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Utility Interactive Inverter Safety

Joe Schwartz

Take a look at today’s market for utility interactive (UI) renewable energy systems. In the U.S. alone, utility

interactive inverters capable of safely placing clean, independently-produced electricity onto your local utility grid are being sold and installed by the thousands. The grid intertied RE market is booming as Americans spend big money on state of the art equipment. In most cases, people are doing so without any hope that their system will ever provide a monetary payback. What’s their motivation?

For one thing, they want a cleaner environment and they are willing to pay for it. And with the addition of batteries, a UI system takes on a greatly expanded role as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for both residences and businesses. Homeowners now have the ability to back up critical household loads like well pumps, furnace blowers, freezers, computers, and lighting. Today’s business environment absolutely requires an uninterruptible and high quality source of power, since information transfer is expected to be seamless.

Think about it. Virtually every hospital, bank, and large business has invested in a UPS. The utilities’ lack of confidence in their ability to deliver continuous high quality power is obvious as we watch them recommend surge suppressors and UPSs for customers with home computers.

UI inverters give us the ability to safely place energy from the sun, wind, and water onto the utility grid and share it with our neighbors. UI inverters give our homes and businesses a source of electricity when the grid fails. UI inverters give some utilities a headache.

Who’s Above The Law?

Utility response to small-scale generation from renewable energy has ranged from caution to downright foot dragging. If you’re living on-grid, you probably

©1999 Joe Schwartz

already know that your local utility has what amounts to a monopoly on the electricity you’re buying. Don’t like the service? Tough.

Americans have had to resort to legislation in order to liberate clean energy from the grasp of repressive utilities. Currently, twenty-seven U.S. states have enacted net metering legislation, which forces utilities to pay their customers a fair price for independently produced renewable energy. However, even in states where net metering is law, many local utilities are making implementation so difficult that the laws are meaningless. Citing safety, reluctant utilities are skirting legislation by requiring UI customers to have excessive insurance policies and expensive, redundant safety equipment.

It doesn’t even stop there. This past year, utilities in both Maine and Iowa challenged state net metering laws, attempting to have them repealed outright. Fortunately, clean energy supporters handily defeated utility interests in both cases (see Bill Lord’s article in HP65). Remember, as a utility customer in a net metering state, you are simply attempting to exercise your legal right to put clean electricity onto the local utility grid, and receive a fair payment for your investment.

Are You Above The Law?

Take a look at today’s market for utility interactive renewable energy systems. In the twenty-six states without net metering legislation, you’ll begin to see RE systems being installed without the benefit of statewide legislation or even the approval of utilities. Take another look and you’ll see that the number of installed UI systems in the U.S. may have just doubled.

Regardless of the local utility’s position, Americans are purchasing and installing UI inverters and renewable charging sources because it’s the right thing to do. If you come up against a stubborn utility, you just might find yourself quietly hitting the “sell” button on your inverter. The result? De facto net metering without jumping through hoop one. It’s painfully obvious that the technology of UI power systems—and the human ingenuity behind them—is outdistancing ineffective regulation and unwilling utilities.

While most Home Power readers give a quiet nod to unauthorized or guerrilla RE systems, disregarding

58 Home Power #71 • June / July 1999

Will Your Utility Interact With You?

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