Electricity Meter Going Backwards? – A Need for Clear Guidance From PV Installers

Listen to me talking to Winifred Robinson on Radio 4’s You & Yours about this issue, here.

Curiously, ever since I blogged about my confusion regarding my electricity usage meter running backwards following a solar PV installation, I’ve received 1000s ‘search term’ hits to my website on this very subject.  It seems like there is quite a lot of confusion out there – not just me then!

To be clear, backward running meters only occur if you have an older, analogue style meter, like the one shown below, coupled with a PV system.  In this case, every KwH of generated solar PV will be registered, consumed locally or not,  through the electricity usage meter literally running backwards. If you generate more than you use (a possibility in summer months), over an extended period you could find yourself with a meter reading that is lower than your last meter reading. This is clearly not what is supposed to happen.  Your usage meter should only register the amount of local generated power you use by not turning at all if your generated power meets your needs, and turning more slowly if it partially meets your need and hence your demand on the grid is lowered.

So far I have only come across one other person with an analogue meter plus PV, but she too had no idea that there was anything wrong, and certainly was not told by her PV installer (a different company to mine) that this would need to be changed.  She has just celebrated her first anniversary of PV ownership, and hence a year of very low electricity bills too!

I find it quite astonishing, and not a little remiss, that the installers are not making this situation clear to customers. Is it not part of the basic PV installer training to warn people that this will be the case with analogue style meters, and that they will need to inform their energy company that they will require an upgrade?

I’m also not clear where liability lies in this situation?  When you register your PV system with your FiT payment supplier (which does not need to be your energy suppler BTW) you do state what meter you have, but in my experience, and that of the other analogue meter/PV owner, nothing comes of this.  There does not seem to be a recognition within the FiT payment suppller that this is an issue.  Which is curious given that they will potentially be losing out on revenue if they supply your power too.

So, take the situation of a PV owner running an analogue meter for years before their energy supplier twigs. Will the householder be liable for paying back the actual amount of electricity they have used from the grid but not paid for?  Apart from the issues surrounding the estimating of exactly how much is owed, on which side is the onus to ensure the meter is changed to a digital ‘backstop’ electricity meter promptly?

If the householder is not informed that it is a problem at the commissioning stage, and doesn’t really understand what is happening (I only realised there might be an issue because through the summer I was generating more than I was using, so had a negative meter reading situation) is it their responsibility, are they legally liable?  Or is it the responsibility of the FiT payment suppler to check the meter type? But if the FiT payment supplier is not the energy supplier, then there is no incentive there either?

145 comments… add one
  • Richard Ball June 1, 2013, 1:56 pm

    I've attached below an extract from the Energy Saving Trust website which I assume is definitive, accurate and up-to-date but I can't be certain because the EST is a Quango. The clause about Export Tariff is relevant. If you are eligible to receive FITs you will benefit in three ways: Generation tariff: your energy supplier will pay you a set rate for each unit (or kWh) of electricity you generate. Once your system has been registered, the tariff levels are guaranteed for the period of the tariff (up to 20 years) and are index-linked. Export tariff: you will get a further 4.64p/kWh from your energy supplier for each unit you export back to the electricity grid, so you can sell any electricity you generate but don't use yourself. This rate is the same for all technologies. At some stage smart meters will be installed to measure what you export, but until then it is estimated as being 50% of the electricity you generate (only systems above 30kWp need to have an export meter fitted, and a domestic system is unlikely to be that big). Energy bill savings: you will be making savings on your electricity bills because generating electricity to power your appliances means you don’t have to buy as much electricity from your energy supplier. The amount you save will vary depending how much of the electricity you use on site.  

    Reply
  • Richard Ball June 1, 2013, 1:59 pm

    The two pras below are from the Energy Saving Trust website and should be up-to-date definitive and accurate however the EST is a Quango so I could be wrong.

     

    Richard

     

    f you are eligible to receive FITs you will benefit in three ways:

    Generation tariff: your energy supplier will pay you a set rate for each unit (or kWh) of electricity you generate. Once your system has been registered, the tariff levels are guaranteed for the period of the tariff (up to 20 years) and are index-linked.

    Export tariff: you will get a further 4.64p/kWh from your energy supplier for each unit you export back to the electricity grid, so you can sell any electricity you generate but don't use yourself. This rate is the same for all technologies. At some stage smart meters will be installed to measure what you export, but until then it is estimated as being 50% of the electricity you generate (only systems above 30kWp need to have an export meter fitted, and a domestic system is unlikely to be that big).

    Energy bill savings: you will be making savings on your electricity bills because generating electricity to power your appliances means you don’t have to buy as much electricity from your energy supplier. The amount you save will vary depending how much of the electricity you use on site.

     

    Reply
  • matt h June 10, 2013, 8:13 pm

    When a PV system is commissioned a G83 form is sent by the installer to the DNO ( the DNO owns incoming supply meter and all of the grid infrastructure) and they are aware of their own make and model of meter fitted at the property, there is a question on the form which asks 'does meter need replacing' and the installer ticks the box. By law the installer has 28 days after commissioning to submit this form, after submission it is up to the DNO to replace any incompatible meter, and until they do it is there loss. Ultimately if you have used a reputable installation company then they will have filled out the correct paperwork within the rules laid out by MCS, and you dont need to worry, just enjoy your double bubble.

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  • Mac August 21, 2013, 1:33 pm

    My experience of British Gas is as follows.

    I saw my meter going backwards quite by accident and informed British Gas metering in May, shortly after my solar PV install. They agreed to replace the meter free of charge, but not until the end of August.  However they offered no solution to how I should be billed in the interim.  Eventually they accepted that they could not estimate my usage, so agreed to use the last known 'good' meter reading I'd taken in April, effectively giving me free electricity for 4 months.

    Even better, they missed their appointment in August to change the meter, so I got £22 compensation, and re-scheduled the meter change for end of October.  I'm just waiting to hear back from a manager to confirm I'm going to get another 2 months free electricity.  

    My view on all this is that it is the supplier's equipment therefore their responsibility.  I have acted promptly and in good faith throughout.  Further, there is no way of them accurately knowing what proportion of electricity I have generated vs. imported therefore I'm going to refuse any estimate they may come up with, even if it ends up with the Ombudsman.

     

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  • Debbie August 29, 2013, 8:59 am

    I had my pv installed 20 August. The installers said that I might see meter going backwards but not to worry about it. I had two web chats with edf who just said that they would note it. I still did not think that was correct and when I spoke to a human being I was told that I needed a new meter installed as I was breaking the law. I have it arranged for thurs 12 sept. at first edf said that it would be between 8-1 and hen I said I would be out half hour while taking children to school I was I informed that should they arrive in that half hour the would force entry to change meter as meter belonged to them eventually after complaining to customer services about attitude I now have a two hour time slot. All they were interested in was repeating telling me that I was breaking the law. I voluntary contacted them within 2 days of installation which I think is very good. I keep hearing of People not even contacting the energy supplier or not doing anything for years. I just wanted it sorted and not be charged back dated bills.

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  • penman September 7, 2013, 11:44 am

    I believe Debbie (see above) is squeaky clean both legally and morally and EDF are being heavy-handed in suggesting that she may be breaking the law.  I think the onus is on them to ensure that her consumption is being measured and billed correctly.  The MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) lays out a procedure to standardise all aspects of PV installations, including technology, safety and documentation.  This is complicated stuff though and I don't think the end customer has any responsibility to understand it or even to know of its existence.  Many people never look at their electricity meter and I don't believe they are required to.  This is all speculation though.  What we still lack is any clear guidance as to what the law requires.  Certainly the end user does not own the meter and is not told who in the generation/distribution/billing arena does own it.  My belief is that the billing provider has every opportunity to ensure that the metering it fit for purpose, all necessary information is available to them and if they are relying on readings from an electro mechanical meter, the ball is in their court.  I doubt if the customer has any legal responsibility to inform the billing provider of the type of meter fitted, this is the kind of thing which the MCS procedure is for.  Again though, this is just my take on it, we lack clear guidance.

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  • James Guy October 7, 2013, 1:35 pm

    WATTLESS Metering has been in use for about 60 to 70 years. What is everybody's problem ??.

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  • NJS2 October 9, 2013, 3:23 pm

    I think the issue is the deemed export. If you always use more than you generate, then you benefit from electricity savings and 50% export. If you use less than you generate at times the meter could go backwards, which gives you the same benefit. By fitting a backstop meter, then people who use less electricity at home are being penalised over those who use all their generation on site. The only fair solution would be compulsory export metering, but this is just too costly at present.

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  • anon November 4, 2013, 1:07 pm

    My 4kW PV array was fitted in Feb and it was such a poor day the installer couldnt tell if my meter went backwards so noted ' Not that I can tell' on the form.

    Since then I have seen it race backwards and at first this was a bit of a giggle.

    Im with NPower and was using their meter reading app on my phone, however I realised after logging into the website that none of my readings had gone to my account, so I gave up submitting readings. 

    So now I am some 9 months on, never had a bill (even though Npower have taken a reading since) and about £1200 in credit with NPower. I assume the lack of billing is due to lack of meter readings. Mind you I have never been billed for gas either…

    They are next scheduled to read the meter in December (according to my account) so I have bought the wife a tumble dryer and am using a halogen heater in the lounge in the evenings to try and get my meter back into the positive so NPower dont twig whats going on – only 200 units to go and IM in the clear.

    Morrally this is bad I know, but it will all be sorted when they fit Smart meters so Im looking forward to minimal electric bills until then.

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  • Tony November 13, 2013, 7:07 pm

    I have just had a phone call from First Utility wanting to change my digital meter because it can't tell the difference between positive and negative  which means when I am putting back into the grid the meter is charging me. Who is at fault and how do I get my money back? I have asked the solar panel company to give me what has gone back to the grid so that I can quantify a cost.

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    • Paula November 14, 2013, 9:22 am

      hi Tony

      I sympathise, I have heard of this happening before, but only rarely.  The problem is with asking your solar company to give you an idea of how much you exported will be impossible unless they fitted an export meter – something that is not common for domestic installations as they are generally too small to warrant an export meter.  I guess you can try to lay the blame at the energy company’s door if you explicitly told them you have a PV installation (are they your FiT provider too by chance? Then they would have automatically been informed) and maybe flagged up the meter.

      Good luck, I’d be interested to hear how you get on with this, as I’m sure your situation isn’t as rare as it may seem.  i beleive there may be issues with Smart Meter integration with PV installions too.

      Paula

      Reply
  • Marilyn November 30, 2013, 11:37 am

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked
    submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

    Reply
  • bert February 16, 2014, 9:48 am

    I have had a few pv systems installed.they r no regs regarding meters going backwards.thr elec company is told u have pv and they know what meter you have but don’t have the people to check this.you are not responsible for beening back charged for this.how ever to be real.they r going to notice after a month of sunshine.so in shirt the odds of it not beening noticed after 2 say 3 months meter reads is remote.they cannot charge you or estimate your bill.when the meter goes backwards.they use this system in some states in usa.thats why they have smaller systems.no fit there.so people dont want to give back to the grid for free.they use meters which go backwards

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  • Chris Reardon March 6, 2014, 11:20 pm

    Hi. i had my solar system 3k installed in 2007. I remember the installer gleefully tellig me to look at the analogue meter as it turned backwards as the sun shone, when I wasn't using all of the produced electricity from my panels.I registered for my FIT's and, after months of trying to get the forms right, and dealing with helplines that seem to make the situation even more un-understandable, I started receiving payments. My payments are actually quite low, but I was happy to be getting a bit for what I produced. I have had VERY VERY low electricity bills since the panels were installed, so the FIT payments were just the icing on the cake..I thought all this reversing of the analogue meter was just normal. Then I made a fatal error of changing suppliers to save money – to NPOWER. Within 6 months with them they wanted to come and change the meter to a digital one..  This they have just now done (November 2013) and, gues what, my bills have doubled. I rang them, and they told me to have the old analogue turning back was ILLEGAL and it must have had a fault on it. This was completly unknown to me. I enquired about an export meter and they said they didn;t do them for systems as small as mine.I'm very disappointed now that I am "losing" the extra electricity I am making. All they suggested was doing my high energy things (washing machine, dishwasher, cooking) when the sun is out.

    Thanks for you site.

    Chris.

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  • Jepson Dichaves May 8, 2014, 11:17 am

    Hi,

    My analogue electric meter is turning backward after installation of 4.4Kw PV system here in Manila, Philippine. But I don't notice the reading is decreasing. Do all analogue meter reading will reduce bec of excess PV electricity production?

    pls enlighten me on this issue. 

     

    Thanks

     

    Jepson

    Reply
  • Chris May 13, 2014, 8:19 pm

    Found this blog whilst looking for answers on this subject. I was suprised their was not more out there on this subject TBH. We are in same boat as u guys, didn't realise it was a possible issue until we changed suppliers and second reading wa lower Han the first. They have since contacted us to say they intend to change our old meter

    So my question to the floor is this:

    Do we have to get rid of our old meter? We are happy to have a new one installed and to have also readings from, but want to keep the old one as a guide on how efficient our solar pannels are running. On a sunny day the wheel dial runs backwards superfast! And we like to have this (can't explain quite why). I've looked at legislation I can find and seems the electric board own our meter… But does that mean they have power to remove and disconnect our old one as well… I imagine the answer is yes, but thought I would throw it out there…. They are coming in 15 days so answers on a post card before then please 😀

    Chris

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  • be May 14, 2014, 12:03 pm

    I had my solar installed, and then my electric meter began going back. Last year reading is less than this year.  so the company N power sent a letter to ask for the correct reading, for which I have no answer.  I am bit at loss if they change my meter to digital which has lock to anti revind.

    dont know what to do

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  • Jenny July 1, 2014, 5:57 pm

    I've just had free solar panels installed and didn't think the meter going backwards was a problem until I tried to input a meter reading online.  I'm currently with Scottish power but with the potential saving from the panels wanted to change to a different supplier who charges a lower standing charge. I've emailed Scottish Power so I'll let you know the outcome.

    Reply

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