  • Net metering and net billing programs use overproduced electricity from home solar systems by transferring the excess energy to the grid. You receive credits for this energy you send to the grid in exchange.

  • Net metering transactions are usually one-to-one, so the credits are often equal to the retail rate of electricity (aka what you pay).

  • Net billing credits are often equal to the wholesale rate of electricity (aka what your utility pays), which is less than the retail rate.

  • Utilities tend to oppose net metering programs, so alternative compensation programs are becoming increasingly popular.

  • Incentive and compensation programs like net metering and net billing increase the value of solar panel systems – use the EnergySage Marketplace to browse local installers and compare quotes today!

While similar, net metering and net billing are not synonymous. Both programs compensate solar owners for transferring electricity to the grid when their panels overproduce, but the difference lies in how participants are compensated. Generally, net metering credits equal the retail electricity rate (what you, as a utility customer, pay for electricity). In contrast, net billing credits equal the wholesale rate (what your utility company pays for electricity).

Net metering

You receive bill credits with net metering, but it's not usually a monetary exchange. Instead, the credits you gain from net metering are "banked" and used when you need to pull electricity from the grid on a cloudy day. Net metering credits can be rolled over monthly and are usually a one-to-one exchange; your solar panels' kilowatt-hour (kWh) is worth the same as a grid-produced kWh. This simplifies your energy bill as you're only billed for your net energy use, or your energy consumption minus your energy production.

Net metering programs are an excellent way for solar owners to "store" the energy their solar panels produce. The one-to-one model of net metering makes home solar systems more valuable. However, utility companies argue that because retail prices reflect business expenses in addition to the value of electricity, net metering credits are equal to more than the value of electricity and delivery.

Net billing

Instead of "banking" the credits earned from the excess energy generated by your solar panels, net billing programs enable you to "sell" that energy to the utility, typically at the wholesale rate. Net billing is a monetary exchange in which the energy generated by your home solar system is treated like that of a large-scale solar project. However, your compensation rate will typically be lower with net billing than with net metering.

Net metering and billing policies vary from state to state and utility to utility. Different types of net metering and billing programs have developed as the renewables industry has grown and matured.

Retail net metering

Retail net metering is the classic model in which participants receive bill credits for the energy their solar panels produce at the retail electricity rate. Generally, this increases the value of home solar systems but results in less revenue for utility companies. Retail rates often include more than just energy costs; utility staff, maintenance, and other expenses are typically covered at least in part by revenue generated by retail supply. So, many utility companies are pushing to shift net metering policies to compensate solar energy system owners at rates far below the retail rate.

Virtual net metering

Virtual net metering benefits those participating in shared renewable energy projects, like community solar. It offers the same compensation as net metering but doesn't require the solar system to be physically located on the participants' properties. Community solar subscribers, for example, are typically allotted a portion of a large-scale solar array. When their portion of the array produces more energy than their home consumes, they'll receive the same credit through virtual net metering if those panels were installed on their roof.


Unlike most retail net metering programs, avoided-cost bill credits don't translate to a one-to-one compensation setup. Instead, participants receive credits equal to the price of the utility saved by not having to provide electricity to their homes. Since the transaction is monetary and not a one-to-one exchange, avoided-cost rates can be classified as net billing rather than net metering.

In addition to the energy savings you receive from producing your electricity with a home solar panel system, net metering, and net billing boost the savings potential for solar panels. Instead of "losing" the excess electricity your system produces on a sunny day, you can "store" that energy and use it when you need it on, say, a cloudy day or at night. The one-to-one exchange of net metering usually translates to lower electricity bills, a shorter payback period, and a more favorable return on investment.

Net billing can also contribute to a shorter payback period and boost overall savings, but it's less valuable for solar owners than net metering. To maximize your savings regardless of your local compensation program, you can always adjust your consumption habits and consider installing a solar battery to store your excess energy instead of relying on your utility.

Utilities tend to push back on net metering programs, and state and local policies change frequently. As previously mentioned, policies for these compensation structures vary from state to state and from utility to utility. For example, Idaho and Texas don't mandate net metering, but some utilities still offer it. To understand the available programs based on your location and utility, it's best to consult a trusted installer in your area.

Solar compensation programs by state

AlabamaNo compensation
AlaskaNet metering
ArizonaNet billing
ArkansasNet metering
CaliforniaTransitioning to net billing – learn more
ColoradoNet metering
ConnecticutNet metering
DelawareNet metering
FloridaNet metering
GeorgiaOnly Georgia Power is required to offer net metering until it reaches a certain capacity
HawaiiNet billing
IdahoNet metering isn’t required, but some utilities offer it
IllinoisTransitioning to net billing
IndianaNet billing
IowaNet metering
KansasNet metering
KentuckyNet billing
LouisianaNet metering until the cap is met
MaineNet metering
MarylandNet metering
MassachusettsNet metering – learn more
MichiganNet billing
MinnesotaNet metering
MississippiNet billing
MissouriNet metering
MontanaNet metering
NebraskaNet metering
NevadaNet metering
New HampshireNet metering
New JerseyNet metering
New MexicoNet metering
New YorkNet billing – learn more
North CarolinaNet metering
North DakotaNet metering
OhioNet metering
OklahomaNet metering
OregonNet metering
PennsylvaniaNet metering
Rhode IslandNet metering
South CarolinaNet metering
South DakotaNo compensation
TennesseeNo compensation
TexasNet metering isn’t required, but some utilities offer it
UtahNet billing
VermontNet metering
VirginiaNet metering
WashingtonNet metering
Washington D.C.Net metering
West VirginiaNet metering
WisconsinNet metering
WyomingNet metering

Solar energy is a long-lasting, cost-cutting, emission-free electricity solution that continues to evolve to meet the needs of ratepayers and the natural environment. With incentives and compensation programs like net metering in place across the country, an investment in solar is even more valuable. The EnergySage Marketplace provides qualified quote comparisons from local installers to help you find a solar system that fits your energy and budget needs. Sign up to receive free quotes from qualified, pre-vetted installers so you can start going solar today!

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