Net metering is the mechanism by which you can get credit for the power your residential solar system produces. Whenever the sun is shining on them, they are producing power. If you are also using some of that electricity, you will be credited for the excess electricity that is fed back into the grid. Then, when the sun is not shining and you are using electricity, you will draw from the credits that you have banked with the utility. Every month any unused credits roll over to the next month.
For systems installed prior to March 2017:
At the end of the year, on what's called your anniversary date or true up date (which you pick when your system is installed), you will receive a refund from your utility company for any remaining credits. Note that when you draw electricity from the grid you will pay for your electricity at the retail rate, but on your true up date you will be paid for credits at the end of the year at the wholesale rate. This is typically significantly lower than the retail rate. So, it really doesn't pay oversize your system expecting to make money off the utility company. (Also, you will only receive state incentives for up to 110% of your electricity needs for systems sited on your property and 100% of your needs for community distributed generation systems -- see below.)
For Systems installed March 2017 through January 2020:
Newer systems do not have a true up date. Instead, your credits will continually roll over from month to month and from year to year for a 20 year period. At that time, whatever rules are in affect at that point will take over.
It's also important to note that every month you will continue to be charged a basic service charge by your utility. This is currently roughly $15-$17. So, even if your panels provide 100% (or more) of your electricity usage, you will be charged this fee. (Think of it as the cost for the electric utility to maintain all of the lines and act as your system's battery, ensuring you have power when the sun doesn't shine and when your system isn't providing all the power you need.)
Homeowners and even renters can now take advantage of solar electric systems -- even if their property gets little or no sun. In the fall of 2015, NY State expanded regulations allowing residents to take advantage of solar systems situated off-site, as well. So-called community distributed generation greatly expanded solar electric systems to people whose sites were less than ideal for solar, including renters. It works just like having a system on your property and having the power "net metered" so that you receive credits for all the power the panels produce, even though they're on someone else's property. And if you move to another apartment or house in the same utility zone, you can "take" your system (or at least the solar credits) with you!
Last updated October 21, 2018